As the U.S. inched closer to war in 1941, Roosevelt needed to exert more power over defense-related industries and their workers. In March he created the National Defense Mediation Board (NDMB).
It consisted of four union representatives, four employer representatives, and three from the federal government. Some say its tripartite structure was modeled after Mussolini’s plan for running the Italian economy.
The NDMB tried to settle labor disputes in defense industries but its power was lopsided: It could impose its will on employers but not on union leaders.
The NDMB collapsed at the end of 1941 in a capitulation to John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers. Problems with Lewis and his coal workers would recur throughout the war.
Defense production was hampered in 1941 by strikes in the shipbuilding, aircraft, steel and coal industries. The general public usually sided with the government over the need to keep the defense industry operating at full speed.