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New International, August 1948


Anne Temple

The Record of Taft-Hartleyism

From August 1947 to the Presidential Election


From The New International, Vol. XIV No. 9, November 1948, pp. 264-270 & 288.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


“Before the 1948 elections are finished, the Taft-Hartley Act will be hailed as the greatest single contribution the Republican Party had made to this nation” – Fred A. Hartley, Jr., Our New National Labor Policy, p. 194.

The electoral uprising on November 2 was undoubtedly the result of a number of factors and probably no one of them can be assigned a decisive role by itself. But it would appear from all accounts that the greatest single contribution to Truman’s victory was the Taft-Hartley Law.

For one thing, this was practically the only live question on which Dewey locked horns with Truman in the course of the campaign. Dewey emerged from his cloud of platitudes and generalities with an all-out endorsement of Taft-Hartley. This provided the main impetus behind the participation of the CIO and AFL political arms in the campaign and the piling up of a large labor vote. The appeal to the workers was: Defeat Taft-Hartley at the polls.

Dewey’s decision to go out on a limb on this one issue, and not on any of the controversial questions, is paralleled by another deviation from the early strategy of the Republicans.

The original campaign against the passage of the law naturally had to be based on its potentialities – on the way it could be used against labor. The GOP tactic, for a year, was to delay sharpening the claws of the monster until after the election. This is testified to by Hartley himself, who disagreed with the policy:

No sooner had the Taft-Hartley Law been enacted over the Truman veto than the Republican leaders of both the House and Senate decided that no more legislation to which organized labor could possibly object would be passed until after the presidential election of 1948 ...

Republican leaders had an election to win; sound legislative principles were cast aside. [Our New National Labor Policy, pp. 171, 173.]

Three Decrees

When the first anniversary of Taft-Hartley was “celebrated” on August 22, 1948, the refrain in the reactionary press was: “You see, it wasn’t as bad as you thought, was it now? Has American labor been ‘enslaved’ as the labor alarmists predicted? No sir, just some inequities corrected. The unions are still in existence, strikes still occur, wage increases have been won, etc., etc.” As we shall show, this line of reassurance was eyewash even then, but the amazing thing is that enforcement of the law took a new stiff turn in the very month just preceding the election.

During these crucial weeks when, behind the backs of the pollsters, sentiment against Dewey must have been already crystallizing on the molecular level, the National Labor Relations Board handed down three Taft-Hartley decisions which delivered body blows against labor’s rights. These were the decrees which (1) banned mass picketing; (2) permitted scabs to vote in plant elections; and (3) held international unions responsible for the actions of their local bodies

There are two things to be noted about these decisions:

  1. While it was the first two which were the greatest shock to the rank and file of labor and the pro-labor public, it was the third which was most deeply resented by the labor leadership. And it was these top officials in the driver’s seat who were in a position to push the gas pedal down to the floor in the operation of the AFL’s Labor League for Political Education and the CIO’s PAC.

  2. These three decisions were especially electrifying for another reason. Even in the opposition to the passage of the law, with all the deep black and sometimes even exaggerated pictures that were drawn in labor’s agitational speeches and exhortations against the bill, these particular interpretations had scarcely even been raised among the hundred other union-busting possibilities hiding in the elastic wrinkles of the act. Not only was the Taft-Hartley knife thrust right into labor’s ribs just before it went to the polls, but the worst fears about its future uses were confirmed.

Toward a Balance Sheet

Naturally, in retrospect, one asks: Why on earth did the T-H buccaneers unfurl their skull-and-cross- bones even before boarding ship and thus take the risk of scaring the prize away? The first answer that occurs is, of course: over-confidence that the election was in the bag anyway. But in addition the Taft- Hartley machinery, once set up and in operation, had an independent momentum of its own. The cases leading to the three pre-election decisions had been pending for some time, and the united front of the employers and Denham (NLRB general counsel) was getting impatient. Even Walter Lippman was referring to Dewey’s election in the past tense, wasn’t he?

We have put the spotlight on the immediate preelection splurge of Taft-Hartleyism, but of course the three decisions noted did not have an effect divorced from the preceding year’s buildup.

The intensity of resentment against T-H varies appreciably even in the labor movement, and this intensity of feeling is usually directly proportional to the degree in which the operation of the law has had its impact on sections of organized labor. There is even the impression abroad among some – no less opposed to the act than others – that at least up to now the Taft-Hartley bark has been worse than its bite, and that while its full consequences might be worse in the future (if not repealed), yet its effect has so far been important only in the case of certain hard-hit unions (like the miners).

This is not true. A sober balance sheet will also avoid the opposite error of exaggerating its lethal qualities, but will cast some light on the paths which anti-labor legislation can be expected to take even if the second Truman administration repeals the existing law in favor of a “compromise,” as a strategic retreat to “previously prepared positions.”


Without doubt the Taft-Hartley Law is the most severe legislative blow which has been struck at labor.

In form the Labor-Management Relations Act (as it is called) was proposed as an amendment to the Wagner Act of 1935, but it was actually a repeal of essential features of the act.

The Wagner Act stated that workers had the right to organize into unions of their own choice; it prohibited employers from interfering with workers who wished to exercise this right; it required employers to recognize and bargain with unions representing the majority of the workers; and it set up enforcement machinery under the National Labor Relations Board, which also conducted elections.

The Taft-Hartley Law restates the “right of workers to organize” and then proceeds to list every possible obstruction, limitation, and impediment to make the exercise of this right difficult, if not impossible. It is not so crude as to make union organization impossible or illegal; it simply wraps the process in a maze of difficulties, and challenges the workers to get through. Thus Gulliver was brought under control by the Lilliputians. The sleeping giant was tied up with hundreds of little strings, and his conquerors were people who measured the length of his little finger.

The scope of the law is far broader than the old Wagner Act. It applies to all industries or activities in interstate commerce or which affect interstate commerce. And its interpretation has been to bring thousands of activities hitherto outside the scope of the government into the network of the law. So ill defined are the T-H provisions on this point, as in countless other cases, that it has been termed the Full Employment Bill for Lawyers.

Senator Robert A. Taft, who piloted the bill through Congress, let the cat out of the bag with his April 1947 statement that “This bill is not a milk- toast bill. It covers about three-quarters of the matters pressed upon us very strenuously by the employers.” Later, in September, Taft made his point even clearer: the bill “proposed to curb ... the power of labor leaders to force higher wages.”

Let us see how T-H has worked out to satisfy the capitalist class on at least three-quarters of the matters it pressed for.

1. Affidavit Roundup

The first question which faced the labor movement was whether or not to sign the non-Communist affidavits.

The law provided that in order to use the services of the National Labor Relations Board (for holding union shop elections, for pressing unfair labor practice charges against employers, etc.) a union had to be “in compliance.” That meant that its elected officers and Executive Board members had to file non-Communist affidavits, and the union had to register with the NLRB and file annual financial statements.

This outrageous government intervention into the internal affairs of the union movement and dictation of its officers was vigorously protested by the AFL and the CIO. But when the time came to lead a fight, first the AFL and then the CIO meekly submitted, and voted at their conventions late in 1947 to permit compliance.

John L. Lewis, whose union, the United Mine Workers, has a tight hold in the mining areas, broke with the AFL on this question and his union has still not complied. With few other exceptions most of the AFL internationals have filed the necessary papers.

In the CIO, Philip Murray’s Steelworkers, likewise strongly entrenched in their industry, have refused to comply, although there are indications that there may be a change of policy. The Steelworkers Union challenged the constitutionality of this section of the law, but the Supreme Court decided against them. The National Maritime Union also lost its case in court when it attempted to challenge this and other provisions of T-H. A referendum of its membership recently voted in favor of compliance.

The Stalinist-controlled unions, by and large, have refused to comply. Where they have done so, as in the case of the Farm Equipment Union, they have simply shifted the CPers to so-called technical posts, placed front men in the elected officers’ positions, and have gone smoothly on. What motivated the FE was obvious; they lost bargaining rights for 17,000 workers at the Caterpillar Tractor Works to the UAW, because the FE did not appear on the ballot.

In many cases the unions themselves have taken over the intent of this provision of the law by passing constitutional amendments barring Communists from holding local office or serving as delegates to conventions. Lewis, for example, has such a provision which he enforces internally as strongly as Taft and Hartley might desire. Murray, for all his denunciation of the non-Communist affidavits as an invasion of the democratic rights of unionists, had the last convention of the Steelworkers pass a constitutional amendment barring Communists from all future conventions and from local office.

Thus the reactionary intent of the legislators stimulated the labor leaders to conduct their own witch hunts and “anti-red” purges.

The latest figures issued November 6 by the national Labor Relations Board reveal that 174 national unions and 10,331 local unions are in compliance. Of the national unions in compliance, 94 are affiliated with the AFL, 31 with the CIO, and 49 are independent. Non-Communist affidavits had been filed by 98,256 officers of local and international unions. These affidavits, as well as the other forms required for compliance, must be filed annually, and constant attention must be paid to this paper work if the union is to stay on the NLRB’s good books. The major non-qualifying unions remain the United Electrical Workers, CIO, the Steelworkers, CIO, and the independent United Mine Workers.

2. The Right to Organize

Under the new restrictions the organization of new workers – after all, only one fourth of the nation’s workers are organized – has either slowed down or stopped completely. The difficulties confronting workers are formidable.

The law, under the guise of granting “free speech” to the employer, now permits him to herd his workers into a meeting where he can freely attack the union; he is free to tell thorn that if they join or vote for the union, it will make their jobs and working conditions worse, and that he might even close down the plant. None of this is “directly intimidating,” according to the Taft-Hartleyite NLRB set up by Truman.

The employer is “free” – free to conduct the most open and flagrant kind of anti-union campaign without running into any conflict with T-H. In one case, the NLRB upheld the right of the employer’s foremen to distribute leaflets attacking the union. Company unions have begun springing up with the blessings of T-H.

As soon as a union organizer appears near the factory gates, the employer can request an election among his employees, even though the union is totally unprepared for it. A “no” vote for the union means that another election cannot be held for a year, and thus union organization is stalled. Or the employer can set up a phony company union and forestall the legitimate union in that manner.

The AFL presented the testimony of 171 field representatives and union organizers to the congressional “Watchdog Committee” which was set up to check on T-H operation. They pointed out that whereas under the old Wagner Act the union could usually arrange an election in a month or two, under T-H, with all its provisions for employer stalling and slow processing, nine and ten months go by with no action. Workers in the meantime are told by the employers that the union is doing nothing for them and they are likely to lose interest by the time the election rolls around. Employers can discharge the most active union workers and indulge in discriminatory acts with little fear of penalty.

The impasse in new organization is highlighted by what has happened in the South. Operation Dixie has ground to a standstill. The CIO has all it can do to hold on to what it already has, much less conquer new fields. Matters are equally bad with the AFL organizing drive. The director of the drive, George Googe, reported that organizing activities had been out down about 75 per cent, and this was an optimistic figure.

The statistics issued by the National Labor Relations Board reveal what has happened to new organization.

Through March 1948 unions had submitted only 3,400 petitions for certification as collective bargaining agents under T-H; during a similar period in 1947 they had filed about 6,300 petitions. A similar comparison on representation elections actually held showed that only 1,377 elections had been held under the new law., contrasted with 6,920 elections under the old Wagner Act, so drastically has new organization been curtailed.

3. Unfair!

When the unions harassed by anti-union actions of employers attempt to bring them up before the NLRB on charges of “unfair labor practices,” they find themselves stalled again. The T-H Law, for the first time, allows employers to file “unfair labor practice” charges against unions – and the law specifically gives them priority over union complaints.

Since the enactment of T-H, employers have filed 420 charges against unions for unfair labor practices; they received top priority in consideration, and the board issued twenty-eight complaints against unions. During the same period unions and workers filed 1,550 charges against employers – more than three times as many – but the board only issued eighteen complaints against employers, and these after long delays. Thus the board has proceeded against unions seven times as often as against employers.

Nor can the workers who have been fired for union activity get any comfort while waiting for these cases to be heard. Under the law, over 12,500 cases have piled up in the NLRB, more cases than in any other year. And the charges of unfair labor practices continue to mount at the rate of 300 a month.

The T-H dice are loaded heavily against unions on this score. If the employer commits an unfair labor practice, the NLRB’s general counsel can use his discretion about seeking an injunction, and then he must issue a formal complaint. But if a union is involved, the general counsel is obliged to seek a federal Court injunction even without a formal complaint.

Again, if the union is found guilty, the employer may sue the union for damages in any place where the union operates. But if it is an employer who is guilty, the union cannot sue the company for damages or obtain an injunction except at the discretion of the NLRB general counsel.

This double standard prevails throughout the T-H setup, even as to the definition of an “unfair labor practice.” The law defines a bushelful of union acts which can come under this term but treads on eggshells in defining similar acts for employers. Should the union breach its contract, it is entirely proper for the employer to fire all the employees or lock them out. But if it is the company that breaches the contract, the union would be guilty of an unfair labor practice if it declared a strike.

4. Union Shops

The T-H Law outlawed closed shops (which require workers to be union members before they can be hired) but did permit union shops under certain conditions. A union shop permits the employer to hire a non-union worker provided such a worker joins the union within thirty days. But every conceivable obstacle was set up in the way of winning union shops: – which, of course, are vital to union strength.

Before a union can establish a union shop, it must first be recognized as the collective bargaining agent. An election must be conducted by the NLRB to determine if a majority of all the employees eligible to vote want the union to represent them.

Note that a majority of all the employees eligible to vote is necessary – not merely a majority of those voting. Thus the workers who are absent at the time of the election are counted as “no” votes. (If this procedure were followed by the government, not one of the men in the 80th Congress, which was elected by only one third of the eligible voters, would have been seated.)

If the union has won a majority of all eligible employees, it must then file a petition showing that 30 per cent of the workers want a union shop. The NLRB – in due time – will then proceed to hold a second election to see if the workers want a union shop. Here again a majority of those eligible to vote must cast their ballots in favor.

Can the workers then proceed to have a union shop? Only if the employer willingly consents to it. If he refuses, they may still have to go out on strike for it – after going through another long and involved set of procedures for calling strikes. The two elections give the union only the legal right to request the union shop.

This setup plays havoc in the case of industries with seasonal layoffs, floating populations, or casual labor. In such cases it is almost physically impossible for the unions to win the required majorities.

For example, in one Illinois election almost 5,000 out of 6,000 voting favored the union shop. Ordinarily that would be considered a smashing victory. However, the total number of eligible voters was 10,600. It did not matter that some of these workers had drifted away and would not be back in the plant; others had gotten new jobs. The 5,000 union-shop votes were not a majority of the eligible votes, and the union lost.

In spite of all this, particularly embarrassing to the sponsors of T-H are the votes that workers have cast favoring the union shop. Far from seizing on the occasion (as these legisnlators predicted) to “liberate” themselves from the dictatorship of the unions, the workers have reaffirmed their belief in their unions.

Over 18,000 union-shop elections have been conducted by the NLRB, and in 17,640 of them – roughly 98 per cent of the cases – the workers upheld the union shop. The majorities averaged over 95 per cent. Employers who balk at agreeing to the union shop are put in a more difficult position after the union has won an overwhelming victory at the polls.

As a result of this outcome, there is widespread sentiment to repeal this provision on the part of the union-busters. They have been kicking themselves for wasting taxpayers’ money to produce union victories instead of union defeats. In the largest election held so far, among the 47,000 garment workers in the New York area, only a tiny handful of 448 workers voted against the union shop.

5. In the Building Trades

The two and a half million workers in the building trades have operated for years on the basis of a closed shop. But with the passage of T-H, General Counsel Denham insisted that the building trades came under the scope of the law and had to hold union-shop elections. The building-trades unions have supplied skilled help as necessary to the construction industry; but the problem of holding union-shop elections was complicated by the fact that no “bargaining unit” existed, because of the rapid turnover in the industry and because workers shifted from one job to another.

After spending one and a half million dollars and working ten months on the problem, the solution was decided on: 600 to 700 area elections. Cooperating employers were to supply the names of the workers. After a small test election in which the union shop won, the NLRB was all set to conduct a big-scale election in Detroit. But at the last moment, the Detroit Homes Builders Association, which had operated open-shop until 1941, refused to cooperate – its position might be “jeopardized.” In other words, they wanted to have a free field to return to open-shop conditions after the building boom.

This complete breakdown of NLRB machinery does not affect the building crafts where they are strongly organized, but it does open the door to open-shoppers. Already, in Long Island and in the Middle West, builders are employing non-union help; and the present status of the union-shop elections leaves labor in an exposed position if and when the employers decide to get tough.

6. Injunctions

The Norris-La Guardia Act of 1932 outlawed yellow-dog contracts and the use of the injunction in labor disputes. But the T-H Law specifically provided that the NLRB must go to court and secure an injunction without notice against a union for a host of reasons, in particular, union actions including secondary boycotts or “unfair labor practices.” It is this provision of the law which has been used most strikingly against labor and which has aroused the most determined opposition.

Since T-H, the NLRB general counsel has sought injunctions twenty-nine times against unions and only twice against employers. The courts granted eighteen petitions against unions and one against the employer (the UAW case on insurance bargaining). The NLRB has the power to apply for injunctions in any of its cases against unions. Three unions in particular have felt the vicious thrust of the injunction provisions of the law – the miners, the printers, and the maritime workers. T-H gives the NLRB the despotic power of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland: “Sentence first, verdict after.”

No other provision shows more clearly the deadly intent of the law and the close collaboration of big business and government in the fight against labor. Again and again the NLRB has taken the initiative, even when business was a trifle reluctant, to push ahead full-steam against the unions.

An agile co-worker on this team was President Truman. Using the provision which allows the use of injunctions in cases of stoppages which would “imperil the national health and safety,” Truman used the injunction powers to halt the pending strikes of longshoremen and other workers for the 80-day cooling-off period.

The NLRB general counsel has described the injunction provisions of T-H as “too powerful and sharp a weapon to be weakened and dulled by indiscriminate usage.” He has since proceeded to make the use of T-H injunctions a familiar practice in labor disputes, and has apparently sought to keep the weapon sharp by constant whetting on the backs of labor. In sharp contrast to the T-H record of thirty-one injunction demands, during the twelve-year history of the NLRB under the Wagner Act, only on two occasions did the board seek a court restraint.

The injunctive process was invoked three times in the coal fields, and heavy fines of $1½ million meted out to John L. Lewis and the United Mine Workers for contempt of court. But in the end even Judge Goldsborough adopted the position that there is nothing illegal about the miners’ union-shop clause (without the sanction of an NLRB election) unless a complaint is filed charging an unfair labor practice.

The International Typographical Union has borne the brunt of the heaviest legal attack from General Counsel Denham’s office. The case got national headlines when it was revealed that Senator Taft had brought pressure to bear on the NLRB to intensify and speed up its persecution of the ITU. He was acting as the spokesman for the Chicago publishers, whose printers have been on strike over a year. Taft himself is one of the owners of a newspaper, the Cincinnati Times-Star.

The ITU, which has enjoyed peaceful relations with its employers for decades and has long been cited as a nice, respectable “model union,” is now engaged in a desperate struggle. After enjoying a closed shop for years, the T-H Law forced the union to work out a substitute “competency” clause which in effect gave it the same control.

Contracts embodying this clause were signed all over the country, but the Chicago publishers decided to try to break the power of the union. Led by the powerful Chicago Tribune, they launched the attack on the ITU; a strike resulted. Injunction proceedings last March restrained the ITU from insisting on closed-shop stipulations in contracts.

The NLRB, under pressure from Taft and the publishers, sought an injunction so sweeping as to outlaw the payment of strike benefits. Judge Swygert, who issued the original injunction, was appealed to again by the NLRB on the ground that the union had not obeyed it. In October, therefore, he found the ITU and its four top officers guilty of contempt of court because they had insisted on clauses discriminating against non-union help.

In great detail the new injunction instructs the officers and the union how they must conduct themselves in the future on contract matters. The union is to reimburse the courts for all the costs of this litigation. The decision is a serious blow to a union which has already spent over seven million dollars on the strike. ITU members throughout the country are paying five per cent of their weekly earnings to finance the strikers.

The savage persecution of the ITU by General Counsel Denham was a foretaste for other unions – regardless of how strongly established and well behaved they have been in the past. Long-standing union conditions, like the hiring hall in the maritime trades, are now endangered and are up for court rulings. In the case of the hiring hall typical NLRB confusion was revealed when one trial examiner declared it legal and a second declared it illegal – in two different sections of the country.

7. Raiding

This law, whose sponsors promised that it would eliminate jurisdictional disputes, has led to a plague of internecine union warfare.

The non-complying unions, usually under Stalinist control, are not able to appear on the ballot in a union-shop election. In such cases their rival unions can step in and take over the plant. This pattern has become all too familiar. The AFL Retail Clerks are now invading the New York department-store field against the Stalinist-controlled locals of the CIO Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Employees, and have already won the bargaining rights at the Oppenheim Collins store.

Large plants of the United Electrical Workers have been taken over by the United Automobile Workers. John Green’s Shipbuilders have opened their arms to government workers, to social-agency workers, to all and sundry. Unfortunately, the situation is often complicated by back-door deals with the employers, particularly in the case of certain AFL unions raiding the CIO plants. The workers often end up with worse conditions, even though they voted for the AFL. The employers reap benefits from this situation.

Perhaps the most vicious raids have been the forays into the International Association of Machinists by Dave Beck, the disreputable “labor czar” of the West Coast.

The IAM called a strike last April of its 15,000 workers at the Boeing Aircraft plant in Seattle. Beck’s mouth watered for this juicy plum, and – while he thundered that T-H was a “slave-labor law” – he hid behind the law to furnish strikebreakers from his own Teamsters Union.

Beck first claimed, on flimsy grounds, that he wanted jurisdiction over 5,000 workers but it was obvious that he wanted complete control. The IAM has had the dual job of fighting both Boeing and Beck.

8. Voting Scabs

Recent decisions of the NLRB have dealt further heavy blows against the unions.

In October for the first time the board ruled that striking employees may be permanently replaced and excluded from voting in an election. This decision applies only to economic strikes for wages and similar demands, and not for strikes against illegal practices by an employer. The strikebreaking replacements are permitted to vote, while those whom they “replaced” are excluded from voting.

The case before the board was brought by the International Association of Machinists against the Pipe Machinery Company of Cleveland. After a strike conducted by the IAM, an election was held last March in which both strikers and strikebreakers were allowed to vote. Of the total vote of 184, the IAM challenged 74; the company union and the company also challenged 74. The NLRB voted to count only the strikebreakers’ votes, thus ensuring a victory for the company union.

This precedent-making decision shatters the previous practice under the Wagner Act which allowed only strikers to vote.

The IAM pointed out that the T-H Law states that nothing in the act “shall be so construed as either to interfere with or impede or diminish in any way the right to strike.” But the board bobbed up with another provision of the law which states that “employees on strike who are not entitled to reinstatement shall not be eligible to vote,” and candidly explained that this provision does limit the right to strike. In the board’s words, it just “discourages its exercise in some situations by denying the franchise to those strikers who lose their right to reinstatement.”

Another strikebreaking pattern has thus been added to the T-H technique. An employer can break a strike by the simple expedient of hiring strikebreakers, designating them as permanent replacements, and then proceeding to an election. Incidentally, the union’s strike in this case followed, to a letter, all the prescribed rules and regulations. Also interesting was the fact that the board’s decision was unanimous. All the niceties are observed: the strikers are not fired; they are simply replaced.

9. Mass Picketing Banned

In its tender regard for the sensibilities of scabs, another precedent-setting decision was handed down by the NLRB to the effect that mass picketing, “even where it is conducted peacefully,” is illegal. Previous decisions had merely outlawed picketing where violence and intimidation were alleged. In the case under consideration, 80 to 200 pickets were considered to be mass-picketing.

The reason for the decision? “There is ample authority for the proposition that force of numbers alone has an intimidating effect upon employees otherwise willing to cross a picket line,” and the massing of pickets “exceeds the bounds of peaceful persuasion.” Since the T-H Law has been set up as the bill of rights for strikebreakers, the NLRB is naturally concerned that nothing should perturb these gentle souls.

Unions which have ignored this law are already being haled into court on charges and face fines and penalties. In addition, corporations are demanding that the unions reimburse scabs for wages they lost because they feared to cross the picket line.

10. Their Brothers’ Keepers

A recent decision, as we have mentioned, broadened the responsibility of the international union for acts of its local organizations, even though the international may not have sanctioned the actions or even approved of them. In a case involving the International Longshoremen & Warehousemen’s Union, of which Harry Bridges is president, the NLRB ruled that the international union was responsible for alleged illegal picket-line activities.

This decision has far-reaching consequences since it would open the door to international responsibility for all sorts of local acts. The CIO general counsel, Arthur J. Goldberg, has announced that he will appeal this decision, as well as the decision outlawing mass picketing. He pointed out that “The board’s ruling with respect to union responsibility creates a doctrine of liability without fault.”

11. Involuntary Scabbery

The last three decisions cited are but the most flagrant of a series of decisions, which hamstring the union movement. Other momentous decisions have concerned the secondary boycott, and have forced unions to discontinue practices which they follow in the normal course of union functioning.

The decisions have forced workers to become strikebreakers in some cases, as in the case of the ITU local which prepares material for the use of the Chicago newspapers – which are being struck by members of their own union. The T-H Law so strictly interprets secondary boycotts that the NLRB has ordered workers to work on scab products coming from a struck firm under the threat of jail sentences: even where the strikers are members of the same union. The board has also handed down decisions instructing union men to cross picket lines or face court action.

Unions found guilty of violating injunction orders or of unfair labor practices run the risk of damage suits and court fines. Damage suits running into millions of dollars have been filed against unions, and already millions have been paid but, principally by the mine workers. The oil and transport companies have filed twenty-four damage suits against the striking West Coast oil workers. Ten of these suits claim damages amounting to $27,000,000 and the remaining fourteen state that the “losses are too great to calculate at this time.” These recent decisions have melted the soft soap out of the act and, revealed its vicious intent. The brass knuckles are bared.

12. Political Action

Congress aimed to hamstring labor on the political field as well as on the economic: T-H made it illegal for a labor organization as such to contribute funds or to make expenditures in connection with political campaigns. CIO President Murray challenged the constitutionality of this section, along with other labor leaders, by making political endorsements which were carried in the union newspapers.

In his case the Supreme Court ruled that unions could spend money for some political purposes.

Which? The CIO case involved “only expenditures by a union to meet the costs of publishing an issue of a weekly union periodical containing expressions of advocacy and opinion in connection with a congressional election and distributing same.”

However, in the case of an AFL painters’ local in Hartford which had bought radio time and newspaper space to urge defeat of Taft-Hartley congressmen, the ruling decreed that such actions were illegal, since “union monies were expended for publication of expressions of political advocacy intended to affect the result of the election and the action of the convention in an established newspaper of general circulation and for a broadcast by a commercial radio station.” The penalty for the violation of the political-spending ban is $1,000 fine or one year’s imprisonment for an individual, or both.

The theory seems to be that unions can go into politics provided they do so on a small scale and provided they do not tell too many people about it. Otherwise, it might actually affect the election! The CIO and AFL evaded this section of the law by operating through their parallel political organizations. However, in a number of localities, unions flaunted this provision and participated directly in the elections. Had the outcome of the elections been a Dewey victory, a large-scale investigation of such activities, and consequent charges, would have undoubtedly resulted. But the Democrats are hardly likely to bite the hands that fed them.

That is Taft-Hartley up to now – “now” being the re-election of Truman and the reconquest of Congress by the Democrats. As this is written, it is generally expected that the 81st Congress will “do something” to carry out the anti-T-H pledge of the Truman campaign; what that something will be is still in the making.

But the New York Times’ Louis Stark, among other correspondents, makes clear that there is no thought of going back to the status quo ante – in other words, that the year-plus of T-H operation just described has worn a permanent groove in capitalist labor policy:

While spokesmen for both the AFL and CIO would be pleased to have the former Wagner Act re-enacted, they know that this will be impossible without certain changes.

However, they are not as yet committed to any specific proposal. Whatever may come out of the new meetings it is certain that the president will insist that labor and management try to work out a solution amicable to both sides ...

It is recognized by labor that some of the Southern Democrats who favored the Taft-Hartley Act and who are in the Senate may not wish to reverse themselves on the labor issue. Mr. Barkley ... is looked to as the mediator in such a contingency. [November 8]

The hated symbol of the Taft-Hartley label may disappear, and labor’s taut nerves be temporarily eased by its burial, while that well-known “friend of labor,” Alben Barkley, arranges with his Dixie colleagues for a substitute operation on the Wagner Act. But there is no going back to the New-Deal-cum- Madame-Perkins halcyon days of class collaboration before the Second World War saved democracy all over again.

The general euphoria of the labor leaders at the unexpected turn of events on November 2 will take more than a few days to wear off before they again remember whom they are dealing with: what Congressman Hartley pointed out the day before the election in a prediction that “regardless of which party wins control,” “there will not be any major changes” in the treatment of labor by the government:

The president himself [said Hartley] on seven different occasions employed the law in the interest of the national public health and safety. The law is not nearly so drastic as that suggested by the president when he wanted to draft strikers two years ago.

Major change or no, the “compromise” will be cooked up; and – so practical are our “labor statesmen” – a bill which, if proposed a year or two ago as an emasculation of the Wagner Act, would have headed into a storm of labor protest and indignation, may be meekly accepted as a victory by the AFL-CIO officialdom. It is the old story of a labor leadership that insists on hanging into the coattails of its class enemy on the political field: after being beat on the head, it is a positive pleasure to be slapped in the face.

Like a football player who has been penalized for foul play, the government may now have to fall back a few yards in order to drive at the same goal. But whether the odious name remains behind or not, the Taft-Hartley Law has beaten out the path and blazed the course for anti-labor regimentation – whatever the tempo of the next period may be. It has been a laboratory for the development of one thousand and one ways to hogtie labor; its comparatively short life is sure to leave a new permanent scar on the body of American democratic traditions.

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Last updated on 2 August 2018