Fifty-seven years ago, on June 23, 1947, over-riding President Harry Truman’s veto, Congress voted for the Taft-Hartley Act. It was a savage counter-attack on Labor’s great legislative achievement of the Roosevelt years, the Wagner Act. As Taft-Hartley came before Congress Truman denounced it as a “slave-labor bill”.
Taft-Hartley still said strikes were legal, up to a point. It just made it far harder to win them. It declared the closed shop illegal and permitted the union shop only after a vote of a majority of the employees. It forbade jurisdictional strikes and secondary boycotts. Other aspects of the legislation included the right of employers to be exempted from bargaining with unions unless they wished to.
The act forbade unions from contributing to political campaigns and required union leaders to affirm they were not supporters of the Communist Party. This section of the act was upheld by the Supreme Court on 8th May, 1950.
The Taft-Hartley Act also gave the United States Attorney General the power to impose an 80 day injunction when a threatened or actual strike that he/she believed “imperiled the national health or safety”.
Now, Taft Hartley was passed by the Republican Congress which took control in 1946. I’d never looked up the numbers, or tried to find out exactly how many Democrats were needed to get the 2/3rds necessary for the over-ride. Then, this summer I came across The Third Party, a pamphlet by Adam Lapin published in 1948 in support of Wallace and his Progressive Party. Lapin ladled out fierce abuse to both Democrats and Republicans.
“Every scheme of the lobbyists to fleece the public became law in the 80th Congress. And every constructive proposal to benefit the common people gathered dust in committee pigeonholes The bi-partisan bloc, the Republocratic cabal which ruled Congress and made a mockery of President Roosevelt’s economic bill of rights, also wrecked the Roosevelt foreign policy. A new foreign policy was developed. This policy was still gilded with the good words of democracy. But its Holy Grail was oil.
“The Democratic administration carries the ball for Wall Street’s foreign policy. And the Republican party carries the ball for Wall Street’s domestic policy. Of course the roles are sometimes interchangeable. It was President Truman who broke the 1946 railroad strike, asked for legislation to conscript strikers and initiated the heavy fines against the miners’ union.
“On occasion President Truman still likes to lay an occasional verbal wreath on the grave of the New Deal. But the hard facts of roll call votes show that Democrats are voting more and more like Republicans. If the Republican Taft-Hartley bill became law over the President’s veto, it was because many of the Democrats allied themselves to the Republicans. Only 71 House Democrats voted to sustain the President’s veto while 106 voted to override it. In the Senate 20 Democrats voted to override the veto and 22 voted to sustain it.”
There you have it: the law that was to enable capital to destroy organized labor when it became convenient was passed by a bipartisan vote (and with more than just Southern Democrats), something you will never learn from the AFL-CIO, or from a thousand hoarse throats at Democratic rallies when the candidate is whoring for the labor vote. In the Clinton years, union membership as a percentage of the work force dropped, as well it might, because he did nothing to try to change laws or to intervene in disputes.
Clinton presided over passage of NAFTA, insulting labor further with the farce of side agreements on labor rights that would never be enforced. End result: half the companies involved in organizing drives in the US intimidate workers by saying that a union vote will force the company to leave town; 30 percent of them fire the union activists (about 20,000 workers a year); only one in seven organizing drives has a chance of going to a vote, and of those that do result in a yes vote for the union, less than one in five has any success in getting a contract.
Polls suggest that 60 percent of non-unionized workers say they would join a union if they had a chance. The Democrats have produced no laws, indeed have campaigned against laws -that would make that attainable. John Kerry’s proposal on the minimum wage in 2004 would raise it to $7 an hour by 2007, far below where it stood in real terms nearly 40 years ago.
Here’s the detailed run-down on how the US senators voted on that June day in 1947. There are some surprises, as for example with Alabama’s two senators voting in support of Truman’s veto. The roll call is a reminder of what a weird alliance the Democratic Party was back then.
Democrats voting to over-ride Truman’s veto of Taft-Hartley: 24
John Connally Tx
Republicans voting to over-ride: 48
Revercomb West VA
Not voting but announced against overriding Truman’s veto
Thomas (D) UT
Wagner (D) NY
Republicans against over-riding Truman’s veto: 3
Wayne Morse OR
Democrats against over-riding Truman’s veto: 22
Kilgore West Va
I don’t yet have the specific votes in the House.
These reflections come from ALEXANDER COCKBURN’s opening essay “Not As Big a Deal As They Say”, in CounterPunch’s must-read new book about the Presidential elections, the Democrats and the Republicans, Dime’s Worth of Difference, Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, edited by ALEXANDER COCKBURN and Jeffrey St Clair, CounterPunch/AK Press.