This article examines Chicago's trade unions during the early years of the Great Depression. The leadership of the Chicago and Illinois federations of labor, most notably Victor Olander, played an active role in the city's attempts to battle unemployment during the Hoover years. Labor leaders cooperated with business interests and local politicians in private campaigns like the American Legion Re-Employment campaign and in government organizations like the Illinois Emergency Relief Commission (IERC). After Franklin D. Roosevelt's election, New Deal relief relied upon local organizations like the IERC to distribute federal monies. This reliance on local practices for the distribution of relief in Chicago meant that trade unions were already at the center of the emerging New Deal relief administration as it grew during the early 1930s. Labor leaders used their union connections across the state of Illinois to facilitate the implementation of federal relief projects. In doing so, trade unions hoped their influence on New Deal projects would maintain and improve their prominence in Chicago's political economy. Before the Depression, trade unionists sought to maintain wages and work conditions through private contracts negotiated between unions and employers. During the New Deal, trade union leaders participated in the growing federal bureaucracy because of their commitment to local control over the economy in Chicago. The resulting compromise between federal expansion and local control created the foundation for both local and federal politics after World War II.
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Thomas F. Dorrance; Remaking an Older Deal: Chicago Employment Politics, 1932–1936. Labor 1 March 2010; 7 (1): 67–91. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15476715-2009-056
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