In light of the current crisis afflicting the labor movement, historian Joseph McCartin revisits the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) eight decades after its passage and the Supreme Court ruling that upheld its constitutionality. That act constituted a “momentous shift in the nation’s jurisprudence,” but making it a living reality required American workers’ efforts on the ground. In this Up for Debate roundtable, McCartin poses critical questions: How should we evaluate the legacy of the Wagner Act? What did it mean in its time? How did it shape the course of US labor history? What significance does it hold for us in our present context? McCartin and three respondents—Craig Becker, Dorothy Sue Cobble, and Katherine Stone—address these questions and debate their responses, offering both historiographical assessments and historically informed suggestions about the labor movement’s path forward.
“As Long as There Survives”: Contemplating the Wagner Act After Eighty Years
JOSEPH A. MCCARTIN is professor of history and executive director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. His most recent book is Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America (2011).