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The National War Labor Board (NWLB) was a federal agency created in April 1918 by President Woodrow Wilson. It was composed of representatives from business and labor, and chaired by Former President William Howard Taft. Its purpose was to arbitrate disputes between workers and employers in order to ensure labor reliability and productivity during the war. It was disbanded after the war in May, 1919.

Overall, the decisions of the NLRB generally supported and strengthened the position of labor. Although it opposed the disruption of war production by strikes, it supported an eight-hour day for workers, equal pay for women, and the right to organize unions and bargain collectively. Although the NWLB did not have any coercive enforcement power, public opinion and support from President Wilson generally ensured compliance with its decisions.

In general, the relative strength of organized labor in America grew substantially during the war. Union membership almost doubled after the formation of the NWLB. Of note, the AFL membership rose from 2 million in 1916 to 3.2 million in 1919. By the end of the decade, 15% of the nonagricultural work force was unionized.

New National War Labor Board

The National War Labor Board was reestablished by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on January 12, 1942 under the chairmanship of William Hammatt Davis. 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. Until its demise on 31 May 1919, the board ruled on 1,245 cases. Almost 90 percent of them sprang from worker complaints, and five skilled trades accounted for 45 percent. Of the cases, 591 were dismissed, 315 were referred to other federal labor agencies, and 520 resulted in formal awards or findings. In reaching their decisions the board was aided by an office and investigative staff of 250 people. Approximately 700,000 workers in 1,000 establishments were directly affected.


  • 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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