National War Labor Board

National War Labor Board

In 1918 President Woodrow Wilson created the National War Labor Board (NWLB) which was an agency composed of representatives from business and labor. Former President William Howard Taft was the chairman of the NWLB. Its purpose was to arbitrate disputes between workers and employers. Capitalizing on labor shortages during America's entrance into World War I, unions led by Samuel Gompers under the American Federation of Labor organized mass strikes for tangible gain. With more than 1200 cases heard the board ruled in favor of labor more often than not.

In response the American Federation of Labor issued a 'no strike' pledge. Wilson then instructed the NWLB to uphold the right of labor to organize and bargain collectively. In one instance, Wilson dispatched Federal Agents to commandeer a Smith & Wesson factory that violated WIB regulations. The War Industries Board (WIB) also constructed low-income housing around war factories and shipyards to ensure an adequate labor pool. It also encouraged a living wage. Union membership almost doubled after the formation of the WIB. Of note the AFL rose from 2 million in 1916 to 3.2 million in 1919. By the end of the decade, 15% of the nonagricultral work force was unionized. The NWLB was abolished August 12, 1919.The biggest setback in the process of creating the program was the exclusion of the up-and-coming African-American Citizens of the United States. Much dispute had arisen from the situation.

New National War Labor Board

The National War Labor Board, was reestablished by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on January 12, 1942. It became a tripartite body and was charged with acting as an arbitration tribunal in labor-management dispute cases, thereby preventing work stoppages which might hinder the war effort. It administered wage control in national industries such as automobiles, shipping, railways, airlines, telegraph lines, and mining. The Board was originally divided into 12 Regional Administrative Boards which handled both labor dispute settlement and wage stabilization functions for specific geographic regions. The National Board further decentralized in 1943, when it established special tripartite commissions and panels to deal with specific industries on a national base. It ceased operating in 1946, and thereafter labor disputes were handled by the National Labor Relations Board, originally set up in 1935.


  • Atleson, James B. Labor and the Wartime State: Labor Relations and Law During World War II. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1998. ISBN 025206674X
  • Foner, Philip S. History of the Labor Movement in the United States. Vol. 7: Labor and World War I, 1914-1918. New York: International Publishers, 1987. Cloth ISBN 0717806383; Paperback ISBN 0717806278
  • Montgomery, David. The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925. New York: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1987. ISBN 0521225795
  • Taft, Philip. The A.F. of L. in the Time of Gompers. Hardback reprint. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957. ISBN 0-374-97734-8

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