Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Susan Green

NLRB Jumps Ahead of Congress in “Amending”
Wagner Act Regulations on Employers’ Behalf

(24 March 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 12, 24 March 1947, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Among the anti-labor bills in Congressional hoppers since the 1946 election are several amendments to the Wagner Act, amendments to “liberalize” the law in favor of the employers. On these amendments Congress has yet to take action. However, the National Labor Relations Board, which is supposed to be carrying out the tenets of the Wagner Act, has already amended it in favor of the poor, abused employer.

“Employers are being given new rights by the NLRB. Changes are being made in the Board’s attitude on issues that affect employers, and policies of long standing are being reversed. These changes are being interpreted by some as moves ‘to forestall amendments to the Wagner Act.”

The above quote is from the businessman’s magazine, United States News. The last sentence has a reminiscent ring. Long before price control was abolished, the then OPA granted business price increases “where warranted”—also to forestall Congressional action against price control. But the weakening of price control only paved the way for its complete end. Similarly with rent control. OPA began allowing rent boosts in landlord “hardship cases” and santtioning certain evictions— again to check Congressional action. But the astute real estate lobby saw its advantage in OPA’s backsliding, with the result that OPA is being forced to fold up entirely and rent control is definitely on the skids.

“Rights” of Employers

So with the Wagner Act. The yielding of the NLRB to the pressure of the reactionaries who pretend they got “a mandate from the people” to destroy labor’s hard-won rights, plays into the hands of the reactionaries. Not only does the NLRB’s granting employers “new rights” under a law unquestionably passed to assure labor certain minimum rights, make a laughing stock of that law. The confusion created by NLRB’s new interpretations of the law also gives the reactionaries an excellent argument for “clarifying” the act by amendments, or doing away with it altogether.

On the point of “a mandate from the people” to cripple labor. Fortune magazine, after one of its typical surveys, drew the following conclusion:

“The Republican landslide in 1946 has been characterized by some as a swing to the right, but an examination of the popular trend of thought does not bear this out. There is no wish to do away with many of the social reforms instituted by the Democrats; more specifically there is no demand even to abolish the basic tenet of the Wagner Act.”

Of course, the working class population doesn’t need a Fortune survey to tell it that it does not want “the social reforms instituted by the Democrats” during the last depression abolished out of fear of what the aroused working people might do if not “appeased” with social reforms. What is important to note in all this blather about “a mandate from the people”’ to cut labor’s throat is not that the known reactionaries of both parties have sought to wrap their anti-labor bias in it; but that the Democratic administration under President Truman feels it can, at a time when labor’s militancy is not so much in evidence, emasculate social reforms forced from the Democrats by labor’s militant discontent of former years.

It is exactly this kind of emasculation that the NLRB is performing on the Wagner Act by some of its decisions in the last few months. Actually the NLRB has strengthened the hands of the employers in firing strikers and breaking strikes, interfering with union organization; in vitiating collective bargaining.

First, let us see how the NLRB is giving the employer a weapon against strikes. In recent decisions the NLRB has not required the reinstatement of workers who go on an “economic” strike in disputes over wages and working conditions, but where there have been “no unfair labor practices on the part of the employer.” Since, in union shops, wages and working conditions are set by contract, this ruling by the NLRB is a direct blow at unorganized workers who would have no recourse against the employer unless they could prove his “unfair labor practices.” Again, in jurisdictional disputes when employees strike to get recognition for a union where another union has already been certified by the NLRB, the employer is upheld in discharging such employees. This interferes with workers changing their union affiliation when it is beneficial for them to do so.

Further militating against the workers’ right to strike, the NLRB has ruled in many cases that strikers can be fired when there is a no-strike clause in an agreement. Of course, NLRB specifies that the strike must not have been caused by “unfair labor practices” by the employer. However, here is another opening for the employers to fire militant unionists and to break strikes by placing on the workers the onus of proving “unfair labor practices” by the employer. As to firing militant unionists, employers have been up held by the NLRB in firing strike leaders.

Taken together, all these “new rights” that the NLRB has granted the bosses amount to a stealthy stab in the back of labor’s right to strike.

“Free Speech” for Bosses

Employer interference in labor’s right to organize is now called “free speech for employers.” Up to recently the interpretation of the Wagner Act was that it was illegal for employers to use economic or other intimidation against workers seeking to organize. The Board is now beginning to reverse this interpretation and is expanding the employers’ right to intervene. The NLRB is permitting the employer to propagandize workers With anti-union letters, circulars and statements which, in the words of the United States News, “would have been considered by the NLRB as unfair labor practice and interference with the organizing rights of the workers” in the past.

As to collective bargaining, the meaning of the Wagner Act was to compel employers to negotiate in good faith with the workers on the basis of the latter’s demands. In other words, the act was intended to implement the case of the unions against the employers. Heretofore, the union was not considered as not bargaining in good faith by NLRB interpretations, and the union had the right to level at the employer charges of failing to bargain in good faith.

Now, however, the NLRB tends to hold that a union cannot sustain charges that the employer is violating the law compelling him to bargain in good faith, unless the union has bargained in good faith. The intent of the law to compel the bosses to bargain with the unions will be completely vitiated. Arguments about who broke the good faith first will be as fruitful as the one about the chicken and the egg.

What is Happening to the Wagner Act proves that the capitalist government does not regard labor’s rights as inalienable. When that government thinks the best interests of the capitalist class are served by making concessions to labor, as happened in the first part of the Roosevelt administration, labor is thrown a few bones. When the capitalist outlook is based on making labor retreat, as is the case with American imperialism today, rights are no longer rights.

While the workers should oppose, tooth and nail, the NLRB’s emasculation of the Wagner Act and the bills before Congress to amend the act, their sights must be raised to a higher aim. The aim has to be for rights that cannot be taken away. That can be only when workers withdraw support from all capitalist politicians, form an independent labor party for all the, exploited and oppressed, and go forward to control their own destinies through a workers’ government.

Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 3 January 2022