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Truman’s “State of Union” Speech
Is Futile Bid to Halt Labor Crisis

(12 January 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 2, 12 January 1946, p. 7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Attempting to project a program to allay the deepening and spreading class struggle between American labor and Big Business, President Truman on January 3 addressed the country by radio on “The State of the Union.”

The “state of the union,” Truman confessed, is not a happy one. “First among the obstacles” to the universal security and prosperity which the war government promised for peace, said Truman, “have been labor-management disputes?’

Thus, Truman dealt primarily with the decisive problem vexing American political life since V-J Day – the tremendous conflict between American labor and capital.

Truman’s “Solution”

Truman proposed to alleviate this conflict by passage of a single piece of legislation, the “fact-finding” bill initiated by him on December 3 when he made his strike-breaking “request” for the GM workers to end their strike. In his speech, he again called for a federal law to establish semi-compulsory aribitration government “fact-finding boards” and to prohibit the right to strike for a “30-day ‘cooling-off’ period.”

This proposition was met with bitter hostility and denunciation by virtually all sections of organized labor when it was first propounded. But once more it is advanced by Truman as his “solution” to the irrepressible class warfare provoked by the union-busting, wage-slashing offensive of America’s war-profits bloated corporations.

Truman, of course, claimed his program to restrict the right to strike “contains nothing harmful to labor.” For, he argued, “there is no reason why a strike cannot be postponed for thirty days” so that the government can “step in to obtain all the facts and report its findings to the country.”

Danger to Labor

In general, any law to restrict the right to strike would be an opening wedge for more drastic anti-labor legislation and in its very essence can be only dangerous to labor.

Under the particular circumstances now prevailing, Truman’s measure would have a specifically pernicious effect upon labor’s struggle. The present strikes are being called after months of delay and stalling, as a last desperate resort of the workers to win their just demands. The proposal to enforce a further 30-day delay would serve only to interpose another obstacle to strike action at the most timely and strategic moment.

If, in addition to this, the workers cannot strike before they submit their demands to a hand-picked government “fact- finding” board, we have nothing less than the establishment, even though in limited form, of compulsory arbitration. Moreover, the American workers have had a sufficient and bitter experience with these red-tape government boards.

But along with his attempt to show what a “good thing” his “fact-finding” plan is for labor, Truman also claims, with far more truth, that “on the other hand there is nothing harmful to management in this proposal.”

He explains carefully that “no detailed information obtained from the books of any company is to be revealed.” This is simply assurance to the corporations that the administration proposes to suppress any facts whose publication might be injurious to the interests of the profiteers.

Talking into Vacuum

But even with this proposition, so favorable to the corporate interests, Truman has found himself talking into a vacuum.

For the reality of the situation is that America’s power- drunk ruling class, the clique of Wall Street monopolists, is determined on nothing less than unconditional surrender of the labor movement.

This was made patent by the arrogant action of General Motors in walking out of Truman’s fact-finding hearings in the GM strike – an action which evoked only the feeble complaint from Truman that “you have seen how the General Motors Corporation has refused to cooperate with this fact-finding board.”

Moreover, Congress, which so completely reflects the interests and desires of Big Business, has pigeon-holed Truman’s “fact-finding” proposal, a matter of considerable distress to the President. Congress is preparing far more savage anti-labor laws.

For its part, organized labor, 15,000,000 strong, is no longer amenable to the type of government intervention it experienced during the war under the War Labor Board. Whatever the inclinations of the labor leaders may be, the union ranks are determined to fight for their rights tooth and nail with their most effective economic weapon – strike action.

Truman’s Choices

In this situation of a remorseless Big Business union-busting offensive and a defiant, militant resistance by labor, Truman’s attempt to dampen the conflict with a proposal inacceptable to both class contenders, is a futile one.

Nevertheless, he is impelled to this futile course, at this moment, by considerations of political expediency. Fundamentally he represents the interests of Big Business. But he is fearful of any decisive move against labor which will irremediably sever labor’s powerful political support from the Democratic administration.

Truman’s attempt to reconcile the bitter class opponents without sacrificing the basic Interests of Big Business or granting genuine gains to labor is utterly utopian. He will soon have to make the choice: either to crack down with full ferocity and all the power of government compulsion upon the striking workers, as Wall Street demands, or yield, substantial concessions to the mighty insurgent labor movement.

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