Breitman Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

George Breitman

Truman’s Bill No Bar
to Use of Injunctions

Bloc in Congress Prepares Other Anti-Labor Provisions

(7 February 1949)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 6, 7 February 1949, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Truman’s new labor relations bill, now under consideration by the Senate Labor Committee, would abandon most of the Taft-Hartley Act’s restrictions an unions, including the specific anti-strike injunction weapons it had granted the administration. But it would not deprive the administration of the power to go into court for injunctions to break strikes.

This was clearly indicated by Attorney General Clark’s testimony before the Senate Committee. He said the “inherent lower of the President to deal with emergencies” is “exceedingly great” .and the government would have “access to the courts to protect the national health, safety and welfare ... This bill, as I read it, does not purport to circumscribe the rights of the United States in this respect.”

The duplicity of the measure was also demonstrated by Secretary of Labor Tobin’s reply to Sen. Humphrey’s question if the Truman bill “provided for government seizure of struck facilities.” Tobin refused to give a yes or no answer, saying the question should be directed to Clark.

In short, Truman’s bill makes a number of formal concessions to labor while at the same time he retains the power to circumvent or negate many of these confessions.

The main concessions in the proposed measure include: Repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act and restoration of the Wagner Act, with certain amendments. Recognition of the closed shop, even in the area of interstate commerce in states where it is banned. Abolition of the anti-communist affidavit. Withdrawal of the ban on political expenditures by unions. Termination of the NLRB general counsel’s separate investigation and prosecution powers. Provisions prohibiting strikes by federal employees and permitting employers not to bargain collectively with foremen are also omitted.

Gig Loopholes

On the other hand, the Wagner Act is amended to extend certain “unfair labor practice” curbs to unions. The “unfair” practices include “unjustifiable secondary boycotts and jurisdictional strikes; strikes to compel an employer to bargain when he is under obligation to bargain with another union; and failure to give at least 30 day’s notice before termination or modification of contracts.

Another restrictive provision requires that disputes over existing contracts be submitted to “final and binding” arbitration.

These provisions definitely empower the NLRB to use injunctions and to order compulsory arbitration. In comparison with the Wagner Act, they considerably extend the power of the government to intervene in and regulate the internal affairs of the labor movement.

In case of important strikes, the administration would be authorized to declare a “national emergency,” requiring a 30-day “cooling-off” period and setting up a board to make recommendation within 25 days. This provision, which replaced the T-H authorization for 80-day injunctions, does not stipulate any penalties for non-compliance.

Tobin says the administration will rely on “public opinion” to compel settlement of disputes under this provision. In the background, of course, will be the “implicit” injunction and seizure powers referred to by Clark and Humphrey.

Union Leaders Content

Despite its dangerous loopholes, the Truman bill is no worse than measures which some labor leaders had voluntarily offered to support Dubinsky; for example, had asked for the retention of the anti-communist affidavit along with other restrictive clauses. The union leaders, on the whole, are well-satisfied with Truman’s bill. While for tactical reasons they are objecting to one or another clause, they will not offer it any real opposition if it is passed in its present form – which is by no means certain.

The union leaders had asked Truman for a two-package deal, Which would repeal the Taft Act and restore the Wagner Act before any amendments were considered. Truman chose to follow a single-package procedure, which leaves the unions under the disadvantages of the Taft Act and weakens their bargaining position while the debate goes on.

This opens the way for the adoption of T-H amendments to Truman’s bill, and puts him in a position to sign virtually any bill finally adopted by Congress as a “lesser evil” and “only alternative” to the existing Taft Act.

Moves to “stiffen” the bill are sure to get strong backing from Democrats as well as Republicans. Since Truman voluntarily made use of T-H injunctions on many occasions and since he removed some “teeth” from his own bill only at the last minute and under strong labor prodding, it is unlikely that he will really crack the whip to force all Democrats to vote for his measure in its present form.

Despite Truman’s duplicity and the likelihood that Congress will modify the bill, the fact remains that it represents a concession to the labor movement and will be regarded as such by the workers, at least for a time.

This development was predicted and analyzed in the resolution on The Election Results and the Tasks of the SWP, adopted by the SWP National Committee last December and printed in the February issue of the magazine, Fourth International. Its careful study by union militants will serve as a guide for the struggle to preserve the independence and militancy of the labor movement.

Hard Cop, Soft Cop

Briefly stated, this is the situation: After the war, the capitalist class set out to establish “class peace” by the methods of the “hard cop.” The aim was to put the unions “in their place”; to make their leadership more conciliatory and conservative; to instill the workers with a feeling of dependence on the good will of the employers and with a sense of their own subordinate position in society; to weaken the unions by reducing their bargaining power while raising that of the corporations. The method adopted was the Taft-Hartley Act.

The 1948 elections showed that it failed to do what was intended. The capitalists had underestimated the resistance as well as the union-consciousness of the workers, and provoked a reaction that could lead to the intensification of the class struggle and its extension onto the field of politics in the form of a labor party challenging the two-party system for power.

The Truman bill is a recognition of this fact. It is also an attempt by the administration to achieve by “soft-cop” methods most of the ends which the Taft-Hartley Act could not achieve with the present relationship of class forces.

It seeks to secure “class peace” by placating the labor leaders, rather than by antagonizing them; by granting them minor concessions in return for major concessions, rather than by demanding that they be the only ones to make concessions; by offering them a junior partnership if they will cooperate, rather than by threatening them with the loss of everything if they won’t.

Deadly Dangers

The workers are faced with dangers under this policy no less deadly than those that were presented by the Taft Act, namely.

  1. The growth of classcollaboration practices that undermine the fighting spirit of the workers and prepare the ground for a new Taft Act arid a new offensive of the capitalists when the workers’ resistance is dispersed.
  2. Acceleration of the trend toward the integration of the union movement into the machinery of the capitalist state, whicli would utterly deprive them of their independent role as defender of the workers’ class interests and transform them into mere appendages of the capitalist government.

These dangers, which are increased by the policies of the union leaders and their liberal allies, must be combatted vigorously. The starting point for this fight should be opposition to Truman’s bill and a struggle for the restoration of the Wagner Act, with no ifs, ands or buts. The premise for this struggle should be the need to apply curbs not to the labor movement, which represents the interests of the vast majority, but to the rule of the rapacious capitalist class which is out to dominate the whole world.

Breitman Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 3 March 2024