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Truman Democrats in Retreat
All Along Line on ‘Fair Deal’

Not a Single Pledge Fulfilled In Eleven Weeks of Session

(21 March 1949)

From The Militant, Vol, 13 No. 12, 21 March 1949, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

After eleven weeks in continuous session, the Democratic-controlled Congress has not passed a single one of the “Fair Deal” reforms promised by Truman and his party before elections. Instead, the Truman Democrats are yielding all down the line to the open reactionaries, labor-haters and Negro-baiters.

The failure of the Truman machine to put up a real fight has led once more to the triumph of a Southern Democratic filibuster in the Senate. With the Truman forces offering only feeble and token resistance, the Taft-Hartley elements and right-wing Democrats are pressing their attack with ever-greater boldness, arrogance and ferocity.

Not only have the promised social improvements been blocked, but there is real danger that in some fields even worse bills than those passed by the Republican-controlled 80th Congress will be enacted.

This threat has given the Truman Democrats the pretext for abandoning the civil rights program, the immediate issue behind the filibuster, and for watering down their pledged reforms. The “Fair Deal” – a frail craft even for calm waters – has met its first squall and is already leaking at every seam.

Truman and his supporters, including most of the top union leaders and liberals, will now try to foist the whole responsibility for Congressional stalling onto his Southern contingent and the Republicans. But from the start he had no intention of pressing the fight to the point where it might crack the recemented alliance of the Northern and Southern wings of his party. For the sake of this unholy alliance of the big city bosses and poll-tax “white supremacists,” Truman is prepared – after the usual for-the-record gestures – to give ground on his whole “Fair Deal” program.

The successful Southern filibuster has already put the knife to any effective civil rights bills to safeguard the rights of the Negro people. It was Truman’s promise to press these measures that led to the Southern “states rights” walkout at the Democratic national convention last July and helped secure widespread Negro and labor support for Truman’s election. But he has kept virtually mum on the question since the elections and it was an open secret, even before the filibuster, that the Truman Democrats were talking “compromise.” Now they are tossing the whole issue out of the window. Other key “Fair Deal” promises are facing similar disposal.

Rent Controls Going

At the very first test, administration supporters in the House, under fire from spokesmen of the real estate interests, disemboweled their own rent control bill. As it came out of committee, the bill proposed to extend controls for only 15 months instead of the promised two years. Democratic leaders then cut more of the guts out of it by supporting an amendment permitting the boosting of individual rents to guarantee landlords a “’reasonable return” on the “reasonable value” of their property. This would open a hole in rent ceilings big enough to drive a truck through. It is even worse than the bill passed by the 80th Congress which limited rent increases to a voluntary 15%.

In order to line up enough Democratic votes for continuing rent controls at all, the administration promised to decontrol rents in more than a hundred areas and a “list of these areas which might be decontrolled was circulated privately among House members.” (Associated Press, Mar. 11.)

The House went this one better on Mar. 15 by voting 227 to 188 for a clause in the rent control bill giving state and local governments the power, by simple resolution, to decontrol all rents in their own political subdivisions This, in effect, completely destroys federal rent control.

To Retain Most of T-H

From the opening of Congress, Truman has been hedging on the promise of unconditional Taft-Hartley repeal, which he used as his chief inducement to win labor votes. He has opened the way for restoration of much of the Taft-Hartley Act under a different label by tying repeal of this act to simultaneous adoption of an amended Wagner Act. These amendments include curbs on various types of strikes, a “cooling off” period and government machinery for intervention in “national emergency” strikes. Although the union leaders pretend that Truman’s bill eliminates the use of strikebreaking injunctions, Truman himself has publicly approved their use and has claimed for himself “inherent powers” to invoke injunctions without any law.

For weeks Taft-Hartley repeal has been stalled in Congressional committee hearings and the Truman Democrats have made no attempt to speed up action. They are obviously intent on keeping the Taft-Hartley law in force for possible use against the miners or other workers m major industries who might go on strike for wage boosts this spring. When the new labor bill does go before Congress as a whole, it will then be loaded down with union-busting amendments. Will the Truman Democrats show any more fight on these Taft-Hartleyized amendments than they have on the civil rights filibuster?

Housing Betrayal

After all this talk about what he was going to do for housing, the specific proposal Truman made to Congress has evoked openly-voiced dismay from housing experts. His proposal for 1,050,000 new government-financed, housing units in seven years would not even make up for the normal loss of housing due to fire and deterioration. Even this proposal has been “compromised” in the bill now pending before Congress, which whittles the program down to 850,000 units in six years.

The Truman-sponsored 75-cent, minimum wage bill is being similarly whittled down. A Democratic-controlled House committee has already performed a major surgical operation. Despite the Democratic promise to extend coverage of the bill, the committee, revised the bill to exclude millions Of agricultural and other low-paid workers from minimum wage law protection.

Truman’s promise to broaden social security and increase the amount of benefits has given way to “states rights” measures which will turn over federal funds to reactionary state governments to administer and distribute. These measures are to be financed in large part by soaking all the workers with additional payroll taxes. And the record of the 81st Congress to date, as well as the feeble showing of the Truman Democrats, indicates that even the inadequate measures advocated by Truman will be trimmed on the Congressional chopping block.

But while the Truman Democrats are in ignominious retreat on their promises to the workers and Negro people, the Truman administration is advancing with blitzkrieg speed toward its real objective – militarization of the country, war alliance of all the capitalist countries under U.S. domination and suppression of all domestic opposition to war preparations.

The Truman administration has contemptuously ignored any Congressional voice of opposition to the North Atlantic Pact, which has been secretly drafted and is being set into motion even before the Senate has received a copy of the actual text. When it was pointed out that this greatest military alliance in history, which commits this country in advance to go to war in the event of “attack” on any signatory, is inoperative without the approval of the Senate, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hastened to give it an O.K. to keep up appearances.

Truman is showing no timidity about pushing his monumental armaments budget and his program for militarizing Western Europe. We can be certain that he and his Congressional supporters will ruthlessly brush aside any opposition that might arise to impede speedy passage of all military and war measures. Indeed, administration spokesmen are already pleading the “pressing nature” of the war program as an alibi for yielding quickly to their Congressional opponents on social reform measures.

It is taking even less time than we predicted originally to expose the contradictions of Truman’s program for both “guns AND butter.” Now it is becoming frightfully clear that it is “guns OR butter.” Truman’s demagogic vote-catching promises of social reform are being swallowed up by the voracious war program.

To push this program through, whatever the cost to the people, the Truman administration is determined to stifle all opposition. Truman is remorselessly intensifying the witch-hunt purge of all government workers suspected of having the slightest difference of opinion with the administration. With the Truman administration giving the lead, Congress is readying a whole series of witch-hunt and thought-control laws against “communists” or anybody else who dares to oppose American imperialism’s headlong drive to war.

The immediate need is for the full-scale mobilization, on a nation-wide basis, of organized labor and its allies for a mighty counter-offensive against the reactionary onslaught of Congress. A United Congress of Labor, with rank and file representation from every union, should be convened immediately in Washington, on the very doorstep of Congress, to plan and lead the fight.

The American workers in the next period are going to learn that the politics of the “lesser evil” of supporting one capitalist party and candidate against another capitalist party and candidate – will not solve a single one of their major problems. The contradictions of American capitalism – leading either to another depression or atomic destruction in another war – shape the course of both parties of Big Business, Democratic and Republican. Only a party dedicated to the interests of the working class – the overwhelming majority of the people – can solve the problems of the working class.

The record of Truman and Congress in the past eleven weeks brings forward with renewed force the need for labor to build its own party and advance its own program. There is no other way out of labor’s political blind alley. The demonstration of labor’s strength in the last elections shows what a mighty independent political power the workers could wield through their own party. The rank and file of labor must now throw off the shackles of capitalist politics by which the union officialdom has so far been able to keep that power bound and helpless.

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