Congress, business, and the postwar labor movement : rethinking the McClellan Committee, its origins, and its consequences

André, Jean-Claude, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Mccurdy, Charles, Department of History, University of Virginia

The aim of this Thesis is to contextualize the McClellan Committee. It is based on the premise that labor has experienced a postwar decline, and it argues that the McClellan Committee was both a product of labor's weakened postwar state, and a catalyst in perpetuating that weakened state. Specifically, it claims that the McClellan hearings led to the passage of the anathematic Landrum-Griffin Act and the development of a negative public image for organized labor. While law is backdrop, not foreground, in this Thesis, I do not intend to reject the theories of postwar decline already espoused by the social, political, and labor historians, nor those made by the legal historians who attribute the origins of decline to the pre-war era. Rather, I rest my analysis on the conclusions of many of those various social, political, labor, and legal historians to establish the state of the unions on the eve of the McClellan Committee and explain why the McClellan Committee occurred. Before that backdrop, I then rely on many of the narratives already recorded by McClellan participants and commentators on mid-twentieth century American history to recreate relevant portions of what occurred within the Senate Caucus room during the hearings. This recreation will both bolster my claim as to the origins of the committee and establish the hearings as the beginning of the degradation of labor's public image. Thereafter, I will rely on the analysis of various legal and labor commentators to demonstrate that the McClellan Committee's legislative outgrowth, the Landrum-Griffin Act did not serve the purpose of cleaning organized labor of its corrupt elements as the Act's proponents claimed it would, but rather, as one labor historian has concluded, "contained much that was harmful to the labor movement, especially to its capacity for future growth."

MA (Master of Arts)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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