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The rejection of majority rule by the corporate moderates meant that labor policy would be decided by the president and Congress, not corporate executives. They would do so in the context of labor unrest on the one side and a corporate willingness to use physical attacks to resist unionization on the other, as exposed in great detail by Senate hearings in late 1936 and early 1937 (Auerbach 1966). Roosevelt, as a member of the labor board for naval shipyards in World War I and a participant in discussions at the National Civic Federation in the 1920s, was most closely identified with those corporate leaders who favored a conciliatory approach toward workers and an acceptance of limited trade unionism. But as his decision to give the automobile industry its own labor board clearly showed, he was willing to make temporizing decisions that reflected the complex balance of issues and political alliances at any given moment. Francis Biddle (1962, p. 220), a corporate lawyer who served as chair of the temporary National Labor Relations Board in 1934-1935, reflecting many years later on Roosevelt's approach to labor conflict, admiringly concluded that he had "a strong sense of the incidence of power..."

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These and other decisions elicited immediate protests from the corporate community, but the NLRB majority dismissed these outcries as the usual overstatements by ultraconservatives. They did so based on the false assumption, widely shared at the time in liberal and academic circles, that the biggest and most reasonable corporations had come to accept collective bargaining as a stabilizing influence, especially when they could raise prices after a contract settlement to levels that more than compensated for the higher wages and benefits they had to pay. But these decisions were nothing to the corporate community compared to National Labor Relations Board rulings in 1963 and 1964 that took the conflict to a new level, which represented a distinctly greater threat to the corporate community. Although the issues were barely worthy of media attention in the context of the rising civil rights movement, they provided new openings for organized labor to take part in management decisions, including such volatile issues as the removal of some in-plant functions to other companies ("outsourcing"), the closure of whole factories, and the movement of factories to new locations. In the eyes of all members of the corporate community, the labor board's decisions on these issues were a challenge to their "right to manage," a phrase that had been invoked since the 1940s to indicate that a sacrosanct line had been crossed (Harris 1982).

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Despite its complaints about the labor board, the AFL nonetheless was growing in the late 1930s in regulated industries, such as railroads and trucking, where both owners and workers could benefit from the higher prices made possible by government oversight (Nelson 2001). Construction unions also grew in late 1939 and 1940 when the economy revived, due to good part to the rise in defense spending. In addition, the AFL made gains in service industries. By 1941 the AFL had almost twice as many members as the CIO, a fact that was masked at the time by the CIO's inflated membership claims (Bernstein 1969, p. 774). Furthermore, its 106 affiliates were in a far wider range of business sectors than the 41 CIO unions, which were concentrated in mining and manufacturing, with its mining, automobile, steel, electrical, clothing, and textile unions accounting for 71% of its membership.

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