1935 July 5

Wagner Act: Labor Gains First Amendment Rights, Right to Organize


The Wagner Act (officially the National Labor Relations Act), signed into law on this day by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, has been hailed as the “Magna Carta of organized labor.” The law guaranteed working people the right to form labor unions “of their own choosing,” and compelled employers to negotiate with them. Before the Wagner Act, employers routinely denied workers the right to organize unions, to picket and, in many cases, even to discuss labor unions. The Courts had upheld these actions with injunctions against the workers. See, for example, the injunction against the railroad workers on September 1, 1922, denying them basic First Amendment rights.

Despite the law guaranteeing workers the right to organize, resistance to unions continued to exist in some industries and communities. One of the most famous struggles in the late 1930s involved the attempt to block all union organizing efforts by Mayor Frank (“Boss”) Hague in Jersey City, New Jersey. See the dramatic events of May 19, 1938 and June 4, 1938, and the landmark Supreme Court decision, Hague v. C.I.O on June 5, 1939.

The Wagner Act was preceded by the Norris-LaGuardia Act, on March 23, 1932, which outlawed injunctions against labor union organizing.

Although rarely recognized as such, the Wagner Act is one of the most important laws protecting First Amendment rights ever enacted in the U.S. President Roosevelt signed the bill into law, but had not supported it, despite the fact that he enjoyed the overwhelming support of working people at the polls.

Read about the struggles of labor in the 1930s: Irving Bernstein, The Turbulent Years: A History of the American Worker, 1933–1940 (1970)

Listen to Pete Seeger sing “Solidarity Forever:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ly5ZKjjxMNM

Find a Day

Abortion Rights ACLU african-americans Alice Paul anti-communism Anti-Communist Hysteria Birth Control Brown v. Board of Education Censorship CIA Civil Rights Civil Rights Act of 1964 Cold War Espionage Act FBI First Amendment Fourteenth Amendment freedom of speech Free Speech Gay Rights Hate Speech homosexuality Hoover, J. Edgar HUAC Japanese American Internment King, Dr. Martin Luther Ku Klux Klan Labor Unions Lesbian and Gay Rights Loyalty Oaths McCarthy, Sen. Joe New York Times Obscenity Police Misconduct Same-Sex Marriage Separation of Church and State Sex Discrimination Smith Act Spying Spying on Americans Vietnam War Voting Rights Voting Rights Act of 1965 War on Terror Watergate White House Women's Rights Women's Suffrage World War I World War II Relocation Camps


Tell Us What You Think

We want to hear your comments, criticisms and suggestions!