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C. Thomas

One Year of Taft-Hartley Act –
Its Effect on Trade Unions

(30 August 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 35, 30 August 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The first “anniversary” of the infamous Taft-Hartley Law provided the capitalist press with the occasion for editorial sermons directed toward refuting the contention that the Act was designed to undermine, weaken and emasculate the trade unions of this country.

The editorials sneered at labor’s characterization of the Act as a slave labor law. They scorned the prediction that it was intended as a union-busting measure. As evidence they offered the fact that the unions were still in existence. Further, that wage concessions had been gained without recourse to widespread strike action. In essence, the editorial sermons preached that one year of the Taft-Hartley Law had demonstrated that it was a good thing for all concerned.

The question arises: Has labor exaggerated the intent of the Act or is the Taft-Hartley gang proceeding according to schedule in carrying forward their union-busting program. The answer to this question can be found in an examination of the origin of the Act and its subsequent effect on labor-management relations.

Omnibus Measure

The Taft-Hartley Act was admittedly inspired by the most rabid union-hating employers group in the country, the National Association of Manufacturers. It is an omnibus measure combining most of the separate anti-union devices advocated for years by the NAM and other such outfits. At one stroke it nullified progressive labor legislation won only after years of struggle.

An even cursory examination of its provisions is enough to establish the intent of the Act to destroy the independence of the unions and reestablish the humiliating worker-employer relationship under which the unrestricted right to hire and fire, dispense favors or administer punishment, is exercised without restraint by the boss. It is this relationship of master and slave inherent in the Act, that fully justifies its characterization as a slave-labor law.

But those who framed and enacted the law, and those assigned to administer it, were shrewd enough to know that an attempt co impose its provisions at once would lead to civil war. The organized labor movement was too strong and too confident of its strength to tolerate such an attempt. The bosses had tried the method of head-on assault in 1946 and were soundly whipped.

Piecemeal Strategy

Therefore, the Taft-Hartley gang devised the strategy of putting over the Act piece-meal. The labor leaders aided and abetted this strategy. Their opposition was confined to the ground staked out by the Taft-Hartley gang. On the day following the enactment of the Law, June 24, 1947, the reactionary N.Y. Daily News called on the labor leaders to: “Take It Like Sports.” The “proper procedure.” advised The News, was to abandon all talk of a general strike and “to work on Congress to revise the law.” A N.Y. Times editorial, the same day, expressed the “hope” that the labor leaders would cooperate with the law while exercising their “right to seek the repeal of this legislation through the election of new members of Congress.” The National Association of Manufacturers, spark-plug of the drive to smash the unions, prescribed the following remedy: “If they (union leaders) deem any provision of this bill to be unconstitutional, it is their privilege – their obligation – to contest it in the courts. But only the courts should be used for this purpose.”

The course of action prescribed by the avowed advocates of the Taft-Hartley Act was followed, almost to the letter, by the labor leaders. Abandoned were the thundering threats of independent mass action made prior to the. adoption of the law. Instead, they threatened political reprisals against the politicians in Washington, even vaguely at the possible organization of a “third” political party – some time in the not-too-immediate future.

Spokesmen for the AFL declared they would call a one-day holiday, come next election day, so the workers could vote out of office those who enacted the law. Not a one-day general strike preceding or immediately following the adoption of the Act to demonstrate labor’s determination to defend its existence – that wouldn’t be at all “sporting” – but a one-day holiday to vote in another set of hard-bitten capitalist politicians.

At every stage the labor leaders hewed to the same pattern of blustering defiance, retreat and capitulation. After its formal adoption the Act could have been rendered ineffective if the unions jointly refused to sign the affidavits of compliance – the so-called anti-communist’ affidavits. Absolutely no attempt was made to organize such united resistance. There was the usual blustering followed by individual defections. Then the AFL convention went on record to comply followed by the CIO convention which left it to the discretion of its affiliated organizations. When the UAW convention, under the initiative of Reuther, came out for compliance, this sector of the resistance front caved in. Many of the smaller unions scurried for cover and those Stalinist-controlled unions which held out became the target for raids by other unions and employer-government assault.

The same cowardly policy was attempted to evade, temporarily, the restrictive provisions of the Act. Although the Act was adopted on June 23, 1947 it was not to go into effect until August 22. The labor leaders, including the Stalinists, rushed to take advantage of this “escape” period to get in under the wire and thus earn a year’s grace. Anything to postpone the inevitable showdown.

While the union leaders were following an every-man-for-him-self policy, the Taft-Hartley gang were relentlessly pursuing their union-busting goal. Strategic unions were being picked off one at a time in an effort to establish broad precedents that could later be applied to the rest of the labor movement.

Three Unions

The CIO National Maritime Union, the AFL International Typographical Union and the Independent United Mine Workers had dared defy the Act. The National Labor Relations Board and its General Counsel, Denham, spearheading the anti-labor drive are seeking to make an example of these unions. Court action has been brought against all three. Unfortunately, the leaders of these unions have been inclined toward a naive faith in the impartiality of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The labor commentator for the N.Y. Journal of Commerce takes a more realistic view when he says, “unless the political winds shift far more to the left than most observers expect them to, the act probably is going to emerge in the long run in even stronger form than it is today.” Like Mr. Dooley, the Journal of Commerce is convinced that “the Supreme Court follows the election returns.”

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