Restoring Workplace Democracy: Eleanor Roosevelt and Labor Law Reform

Brigid O'Farrell

DOI: 10.2190/WR.14.3.e


Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady and union member, believed that workers' rights are human rights and that they include the right to have a voice at work. Drawing on her columns, articles, correspondence, documents, and speeches, this article traces how one of the most privileged and influential women of the 20th century became committed to a democratic labor movement and translated that commitment into action. Through her work, we see labor's role in creating the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations, which includes the right to join a union. In 2010, however, union membership has declined to levels not seen since the Great Depression. The vast majority of workers have no role in determining their wages, benefits, or working conditions. Eleanor Roosevelt's voice resonates today with the call for labor law reforms, not only to achieve economic gains but to restore a basic element of democracy to people who work for a living.

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