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6 - Why Is the Right to Work So Hard to Secure?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2013

Lanse Minkler
University of Connecticut
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Despite the crucial role it plays in facilitating the realization of other economic and social human rights (Harvey 2007), even the wealthiest countries in the world seem unable to secure the right to work. This chapter attempts to identify the source of this failure through a review of the policies American progressives have promoted to secure the right to work since the 1930s.

The first portion of this review focuses on Franklin D. Roosevelt's seminal twelve-year presidency. American progressives developed two distinct strategies for securing the right to work during this period. The first was a social welfare strategy involving the use of direct job creation to provide decent work for those job seekers whom the private sector could not employ at a particular moment in time. The second was a macroeconomic strategy that relied on the use of deficit spending by the federal government to raise aggregate demand enough to achieve full employment. In this chapter, the former strategy shall be referred to as the direct job-creation strategy and the latter as the aggregate demand management (ADM) strategy.

Direct job-creation programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) occupied a central role in the mature New Deal of the second half of the 1930s. Moreover, the social welfare thinking that inspired these initiatives also inspired President Roosevelt’s vigorous advocacy during World War II of a broadened conception of human rights. Nevertheless, American progressives lost interest in the direct job-creation strategy as war-related employment – both military and civilian – finally brought the nation’s lingering unemployment crisis to an end in the early 1940s.

The State of Economic and Social Human Rights
A Global Overview
, pp. 135 - 172
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2013

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