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Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945
Labor Unions During the Great Depression and New Deal
Savage Blames Labor Unions for the Great Depression

Below is an excerpt from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 . The interview with Mr. Frederick Savage was originally titled "A Yankee Roamer Speaks His Mind." According to the interviewer, there was little need to ask questions and any "attempt to guide the conversation was impossible." What was Mr. Savage's view about the causes of the Great Depression? What other things did he find wrong with the way the United States was developing?

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He looked at me with keen eyes and announced. "I can tell you the cause of this Depression. Don't know why everyone says, 'My, Goodness! How did this depression happen.' Easy to see how it came. Don't know why it didn't come sooner. In the first place I don't think that people today know the meaning of the word economy . At any rate, there's only a very few in the world who know how to practice it. The depression really began along in the early [nineteen] hundreds when these damned unions began to form. Most of the men employed in large manufacturing plants, including the railroads, joined in with some union so they could compel the companies they worked for to pay them higher wages. Right there, the good feeling was destroyed between the men that did the hiring and the men that worked for them. They commenced to have strikes, stand up strikes and sit down strikes. That wasn't good either for labor or for the owners of the mills, who had millions invested in their buildings and railroads. Both the laboring man and the financier spent their time figuring how they could beat each other instead of having good feeling. The owners began to pay out their money for all kinds of new machinery to do away with having so many men working. Then, you see, there were more men to work than there was work for them to do .. And things kept getting worse..and the bad feeling kept getting worse. And, as I say, no one practises economy today. And people aren't self reliant the way they used to be. There's the damn story in a nutshell.

"Now there's lots of men who have the brains to think up plans, but they fail because they can't put them through. People are pleasure crazy today. A man lets his best thought-out-schemes come to nothing just because he puts them on one side because he wants to play golf or go to some fool shindig. I've travelled a lot in this country and I can tell you the majority of people are living beyond their income. They don't think they're living unless they have every damned thing hitched to them either by cash payment or the installment plan. When I was young, back in the sixties, there was no such thing as a 'standard of living.' Each man set his own standard of what he could afford in running his household or business. Course there were business failures once in a while but you didn't often hear of the average working man making a failure of life." Mr. Savage paused for breath but before I could get a word in, he was off.

"In this modern age people think they're progressing but they're not. No sir, not by a damn sight. The people in the towns, the cities and the states ain't so well off financially, morally physically or mentally as they were in the sixties or seventies when common sense was used in regulating everything.

"Most people today are looking for someone to support them without work and if they keep that idea in their heads much longer most of us'll have to live in a cave or a dug-out or old shacks. A crust of bread and a handful of corn meal will look good to us. Work, work, work and hard work from sun-rise to sun-set, mixed with common sense, supports the people and the Government. And if they don't follow that rule, they're going soft and they'll decay. It ain't that human nature's changed much. Folks are just the same inside..just the same as when Adam met Eve in the Garden of Eden. It doesn't make any difference whether a woman wears wool, cottons or silk stockings, short or long dresses, hoop skirts or bustles or earrings, or diamonds, or has her dress held together with hooks and eyes or buttons or a lot of safety pins, she's just the same inside as she ever was. The only difference is she wants more because there's more in the world to want. The men are just the same, too. They all look, dress, and shave alike, their coats and pants and shoes and hats are all alike . . . but they want more, too. They don't want to work so hard and they want more for what they do."
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View the entire Savage interview from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 . Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.