The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Critical mass on the Fair Labor Standards Act...

We had a gay old time trying to puzzle out the infamous Powell Amendment earlier in the year.

The problem was that the polisci profs had effectively deracinated the voting behaviour from the politics in the cause of identifying a real-life example of a killer amendment. And an extremely misleading impression of the politics was thereby created. (Misleading for novice kibitzers such as your humble blogger, at least - April 14.)

The problem was made insoluble (by said kibitzers) by the lack of online material explaining the politics in detail. (Every damned reference to Powell amendment seemed to be to some smartass Marquis de Condorcet de nos jours demonstrating his command of game theory rather than his knowledge of post-War US politics of education and race.)

What I'm looking for is a conjunction of
  1. a genuine political saga worked out in Congress;

  2. the turning-points of the saga evidenced in roll call votes picked up by Voteview (voice votes are so unfair!); and

  3. sufficient online material describing the politics that explain the votes, eliminating the second-guessing.

I think we may have hit pay-dirt in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

I mentioned the Act first on December 31 2004 as pretty much the last hurrah of the New Deal - also, the paper The Southern Imposition: Congress and Labor in the New Deal and Fair Deal by Sean Farhang and Ira Katznelson.

Then, on July 21, I mentioned a paper covering the lobbying on labor matters of the WLJC during the 1930s, in particular the role of Labor Secretary Frances Perkins.

A critical - and superficially counterintuitive - feature of the politics of labor reform is the deep split between the AFL and CIO on the matter: the stalwart opposition of AFL President William Green, the equally strong support of the garment workers' champion Sidney Hillman. A useful article (PDF) Troubled passage: the labor movement and the Fair Labor Standards Act fills in a lot of blanks.

A piece on the Department of Labor site Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938: Maximum Struggle for a Minimum Wage also has good stuff.

The FLSA took legislative attempts in three sessions of Congress in 1937-8 - there was a special session called by FDR in November 1937 - before the act passed, with several RCVs thus generated [1].

There's a full cast list, too: one name that was new to me was that of Rep Mary Norton (NJ). Norton was the sixth woman to be elected to the US House and the first to serve two full decades.

The woman was born in Jersey City, of all places: stamping-ground of the brutal boss and associate of FDR Frank Hague. There is frustratingly little on what was - I guess to have been - a fascinating relationship: this very brief note of the deposit of her papers at Rutgers says
participated actively in local, county and state Democratic Party politics with the backing of Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague
Can you say blindingly obvious?

(There's an unpublished memoir that is surely worth having a look at.)

According to a New York Times piece of July 3 1932 by Arthur Krock on the Democratic Convention,
After Texas nominated [John Nance Garner as vice-presidential candidate] today, Mayor Frank Hague of Jersey City changed his mind about making the gesture of putting Representative Mary T. Norton in the contest.

Wow! Who was the first woman to have been placed in nomination for vice-president by either party? Hague as a feminist ahead of his time rather goes against my impression of the guy!

Norton was certainly not confined to women's work in the House: she was Chairman of the House Labor Committee from 1937-47 (75th-79th Congresses) - ousted by the GOP takeover following the 1946 elections. And it was in that capacity that she played a key role in eventually putting the FLSA to bed.

  1. The Troubled Passage piece gives the result of a House vote I couldn't find on Voteview; turns out that, before 1971, there was something called a teller vote - but only in the Committee of the Whole - where a total votes for and against were recorded, but not the votes of individual members. The vote I couldn't find must have been a CotW teller vote, I'm thinking.

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