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Exhibition Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I

War Industry

The challenge of global war required the cooperation of organized labor, industry, and a broader public on an unprecedented level. Hoping to avoid accusations of government coercion,the Wilson administration encouraged voluntary collaboration between government and business. The coordinating agency Congress established, the War Industries Board, could only keep business aligned with national interests through cajolery, growing profit margins, and the threat of negative publicity that would label uncooperative businesses as unpatriotic. Large unions including the American Federation of Labor saw the war as an opportunity to secure better wages and working conditions. Labor conflicts still arose. In 1917, more than 4,000 strikes caused work stoppages, many of which occurred in the mines, shipyards, and forests of the western United States where smaller but more militant unions exerted greater influence. More than one million women found skilled temporary employment in factories and offices as they left domestic service and non-factory textile labor.