Labor's National Committee for the Modification of the Volstead Act

The American Federation of Labor's National Committee for the Modification of the Volstead Act was created in January of 1931. The Volstead Act was the law that provided for the implementation of the Eighteenth Amendment that established National Prohibition. The National Committee for the Modification of the Volstead Act was co-founded and then headed by Matthew Woll, who testified before a Congressional committee that workers and organized labor opposed Prohibition.

Labor leadership argued that the Eighteenth Amendment was the first instance in American history when an amendment to the United States Constitution denied rights instead of creating or expanding them.

Prohibition went into effect in 1920 and as early as 1923, the American Federation of Labor had passed a resolution calling for the modification of the Volstead Act to permit the sale of "light wines and beers."

With the passage of time the serious problems caused by Prohibition became increasingly apparent and could no longer be ignored.

Following creation of Labor's National Committee for the Modification of the Volstead Act, organized labor began forcefully calling for change. In March of 1931, a committee representing 75 national and international unions was created to act in an advisory capacity to Labor's National Committee for the Modification of the Volstead Act.

In November of the same year, Woll called for a Congressional showdown on the issue because of the high costs Americans were paying for Prohibition "in racketeering, gangsterism, debased morality and poisoned citizenship." He asserted that Prohibition had been a "most tragic mistake" and a "miserable fiasco." He said the group would call for Repeal if necessary.

An overwhelming majority of Americans came to believe that Repeal was necessary and National Prohibition was rejected by voters three-to-one.

The call of Labor's National Committee for the Modification of the Volstead Act for the legalization of beer and wine but not distilled spirits was naive. Standard drinks of beer, wine and distilled spirits all contain an equivalent amount of alcohol -- 0.6 ounces per drink. [See Alcohol Eqivalence]

Standard Drinks

Standard Drinks graphically illustrates information on the equivalence of standard drinks of beer, wine and distilled spirits or liquor.

A glass of white or red wine, a bottle of beer, and a shot of whiskey or other distilled spirits all contain equivalent amounts of alcohol and are the same to a Breathalyzer. A standard drink is:

 

Resources on Labor's National Committee for the Modification of the Volstead Act:

  • American Federation of Labor. National Committee for Modification of the Volstead Act. Report of the First National Conference (of) Labor's National Committee for the Modification of the Volstead Act, Philadelphia, April 27-28, 1931. Washington, DC: Labor's National Committee for Modification of the Volstead Act, 1931. Wilmington, DE: Hagley Museum & Library.
  • Cashman, Sean. Prohibition: The Lie of the Land. NY: Free Press and London: Collier Macmillan, 1998.
  • Drescher, Nuala M.G. Organized labor and the eighteenth amendment. Labor History, 1967, 8(3), 280-299. Describes role of Labor's National Committee for Modification of the Volstead Act.
  • Kyvig, David. Repealing National Prohibition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
  • Labor's National Committee for Modification of the Volstead Act. Report of the National Conference. Washington, DC: Labor's National Committee for Modification of the Volstead Act. 1931.
  • Labor's National Committee for Modification of the Volstead Act. Report of the National Conference. Washington, DC: OCLC 41328359 Geneva, Switzerland: International Labour Office.
  • Rose, Kenneth D. American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition. NY: New York University Press, 1996.
  • Time. Labor: Resolved and Departed. Time, October 22, 1923. Reports on the 1923 convention of Labor's National Committee for Modification of the Volstead Act.

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