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A New Deal Restoration: Individuals, Communities, and the Long Struggle for the Collective Good

  • Jennifer Klein (a1)

Much of the literature on the New Deal over the last fifteen years has sought to extend it in time and scope. The New Deal has become the New Deal Order. More than the legislation and programs of the Great Depression years under President Roosevelt, it encompasses or designates particular political coalitions brought together under a dominant Democratic Party, expanded citizenship rights, Keynesian economic policymaking, rising standards of living through collective bargaining and public investment, checks on the prerogatives of business, and working-class enfranchisement that continued well beyond the Roosevelt years.1 We talk about the New Deal when we refer to the G.I. Bill, Truman's economic and social policies or organized labor's gains in the late 1940s, Republican President Eisenhower's extension of Social Security in the 1950s, Lyndon Johnson's enactment of Medicare, and can even include the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) laws in 1970 as the New Deal's last gasp, under President Nixon. Other historians have extended the New Deal back in time, linking its programs more firmly with social policy and industrial relations experiments in the Progressive Era, the First World War, and the 1920s. Widow's pensions, war labor boards, unemployment insurance, industrial democracy became the basic building blocks of the New Deal.2 Historians have also been revising the histories of later social movements, such as the African-American freedom struggle or the women's movement, and relocating them as New Deal movements.3 So we no longer think in terms of the “interwar period”—which was always more of a European periodization—just as we no longer talk about the New Deal as emerging full-blown from the forehead of Roosevelt and an inner-circle, male Brain Trust and ending with the Supreme Court packing incident.

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1. Fraser, Steve and Gerstle, Gary, eds., The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930–1980 (Princeton, 1989); Plotke, David, Building a Democratic Political Order: Reshaping American Liberalism in the 1930s and 1940s (Cambridge, 1996); Lichtenstein, Nelson, The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit: Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor (New York, 1995).

2. Gordon, Linda, Pitied But Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare (Cambridge, MA, 1994); Sklar, Kathryn Kish, Florence Kelley and the Nation's Work (New Haven, 1995); Alan Brinkley, “The New Deal and the Idea of the State,” in Fraser and Gerstle, eds., The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order; Fraser, Steven, Labor Will Rule: Sidney Hillman and the Rise of American Labor (New York, 1991); McCartin, Joseph, Labor's Great War: The Struggle for Industrial Democracy and the Origins of Modern American Labor Relations, 1912–1921 (Chapel Hill, 1997).

3. Sullivan, Patricia, Days of Hope: Race and Democracy in the New Deal Era (Chapel Hill, 1996); Korstad, Robert Rodgers, Civil Rights Unionism: Tobacco Workers and the Struggle for Democracy in the Mid-Twentieth Century South (Chapel Hill, 2003); Cobble, Dorothy Sue, The Other Women's Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America (Princeton, 2004).

4. Benson, Susan Porter, Household Accounts: Working-Class Economies in the Interwar United States (Ithaca, 2007).

5. Sugrue, Thomas, The Origins of the Urban Crisis (Princeton, 1996); Daniel, Pete, Lost Revolutions: The South in the 1950s, chap. 12 (Chapel Hill, 2000).

6. Kessler-Harris, Alice, In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th Century America (Oxford, 2001).

7. Susan Bellows and Dante James, “America's War on Poverty” PBS Documentary (1995), Episode 4: “In Service to America.”

8. Orleck, Annelise, Storming Caesars Palace: How Black Women Fought Their Own War on Poverty (Boston, 2005).

9. Mink, Gwendolyn, The Wages of Motherhood: Inequality in the Welfare State, 1917–1942 (Ithaca, 1995); Lieberman, Robert C., Shifting the Color Line: Race and the American Welfare State (Cambridge, 1998); Mettler, Suzanne, Dividing Citizens: Gender and Federalism in New Deal Public Policy (Ithaca, 1998); Foley, Neil, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture (Berkeley, 1997); Poole, Mary, Segregated Origins of Social Security: African Americans and the Welfare State (Chapel Hill, 2006).

10. MacLean, Nancy, Freedom is Not Enough: The Opening of the American Workplace (Cambridge, MA, 2006); Cobble, Dorothy Sue, “‘A Spontaneous Loss of Enthusiasm’: Workplace Feminism and the Transformation of Women's Service Jobs in the 1970s,” ILWCH 56 (Fall 1999).

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International Labor and Working-Class History
  • ISSN: 0147-5479
  • EISSN: 1471-6445
  • URL: /core/journals/international-labor-and-working-class-history
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