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The National Recovery Administration Previous Next
Digital History ID 3442

 

Congress established the National Recovery Administration (NRA) to help revive industry and labor through rational planning. The idea behind the NRA was simple: representatives of business, labor, and government would establish codes of fair practices that would set prices, production levels, minimum wages, and maximum hours within each industry. The NRA also supported workers' right to join labor unions. The NRA sought to stabilize the economy by ending ruinous competition, overproduction, labor conflicts, and deflating prices.

Led by General Hugh Johnson, the new agency got off to a promising start. By midsummer 1933, over 500 industries had signed codes covering 22 million workers. In New York City, burlesque show strippers agreed on a code limiting the number of times that they would undress each day. By the end of the summer, the nation's ten largest industries had been won over, as well as hundreds of smaller businesses. All across the land businesses displayed the "Blue Eagle," the insignia of the NRA, in their windows. Thousands participated in public rallies and spectacular torchlight parades.

The NRA's success was short-lived. Johnson proved to be an overzealous leader who alienated many businesspeople. Instead of creating a smooth-running corporate state, Johnson presided over a chorus of endless squabbling. The NRA boards, which were dominated by representatives of big business, drafted codes that favored their interests over those of small competitors. Moreover, even though they controlled the new agency from the outset, many leaders of big business resented the NRA for interfering in the private sector. Many quipped that the NRA stood for "national run-around."

For labor, the NRA was a mixed blessing. On the positive side, the codes abolished child labor and established the precedent of federal regulation of minimum wages and maximum hours. In addition, the NRA boosted the labor movement by drawing large numbers of unskilled workers into unions. On the negative side, however, the NRA codes set wages in most industries well below what labor demanded, and large occupational groups, such as farm workers, fell outside the codes' coverage.

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