Chapter 15, entitled, "Self-help in Hard times," takes a dim view of both the prosperity of the 1920s and the New Deal reforms brought on by the Great Depression. Zinn documents that most of the money created by the economic boom of the 1920s went to the richest segments of...
Chapter 15, entitled, "Self-help in Hard times," takes a dim view of both the prosperity of the 1920s and the New Deal reforms brought on by the Great Depression. Zinn documents that most of the money created by the economic boom of the 1920s went to the richest segments of society, causing greater wealth disparities than those that had existed before. Furthermore, the economic boom was based on unstable speculation. The working people, whose strikes and union movements had been crushed during the early 1920s, were not, on the whole, sharing in the prosperity. Rather, the working people were gaining just enough to keep from rebelling.
When the crash came at the end of 1929, the people in power were stunned and unprepared. Roosevelt's election saved capitalism, Zinn argues, by offering workers enough concessions to keep them from having a communist-style revolt while ensuring most of the real power in society remained in the hands of the capitalist classes. Zinn says that Roosevelt was "lukewarm" about forming the National Labor Relations Board and about legitimizing unions, but as wildcat strikes and unrest continued Roosevelt decided this was the best solution for controlling the situation. For instance, the C.I.O. leadership forbade wildcat strikes, in which groups of workers would spontaneously revolt against unfair conditions, even though Zinn says these strikes were effective: the only strikes now allowed had to be authorized by union leadership.
Overall, the chapter paints a picture of a society in which the common person was given just enough material stock and political power to feel part of the system while the people in power continued to make the major decisions and keep hold of the levers of government.