Abstract: What Are the Alternatives? Organized Labor's Multimedia Campaign for Legitimacy in the 1940s

Philip M. Glende


Conservatives conducted an extraordinary public relations campaign in the United States in the 1940s to counteract the growth of New Deal institutions and the rise of organized labor. Using archival materials and union publications, this paper examines the efforts of labor leaders to be heard by union members and the general public. Labor leaders used a wide array of communications tools, including the labor press, news releases, radio, public addresses, pamphlets, comic books, film strips, posters, advertisements, and plant-gate fliers, in an effort to define the issues and articulate a vision of the postwar nation. During World War II, union leaders sought to assure the public that organized labor was doing its part to win the war. Afterward, labor communicators fought to deflect blame for rising consumer prices and fend off attacks that sought to discredit organized labor. Throughout the decade, labor leaders asserted that they, too, supported free enterprise and that unions had a legitimate place in business operations. However, labor leaders could not muster the resources to match the conservative, pro-business campaign, and they lacked the credibility necessary to challenge the power of business leaders to define labor-management relations.