A second response to New England’s deindustrialization was an attempt to secure federal government aid for industries and areas affected by factory closures. This effort is called “federal assistance.” Unions and liberal activists spearheaded the drive for far-reaching forms of federal aid. In the 1930s and 40s—the focus of this chapter—federal assistance advocates focused on national regulation of labor standards. New England cotton manufacturers were being undercut by low-wage, non-union southern producers that had poor working conditions. Federal restrictions that created nationwide uniformity in wages and hours would eliminate the competitive advantage of southern mills, thereby saving the remaining textile firms of the North. Reformers sought to enact such standards through the National Textile Act, sponsored by U.S. Representative Henry Ellenbogen, and then through the initial, sweeping 1937 draft of the Fair Labor Standards Act. These proposals were not approved, leading to continued textile mill closures in New England.
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