Date of Graduation

2004

Document Type

Dissertation/Thesis

Abstract

In 1934, the U.S. Congress passed the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act, which empowered the president to negotiate reciprocally-beneficial tariff reductions with foreign governments. The bill sparked a heated debate in congress. Protectionists believed freer trade would allow cheaply-made products to flood the American market, while liberal trade advocates asserted that freer trade would improve employment and contribute to economic recovery. Organized labor was divided on trade and employment issues in 1934. During World War II, however, free trade supporters, including much of organized labor, associated liberalized trade with full employment. Organized labor believed that full employment and fair labor standards commitments, two provisions of the proposed International Trade Organization (ITO), would provide sufficient protections against goods produced by “pauper labor.” The ITO, however, was not created. This study demonstrates that the United Automobile Workers (UAW) supported liberalized trade during and after World War II more enthusiastically than any other union. UAW officials believed that freer trade would help create a high-wage, high-production, full-employment economy that would benefit not only automobile workers, but American consumers more generally. After the war, the UAW also organized workers in industries that depended on exports: agricultural implement, construction, and aerospace. As the UAW expanded, American corporations increasingly looked overseas for investment opportunities, many becoming multinational corporations. The rapid expansion of investment and technology threatened the UAW membership by decreasing domestic production and exports. Simultaneously, the German and Japanese automobile industries revived and increased the number of automobiles they exported to the U.S. UAW officials sought ways to protect their members. Led by Walter P. Reuther, the UAW attempted to create an international fair labor standards agreement, founded the Wage Research Center in Tokyo, and lobbied vigorously for generous Trade Adjustment Assistance benefits. UAW officials also discovered, however, that trade policy affected their union in peculiar ways because the UAW had organized workers across so many industries, and because the growth of multinational automobile, aerospace, and agricultural implement corporations coincided with increases in competitive, foreign-made automobiles.

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