Unionism essentially died in the twenties. The booming economy undermined the need for unions and a series of leftist terrorist attacks undercut the movement's credibility. Views changed by 1932. The Great Depression radicalized many Americans, who began to view unions more favorably. However, twenties-era anti-union sentiment remained in the courts and among employers. In 1932, President Hoover moved to reassert labor’s role in the economy and the workforce. The Norris-La Guardia Act outlawed “yellow-dog” contracts and blocked judicial interference in non-violent union activities. Essentially, the act protected non-violent workers from employer intimidation and retaliation.
Employers often demanded new hires sign “yellow-dog” contracts as a condition for employment. The contract barred employees from joining unions or organizing. This blocked collective bargaining and various union protections. On top of this, employers did not hesitate to use force or the courts to ensure compliance.
During this period, courts often sided with employers. They issued injunctions against union activities delegitimizing organized labor. Failure to comply meant breaking the law, which often undercut public support. Courts remained in this mindset until Roosevelt appointees began making their presence felt.
Roosevelt did not assume office until 1933. The Great Depression defeated Hoover leading to the New Deal. However, New Dealers often borrowed policy ideas from Hoover without attribution. Labor began benefiting from federal assistance under Roosevelt’s predecessor. In 1932, the Norris-La Guardia Act announced the changing political landscape.
Proponents of the Republican bill dubbed it the “Anti-Injunction Bill.” The act banned yellow-dog contracts freeing workers to organize. It brought liberty of conscious for workers as well as the right to collective bargain with employers. On top of this, it banned the courts from interfering with non-violent legal union activities. This drastically reduced employer power and enhanced the unions. Norris-La Guardia set the stage for further labor advances in the decade.
Businesses could no longer rely on federal or judicial support. Additionally, federal affirmation and approval equated with legality. The public could support legal unionism further empowering labor. The change did not occur overnight and businesses still had resources, legal or otherwise, to draw from for support. However, the government and labor had turned the corner and labor power would remain a major force until the 1970s.