From Fourth International, Vol.10 No.6, June 1949, p.165.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
There is more than an even chance that the Taft-Hartley Law will still be on the books when Congress winds up its business for this session. It is certain that the law will still be a hammer over the heads of the unions when they enter negotiations with the corporations. But even in the outside case that Congress does act before adjournment, it is no rash prediction to say that the new labor law will be only a modified edition of Taft-Hartleyism.
This may come as a shock to many people who took at face value the election estimates of liberals, labor leaders and social democrats. They had been led to believe that the Truman victory was a “triumph for democracy.” Although there was more than a little exaggeration in so describing the election of a run-of-the-mill Democratic hack, capitalist democracy has actually been put to a laboratory test in the reaction of the new Congress to that election.
If ever a single issue dominated an election, it was in 1948 and that issue was Taft-Hartleyism. Repeal of the law was a major plank in the Democratic platform. Truman’s majority, obtained above all by the intervention of the unions, was a clear mandate for repeal, and so it was universally recognized. Conversely the stunning defeat administered to. Republicans and Dixiecrats was considered a defeat for Taft-Hartleyism. The majority had expressed its will and now Congress would act accordingly, repeal was a formality which would be disposed of in short order. That was the general expectation, that – we were lectured – was the democratic process.
But Congress had different ideas about democracy. First came months of stalling by Republicans and Dixiecrats whose transparent purpose was to keep the law in effect until the pending negotiations in the mass production industries were completed. Then using their mechanical majority in Congress, in clear opposition to the majority which was recorded on November 2nd, they forced the debate to revolve around a bill they frankly avowed was different from Taft-Hartley only in name. The Truman Democrats, representing the majority of the electorate, were drawn by no means unwillingly into this game. Their main object was to achieve a “compromise” with the very coalition which had been so decisively defeated at the polls. The upshot, as is known, has been a stalemate and Taft-Hartley remains law. Thus has “democracy triumphed.”
The election and its sequel in Congress cannot be understood except in the light of the class analysis of Marxism. The great issues in modern society are not decided at the ballot box but in struggle between the two contending classes. Congress, a shadowy reflection of this reality, expresses the relative strength of the classes and ratifies decisions already made in the class struggle.
The huge labor vote last November demonstrated an unmistakable desire to destroy Taft-Hartleyism root and branch. It was, so to speak, a promissory note to be realized only in more direct forms of mass mobilization. But between the masses and their aspirations stands a conservative labor bureaucracy, which directed that vote into capitalist political channels and which still exercises firm control over the labor movement.
Green, Murray, Reuther, Dubinsky and Co. have never been opposed to Taft-Hartleyism as such, that is to the essential features of the law which bind the workers’ freedom of action in government chains. This was quickly revealed by their precipitate capitulation to the Sims “compromises” providing for the use of injunctions in major strikes. Again in Green’s approval of presidential authority to seize struck plants. And again in the AFL Executive Council’s rejection of Lewis’ proposal to smash the law by boycotting the anti-labor NLRB.
What irks these labor lieutenants of monopoly capital most are the provisions of the law which restrict their privileges and curb their power over the workers. The AFL moguls are concerned primarily with the closed shop, the sine qua non for their lucrative job trusts. Their CIO counterparts want a more favorable NLRB setup where they can eke out a few concessions and build up dues-paying ‘membership without resorting to strikes. For the rest, they are favorably disposed to every device which will conciliate and hamstring the workers’ struggle.
Why mobilize the workers in great demonstrations or strikes to achieve such “reasonable” ends and run the risk of “angering the reactionaries”? Give and take and an inclination to compromise would settle everything. But precisely the opposite has occurred. Emboldened by the craven attitude of the labor bureaucracy, monopoly capital quickly recovered from the shock it had received in the election. The Tory coalition seized the whiphand with none to oppose them but comic-opera heroes like Douglas and Humphrey. Under its unceasing pounding the labor leadership cracked and their “Fair Deal” friends wilted.
Will this wretched game be played out to a pathetic finish? It is folly to expect a last-minute miracle from the Congressional circus. The tide can be turned on one condition: that the great organized masses seize their recreant leadership by the scruff of the neck and order them to run up the banner of “No compromise! No political trading!” over a mighty movement to nullify the infamous anti-labor compact. The resolution of the Greater Detroit CIO Council calling for a one-day “Labor Holiday” and a Congress of Labor is a good beginning. May it sweep through the ranks of labor!
Last updated on: 7 March 2009