At the beginning of World War II, women, racial minorities, and industrial worker were still "second- class citizens." How did the status of these marginalized groups change in World War II?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In order for the war effort to be embraced in a collective sense by American society, it benefited those in the position of power to ensure that there was a uniformity of patriotism, which in effect silenced discussion of marginalization.  For African- Americans, this came in the form of executive action.  Recognizing the need to prevent embarrassment, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802.  This order clearly stated that "the policy of the United States was that there should be no discrimination in defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin."  

Following it as a step in practical reality was another matter.  African- Americans were able to serve in the military, but in more of a domestic capacity and something along the lines of helping in the cause.  It was hoped their inclusion on this level would effectively prevent emerging discussion about the marginalization of African-Americans in a conflict where the central moral issue was recognized as the marginalization of a group of individuals.

This same discussion was applied to women, as well.  Women were called upon to "do their part" while their men were off to battle.  Women were called upon to fulfill their "patriotic duty" without receiving much by way of compensation.  While women were paid nearly one third less than men for the same work, women were "drafted" into the industrial and other sectors.  By 1944, around 19 million women were working in some capacity outside the home in an organized effort designed to enhance the war effort.  Those in the position of power needed workers to occupy positions in industry in order to advance development and growth of product to support the war effort.  

Through propaganda like Rosie the Riveter and government guilt expressed by suggesting that women were abandoning their duty to the fighting men on the front if they called in sick, women were rightly represented as being vital to the war effort.  Such situational discourse superseded the larger discussion of marginalization.  Yet, like as with African- Americans, the experience of women gaining power helped to forge solidarity and consciousness for post- World War II liberation movements.

Finally, the industrial worker was prized and valued during World War II.  Someone needed to work the factory machines that would produce the bullets, machinery, and guns needed for war.  The industrial worker might not have had much by way of collective bargaining rights, but all the country were convinced of their vital importance to American victory in the conflict.  Industry soared as a result of the war.  The New Deal was killed, in a sense, because industrial production in the war became so important.  

When the Ford Motor Company alone produced 8,600 bombers, 278,000 jeeps, and 57,000 aircraft engines and was guaranteed profit and production costs to be covered by the government, it became clear that the industrial worker was prized.  More workers were needed, and while wages never reached the level of management salaries, industrial workers found it profitable to serve their country by doing their patriotic and economic duty.  

In summary: Labor shortages allowed more people to be included under the industrial worker umbrella, such as women and people of non-white ethnic groups.  The industrial worker, unable during the Depresson to find any work, was able to find much of it as a result of World War II.  As with the case of women and African- Americans, discussions of rights, entitlements, marginalization and fairness were set aside in the name of patriotism.