Government leaders feared labor unions would disrupt business, and adversely affect the economy of the United States.  In 1895, the Supreme Court used the Sherman Anti-trust Act against unions, ruling that strikes were illegal because they interfered with interstate commerce.  Both federal and state troops were used to stop strikes.


Following the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, where 146 workers were killed, the government began to change its opinion.  Public sympathy for workers grew, and as a result.  Congress passed laws helpful to unions.


In 1913, Congress created the Department of Labor to help enforce labor laws, and study labor statistics.  The next year, Congress passed the Clayton Antitrust Act, which exempted unions from  antitrust laws and federal injunctions, or court orders, prohibiting strikes.


Congress did not order an eight-hour day until 1933. Even then, the National Industrial Recovery Act was an emergency act taken by President Franklin Roosevelt to help counter the economic ruin caused by the Great Depression. The Act defined maximum hours, minimum wages, and the right to collective bargaining. Struck down by the Supreme Court in May 1935, the Recovery Act was soon replaced by the Wagner Act, which assured workers the right to unionize.