Goldman Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Albert Goldman

Congress Swings Axe at the Wagner Act

Bosses’ Association Stooges Aided by AFL Skates
Prepare to Emasculate Labor’s Limited Legal Rights

(16 March 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 11, 16 March 1940, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

With the introduction in the House of Representatives of a bill (H.R. 8813) to amend the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act), the campaign to destroy whatever merit the bill has for organized labor has begun in earnest. The bill is the work of a majority of the House Committee to investigate the Wagner Act.

Intelligent workers never fell for the buncombe passed out by the labor bureaucrats that the Wagner Act (the “Magna Carta of Labor” as William Green, calls it) would constitute a substitute for struggle in organizing the unorganized.

These workers understood that the act was won by the workers as a major concession from the Roosevelt regime in order to obtain the support of Labor, and they were more than willing to take advantage of its provisions and especially of the sentiment for organization that it created among the workers. But that required militant union activity.

The act could not and did not serve as a substitute for militant activity. The labor leaders who tried it as a substitute did not get very far in increasing the membership of their unions.

But since it did contain provisions which aided the workers in their efforts to organize, it was to that extent valuable and it remains the duty of all workers to extend and improve the act and to fight strenuously against any emasculation of it. And that is what the Smith committee amendments propose to do.

Gums Up the Works

One of the amendments provides for the creation of a new board of three members who will sit as a judicial tribunal to hear evidence on complaints filed by an administrator. Ever since the enactment of the Wagner Act the reactionaries have been howling about its violating “all rules of fair play” in that the Labor Board acts as both prosecutor and judge. What the reactionaries want is to create all kinds of “checks and balances” to make it more difficult for the workers to get a favorable decision.

To achieve that objective one of the amendments proposes to give the courts the right to go into the findings of fact made by the Board and reverse its decision on the facts. At present these findings of fact by the Board are conclusive.

Should the amendments become law the Board would have to follow judicial rules of evidence and base its findings on a preponderance of the evidence. Under the present act the rules of evidence are much more liberal. The general aim of the amendments dealing with the methods of procedure is to give the courts a greater opportunity, on the basis of some technicality, to overrule any decision favorable the workers.

Boss-Dictated Elections

The present act was at first correctly interpreted by the Board to give the workers exclusive right to ask for an election. Later on, under pressure of the reactionaries, the Labor Board yielded to the demand of the bosses that they be given the right to petition for elections to determine the bargaining agency for the workers.

It is still, however, in the discretion of the Board whether or not to allow such a petition. The amendment proposes to give that right to the employer as a matter of course, thus giving the boss a chance to call for an election before the union is prepared.

No longer will the poor downtrodden bosses be deprived of their civil liberties. Their freedom of speech will be protected by one of the proposed amendments. In other words, it grants the boss the right openly to intimidate the workers. Furthermore, the employer will not be obligated to make any counterproposal. All he will be compelled to do is to listen to the proposals of the union, and perhaps smile – that’s all.

Unless, of course, the workers will speak a language that he will understand and listen to.

Militant Workers Outlawed

The Supreme Court went out of its way to misinterpret the Wagner Act so as to refuse its protection to sit-down strikers. One of the proposed amendments specifically provides that the Board should have no right to reinstate any employee found guilty of violence or unlawful activities.

By such general phrases it is certain that a militant worker will lose any rights that he might have under the Wagner Act. Nor will back pay be granted for longer than a period of six months.

To make sure that the purpose of the amendments should not be misunderstood, it is proposed to strike out that section of the Wagner Act which states that it is the policy of the United States to encourage collective bargaining – thereby giving the courts a further opportunity to interpret the act strictly against the workers.

Factors that aid the reactionaries in trying to put their amendments over are the supine attitude of the AFL leaders who would rather see the Wagner Act destroyed than the CIO succeed in organizing the unorganized, and the reliance of the CIO leaders on the liberal congressmen.

Without any illusions about the limited usefulness of the Wagner Act in organizing the unorganized, militant workers must do their best to organize a campaign against the, proposed amendments sponsored by the National Manufacturers’ Association, amendments which will not only destroy whatever value the Act has for organized labor, but which will in reality transform it into a weapon for the bosses.

Top of page

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 10 July 2018