Carlos Hudson Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Jack Ranger

A Refresher Course on Seven Months
of the Truman Administration –

Case Study: Labor Leaders
and T-H Repeal

(30 May 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 22, 30 May 1949, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Seven months have passed since the Democratic Party, with the support of the AFL, CIO and Railroad Brotherhoods, won a landslide victory in the national election, and put Harry S. Truman back in the White House.

What cries of triumph issued from the lips of union leaders the day after November 2! And how sorry is the cold reality!

We are here going to pass through this experience again, in memory, through the eyes of one union and of one labor leader. But it is a case study. It might just as well be YOUR union and YOUR union president, in all probability.

Raise the curtain on 1948!

In July 1948 the Democratic Party held its national convention in Philadelphia. Words never cost a politician anything, and the Democrats adopted a high-sounding platform, which was accepted at face value by A.F. Whitney, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. The leading story in the July 17, 1948 issue of the Trainman News, front page, is headed:

“Liberalism Is Backbone of Dem Platform”

Blames Republicans

“In one of the convention’s major addresses,” it is modestly reported, “the BRT chieftain blasted the record of the Republican-controlled 80th Congress and called for an all-out drive by labor and liberals to return a progressive administration backed by a progressive Congress in the November elections.

“The Republican Congress ... stultified themselves by the enactment of the Taft-Hartley Slave Labor Law, which runs counter to the fundamental principles of our democratic system. ... It is a Republican law. [A majority of Democratic Congressmen voted in favor of the Taft-Hartley measure. – J.R.] The Republicans who engineered this law through Congress never fought a fair fight. . . . Labor demands the repeal of every law that Interferes with the rights of labor and the people.”

The leading front-page story in the September 11 issue read:



“Labors mounting support for the Democratic Truman-Barkley ticket was bolstered further this week as the Brotherhoods state legislative representatives handed it an enthusiastic indorsement ... The vigorous liberal Democratic platform and the pro-labor record of the 16 years of Democratic stewardship were cited by the legislative men as the basis for their support of the Truman-Barkley team.”

The October 16 issue carried a front-page editorial supporting Paul A. Douglas, the Democratic candidate for Senator in Illinois, and Stevenson, the Democratic candidate for Illinois governor.

“A Democratic victory is in prospect in Illinois and the Brotherhood is proud to give its backing to men like Douglas and Stevenson who are ‘undominated’ except by a lofty aim to serve all the people and protect the little people,” declared the editorial.

(Since faking office, Douglas has supported a Jim Crow housing measure and recently told a UAW committee that he opposed outright repeal of the Taft-Hartley Law.)

Backs Democrats

In the front-page story for October 23, President Whitney declared:

“In this election we cannot overlook the fact that the Democratic Party during the past 16 years has been the one which has had the people’s interest at heart ... We would be unmitigated ingrates were we not to support the party that has done the most for labor and the people generally. We are not, however, merely following a political label. We are backing a group that, on the record, has been back of us.”

(Two years earlier, in the railroad strike of 1946, President Truman used the injunction weapon to break the strike of the trainmen and the engineers. At that time Whitney publicly declared he would spend “millions” from the union treasury to defeat Truman.)

A front-page editorial in the same issue is entitled Progress Versus Republicanism and reads in part:

“The Democrats have promised repeal of the Taft-Hartley act, to raise minimum wages, expand public power facilities, provide national health legislation, extend social security, promote adequate housing and proper development of the country’s natural resources. They have spelled out in specific bills the benefits they intend to bring the people. Their record of the past 15 years is one that recommends their return to power. Certainly it is one which the worker can point to and say that it was written in his behalf.”

Pages 4 and 5 of the October 23 issue list the congressional candidates endorsed by the Brotherhood. “Election of these men on November 2. will insure the future of our democratic way of life and promote the interests of all Americans,” said the Trainmen News.

(In the vote on repeal of the Taft-Hartley Law in 1949, dozens of the Congressmen endorsed by the Brotherhood voted AGAINST repealing or changing the law. No less than 11 even raffed on the Wood bill.)

On November 2 the Democratic Party won a landslide victory throughout the nation. Let the November 6 Trainmen News describe it:

“Labor’s Vote Does It!

“Workers Pull Dems Thru for Great Victory

“Union Chiefs See Triumph People’s Gain

“The landslide Democratic victory throughout the nation in Tuesday’s election was hailed by labor chieftains on all fronts as a smashing win for organized working men and women ...

Truman Victory Hailed

“AFL President William Green declared the election results were an overwhelming repudiation by the American people ‘of the miserable record of the 80th Congress. By their votes,’ Green said, ‘the American people have given the next administration and the 81st Congress a mandate for progressive action – action to wipe out the anti-labor program of the past Congress, action to halt rising prices, action to build millions of new homes at a cost within the reach of the average family, action to broaden and increase social security benefits, action to lift minimum wages ...’

“President Whitney ... hailed the election results with this statement which was widely quoted in the nation’s press:

” ‘The action of the people in electing Truman and Barkley and electing a substantial majority in the Senate and House is an outstanding victory for labor and the masses ...’”

The same issue also reported that the AFL had decided not to sponsor a new political party. It said that a number of papers had recently quoted AFL President Green as saying that the pending AFL convention would “definitely do something about starting a third major U.S. political party,” but added that, following Truman’s election, Green had reversed himself and announced that it “would be a mistake for the AFL to isolate itself by forming a new party.”

“LABOR READY FOR RIGHTFUL ROLE IN U.S.” read the leading story in the November 13, 1948 issue, continuing:

“As smoke from the great political battle of 1948 cleared, one dominant fact loomed above all other considerations – that U.S. labor had come of age politically and was ready to play its deserved role in shaping the economic and social policies upon which America’s destiny rests. That role will be typically American, with labor influencing government within the framework of the existing and traditional two- party system.

“Labor, more than any other group or segment of the population, carried the campaign issues to the people.... President Truman, who had the almost unanimous support of organized labor from the beginning of his campaign, was the first to acknowledge the vital role of the workers in his victory. ‘Labor did it,’ he told newsmen. The President’s statement was backed up by Senator McGrath, who as chairman of the Democratic national committee, had supervised the campaign, declared: ‘This is a victory for American labor.’”

The November 27 issue of the Trainmen News, page 3, carries a story headed: Dem Party Is Labor Vehicle, Tobin Asserts, and quotes Secretary of Labor Maurice Tobin as declaring, at a press conference following his address to the AFL convention, that

“I don’t believe in a labor party, but I would like to see an alignment of a conservative party versus a liberal party.

“I feel the Democratic Party is now the liberal party and should serve as labor’s vehicle. Also, the best interests of our country will be served by the two-party system.

“If the President campaigned on any one issue, it certainly was that the Taft-Hartley act must be repealed. He will go to Congress with a mandate for repeal. THERE’S NO DOUBT IN MY MIND THAT THE ACT WILL BE REPEALED BY MARCH 1.” (My emphasis – J.R.)

Dem Doubletalk Begins

Two weeks later, the secretary of labor was already reneging on the administration’s pledge for outright repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act.

Whitney Hits Hints of T-H Compromise is the heading on the front-page story, December 11.

“President Whitney this week blasted newspaper propaganda out of Washington intimating that administration leaders are willing to accept something less than full repeal of the Taft-Hartley act and that a compromise might be in order.”

“In a telegram to Secretary of Labor Maurice Tobin, the Brotherhood leader charged that the ‘reactionary press is attempting to create the impression that you are supervising a compromise on repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act.’

“Secretary Tobin was reminded of the Democratic platform which states: ‘We advocate repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act.’

“‘Any compromise of that specific proposal,’ President Whitney said, ‘will be a great disappointment to the people who gave the Democrats victory November 2. No effort should be made to compromise the Taft- Hartley law. The Democratic pledge should be explicitly carried out and the Wagner Act re-enacted.’”

The same story added that:

“... renewed assurances by Vice-President-elect Alben W. Barkley that the Democratic election pledges won’t be switched into a siding came during a speech at Los Angeles when the Kentuckian ... said that not one of the party planks adopted at the Philadelphia convention ‘was written merely for the purpose of getting votes; the convention which adopted that platform meant every word it said.’

“On the question of repeal versus amendment of the infamous Taft-Hartley Act, Senator Barkley said: ‘We are committed to repeal, and to me that doesn’t mean amendment.’”

The December 25 issue, page 3, carries a story: Dems Determined to Carry Out Promises, Sen Barkley Assures Town Hall Audience.

The story declares that “The Democratic Party will leave no stone unturned in carrying out its commitments to the American people.

“Definite assurance that the promises will be transformed into legislative realities was given by Vice-President-elect Barkley ... The Taft-Hartley law is definitely on the way out, Senator Barkley said. ‘The Democratic platform pledged itself to its repeal because we felt, and now feel, that the law was harsh and unnecessary and that it undertook and succeeded in withdrawing essential rights of labor organizations.

“It would bo unthinkable that the incoming administration would not recommend, and that the Congress would not pass an act repealing the Taft-Hartley law, and I look for that to be one of the first efforts of the new Congress to carry out its pledges to the people.’”

Nothing Happened

Solons’ Task: Interpreting Nov. Election reads the lead story in the January 1, 1949 issue.

“Have the congressmen caught the significance of the Nov. 2 balloting and will they take it to heart?” asks Whitney’s paper. “Labor expects that they will and bases its hopes on the fact that a MAJORITY OF THE LEGISLATORS WERE ELECTED ON THE LIBERAL PLATFORM OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY.” (My emphasis – J.R.)

Whitney himself had a signed article on the front page telling his members that:

“I am able now to tell of a much more hopeful future facing us. The Administration we backed has been returned. Our candidates for Congress were victorious.”

The issue further quoted Whitney as stating that:

“Labor’s first major objective is repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act and enactment of a labor law that will insure justice ... The old Wagner act should be re-enacted and Congress should start from there.”

So the new administration took office, including the labor-backed majority in the House and Senate. Weeks passed. Nothing happened. Scores of Congressmen elected with the fervent support of the Whitneys, the Greens, the Murrays, showed unmistakably that they had no intention of carrying out ANY of the Democratic platform pledges.

The union rank and file were becoming increasingly restless, critical of the Democrats and critical of the union leaders who had urged them to vote for Democratic politicians.

The Railroad Trainmen devoted less and less space to the Washington scene. Finally, no longer able to remain silent, Whitney’s paper began to cry that labor had been tricked.

Congress Scores Zero

Congress ‘Renegades’ Hit by Pres. Whitney is the title of a front-page story in the March 26 issue, which quotes Whitney as proposing that labor map plans to “retire” in 1950 congressional “renegades to the people’s cause,” who are blocking enactment of President Truman’s Fair Deal program.

“We’ll have to give the backward boys the same treatment that many former members of the 80th Congress received who flaunted the workers,” piped Whitney.

The Trainmen suddenly discovered, as reflected in another front-page story in the same issue, that Turncoat Dems Had Fingers in T-H Birth. (There had been not one word said during the campaign of the fact that a MAJORITY of Democratic Congressman had voted FOR the Taft-Hartley Act.)

Finally, in the April 9 issue, the leading front-page story summed up the sad reality of the second Truman administration, after all the grandiose boasts of the “labor statesmen” during and immediately after the 1948 election.


“Not One Dem Plank Is Law Due to GOP and Dixiecrat Opposition.”

The above subheading is a lie, designed to cover up the fact that a number of Northern Democrats elected with labor backing had repudiated their pledges to support legislation demanded by the union movement.

“The first three months of the 81st Congress have been a painful disappointment to those who thought they won an election last Nov. 2,” whined Whitney’s paper.

“Not one major plank of the Democratic platform has become law and the coalition of Republicans and Dixiecrats which blocked rules reform in the Senate shows signs of staying alive to fight Taft-Hartley repeal and other liberal legislation.” The story quoted William Green as expressing the pious sentiment that “Congress is moving altogether too slowly ... but we are still hopeful and optimistic that ultimately we will get what we are asking for.”

“Asked whether the White House has brought enough pressure on Congress for the Fair Deal, Mr. Green said it has ‘done all it can.’”

Despite this patent demonstration that it is hopeless for the labor movement to gain expression for its hopes and needs through the capitalist-dominated Democratic Party, Whitney still supports the party that, for the umteenth time, has betrayed its labor supporters.

The April 16 issue of his sheet has a story on the recent convention of the Americans for Democratic Action, headed: Dem Party Is Liberals’ Best Bet, ADA Told.

In the same issue, Whitney changes his approach to the Democratic Congressmen who were turning their back on their campaign pledges.

“There are a number of new senators and representatives who desire to do the right thing and some appear to be confused because of the propaganda that is being spread by the Big Money interests to retain the Taft-Hartley law,” Whitney is quoted as stating. He “scored” liberals who were predicting that the 81st Congress would not repeal the anti-labor law.

The April 23 issue carried a new prediction by Labor Secretary Tobin, whose batting average in the predicting game was still exactly zero.

“Secretary Tobin Predicts Early Repeal of T-H

“The Truman labor bill will be law before long,” the story runs.

(Note the reference to the Truman labor bill. Both Truman and the labor leaders had long ago given up the fight for re-enactment of the Wagner act and were now backing a weasel-worded bill that would retain many of the worst features of the T-H law.)

“Expressing great confidence that the measure repealing the iniquitous Taft-Hartley law and bringing back the Wagner act with a few necessary amendments would be enacted, Labor Secretary Tobin said the administration bill would be approved ‘without substantial change.’

“And what is the basis for this confidence? Indication of the Truman measure’s success stems from a Labor Department canvass, Mr. Tobin declared ... The administration bill, Mr. Tobin declared, would clear the House by May 1 after several days of debate.”

May 1 passed and it was all too clear that the Democratic majority in control of the House and Senate was NOT going to pass even the administration’s watered-down labor bill.

Whitney Crawls

The April 30 issue blossoms out with a front-page editorial signed by Whitney, entitled: Congress WILL Do Its Job for Nation.

His threats and blusters had had no effect. Neither had his kind words about some new Congressmen having been “confused” by big-business propaganda.

Now Whitney was crawling.

“Most members of Congress are hard-working, honest, respectable gentlemen, who have a desire to be faithful to their trust,” he writes. “They wish to deal fairly with labor, with the farmer, with industry, and to vote for what they believe to be best for all people ...

“The Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen prides itself in knowing something about human nature, and its representatives will not participate in a campaign of high pressure or false propaganda in an attempt to deceive or mislead any member of Congress. The membership of the Brotherhood enjoys the respect and confidence of most members of Congress, and it proposes to retain this confidence and respect by treating the members of Congress with dignity and by furnishing such information as will be helpful to them in determining matters placed before them,” etc., etc.

Were there a labor party in the United States, organized by and based upon the union movement, labor-party representatives in Washington would not have to be threatened or whined to or fawned upon in order to induce them to carry out labor’s program.

Instead such labor-party Congressmen would be in the thick of the vanguard of the fight, giving the green light to labor’s program, arousing the people, organizing mass action all over the nation and especially in Washington itself, to see that labor’s program was enacted.

How many times must labor have to repeat its experience with the two old capitalist-dominated boss parties, before it learns that NOTHING can be gained through playing ball with them?

In the summer of 1948 there was widespread demand in labor’s ranks that it organize a new nationwide labor party, independent of the two old parties. Whitney & Co. managed to sidetrack that demand in favor of Truman and his crew of blatherskites. On November 3 a lot of liberals and labor leaders thought they had been devilishly clever.

Developments of the past seven months have shown that the really clever people, and the recipients of all of labor’s campaign sacrifices, were the Democratic politicians and big business, whose interests the Democrats have joined the Republicans in protecting.

Whitney & Co. are bankrupt. They have lost their right to hand down political directives to the ranks of organized labor. It is time to revive the movement for a national independent labor party.

* * *

Time to Learn a Lesson!

Next – A Labor Party! (written before the election) was correct when it warned that the tactic of the union leaders in tailing the old parties in the 1948 election would “only lead to new disappointments, to more cries of ‘betrayal’ as the politicians whom they now label ‘liberal’ and ‘friends of labor’ obey their real masters after elections. “Given the tactic being followed by Murray, Green, Hutcheson, Whitney & Co.,” we wrote, “it is inevitable that reaction will continue to grow after the 1948 elections.”

The reason, the pamphlet seeks to explain, is that capitalism is going downhill fast, and that big business in the United States cannot permanently afford the luxury of strong unions and union wage scales, union working rules, the luxury of civil liberties.

A review of the past seven months should be instructive to those unionists who still believe that the Democratic Party can be transformed into a “party of the people,” or that labor can defend and advance its political interests without building a new party of its own, a labor party.

The events of the past few months are recalled on this page as they have been reflected in one of the representative union papers of today, the Trainmen News, official weekly publication of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. Almost exactly the same quotations may be found in the columns of the AFL and CIO press.

Carlos Hudson Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 1 August 2019