FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Taft-Hartley Revisited

by DAVID MACARAY

“The most effective anti-poverty program ever invented was the labor union.”

—George Meany

There are three important things that need to be remembered about the 1947 Labor-Management Relations Act—commonly known as the “Taft-Hartley Act,” after its congressional sponsors, Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, and House Representative Fred Hartley of New Jersey.

First, even though political pundits and social commentators continue to talk—60-odd years after the fact—about how Taft-Hartley was a  necessary corrective, an antidote to runaway union excesses, a move that had to made to preserve the economic health of the nation, the legislation was far more toxic and insidious than these “reasonable response” accounts make it out to be.

Taft-Hartley was the naked attempt to neutralize America’s unions by revoking key provisions of the landmark 1935 National Labor Relations Act (commonly known as the “Wagner Act,” after its sponsor, New York Senator Robert Wagner), the act that legitimized a union’s right to strike, engage in collective bargaining, and serve as the workers’ sole representative.

Make no mistake, the vitality of the post-World War II labor movement was staggering—so staggering, in fact, that the federal government and America’s leading corporations were in a state of panic.  It’s no exaggeration to say that never in our history had organized labor come so close to becoming an equal partner in the national economy than in the years directly following the war.

Not only were unions full of confidence and buoyed by the support of a sympathetic public, they were fearless.  In 1946, the year before Taft-Hartley became law, five million people had taken part in strikes.  Five million people had put down their tools or shut off their machines to hit the bricks, to protest the fortunes made by war profiteers, to protest the picayune wages being offered union members.

However, even though the working class was clearly on the ascendancy and the road ahead appeared wide-open, there were storm clouds gathering on the horizon.  The realization that working men and women were now wielding genuine power—power that translated into independent political and economic clout—was scaring the wits out of the Establishment.  It was that fear that precipitated the legislation.

Second, the Taft-Hartley Act did precisely what it set out to do.  It crippled the labor movement.  Among other things, it outlawed wildcat strikes, jurisdictional strikes, solidarity strikes, secondary boycotts and secondary picketing; and, in an odd footnote, it required union leaders to take an oath that they weren’t Communists (as if anyone who sided with the working class was a suspected Commie).

Taft-Hartley prolonged the union certification process; it gave the federal government the right to issue strike injunctions; it expressly excluded supervisors from union membership and collective bargaining; and it severely weakened the union security clause (language under which joining a union was a condition of employment).

By lengthening the certification process, management could now stall; with injunction power, the feds could now squelch any large-scale strike; by excluding supervision, bosses could now reclassify workers as “supervisors,” thereby exempting them from union membership; and by de-fanging the security clause, 22 states now have right-to-work laws—five of which (Arkansas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Kansas and Florida) are embedded in state constitutions.

The third thing to remember about Taft-Hartley is that, while it became the law of the land despite the veto of President Harry Truman, it was congressional Democrats who assured its passage.  Liberals and progressives like to place the blame on anti-union Republicans, but it was the Democrats themselves who pushed it across the finish line.

Fact:  A majority of the Democrats in congress voted to override Truman’s veto.  While many were Southerners (“Dixiecrats”), many were not.  Had the Democrats simply supported their president—had they provided working people with the economic equivalent of the same privileges guaranteed to citizens under the Bill of Rights—Taft-Hartley would not have become law.

All of which raises a question:  If American voters were given the choice, how would they choose to be governed?  Would they prefer that Big Business—with the blessings of a corporate-oriented government—dictated our domestic and foreign affairs?  Or would they prefer giving working men and women an equal voice in determining policy?

We can argue all we like about the practicality of regular citizens making national policy, but one thing can’t be disputed:  If regular citizens had been running the show, they never would have abandoned our manufacturing base.  They never would have agreed to enrich international oligarchies at the expense of the American economy.

Taking the greatest manufacturing power in the history of the world and dismantling it—relegating it to the role of industrial “spectator”—is something that working people would never allow to happen.  Never.  Only the U.S. Congress would see the wisdom in pissing away something that took 150 years to build.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”. He served 9 terms as president of AWPPW Local 672. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

WORDS THAT STICK

?

 

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
Dave Lindorff
Right a Terrible Wrong: Why Obama Should Reverse Himself and Pardon Leonard Peltier
Laura Carlsen
Bringing Mexico to Its Knees Will Not “Make America Great Again”
John W. Whitehead
Nothing is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey: the Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Mike Whitney
The Trump Speech That No One Heard 
Conn Hallinan
Is Europe Heading for a “Lexit”?
Stephen Cooper
Truth or Twitter? Why Donald Trump Is No John Steinbeck
Binoy Kampmark
Scoundrels of Patriotism: The Freeing of Chelsea Manning
Ramzy Baroud
The Balancing Act is Over: What Elor Azaria Taught Us about Israel
Josh Hoxie
Why Health Care Repeal is a Stealth Tax Break for Millionaires
Kim C. Domenico
It’s High Time for a Politics of Desire
Shamus Cooke
Inauguration Day and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
More and More Lousy
David Swanson
Samantha Power Can See Russia from Her Padded Cell
Kevin Carson
Right to Work and the Apartheid State
Malaika H. Kambon
Resisting the Lynching of Haitian Liberty!
January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump, It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail