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One Year of the Taft-Hartley
Slave Law

(28 June 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 26, 28 June 1948, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

American labor has endured one year of the Taft-Hartley Law. On June 23, 1947, began the era of Taft-Hartleyism, ushered in by the bi-partisan Republican-Democratic coalition in Congress.

We have had ample time to measure in life the practical consequences of this law. We are able to weigh in the scales of living experience the attitudes and conduct of the union leaders since the enactment of the Slave Labor Law. Events themselves have already passed judgment on what they have said and done.

Servility, light-mindedness, cowardice are the least derogatory terms we might use in absolute fairness to describe the immediate response of most union leaders, both AFL and CIO, to the newly-forged legal chains for labor. They whined or blustered with mere token words of protest. They rushed to get “under the wire” of compliance with the yellow-dog oaths and other special requirements of the Act.

Sanctioned Surrender

The AFL convention last October witnessed the leaders of more than 7 million organized workers railing and ranting against John L. Lewis, who warned that accepting any part of the act meant bowing to the “first major thrust of Fascism in the United States.” They voted eagerly instead to commit the entire AFL to its exactions. After several leading CIO international unions beat the bell and signed the yellow-dog oaths, the CIO convention sanctioned capitulation by any affiliate that saw fit to surrender. And capitulate they did, one after another, with the auto workers taking the lead.

They were going to “live with” the law. They imagined that they needed only to swear they weren’t “communists,” to work out a few contractual formulas for evasion of the law and everything would be hunkydory. Some even figured they could squeeze a bit of benefit from the law – it might be a good thing to keep the militant rank and file quiet, to use against the “communists” or to raid the jurisidictions of non-complying unions.

A brief summary of one year of the Taft-Hartley Law suffices to prove how wrong, how blind these union leaders are.

The machinery of this enormously complex law is just getting into swing. Yet, since it was passed a year ago, it has already ground out twelve federal injunctions to restrain acts or demands of national unions. This is a greater total than in any similar time-period of American labor history.

Arrogance and Violence

Behind the protective barrage of Taft-Hartleyism, the employers have moved with uniform arrogance to deny and whittle down labor’s wage demands. They beat down with local injunctions, professional strikebreakers and police violence the strikes of the CIO packinghouse workers, Wall Street white collar workers and CIO cable workers. The steel, telephone and glass workers didn’t get a cent. The shipyard workers have settled with one company for five cents. Railroad workers are still trying to settle the “second round” issue. The coal miners are fighting to enforce the health and welfare clause of their last contract, with new wages still up in the air.

Unions which signed the yellowdog baths have brought 2,116 complaints of unfair labor practices to the NLRB under the Taft-Hartley Act. The NLRB has as yet failed to rule on a single case brought by unions against employers. Yet it secured a federal injunction to prevent the AFL International Typographical U-nion front making certain contract demands which the NLRB has not even ruled on but which the employers claim constitute “unfair labor practices.”

Government interference in the unions, strikebreaking and injunctions are not new. But up to the time of the Taft-Hartley era, the government intervened after open class warfare broke out and after strikes were under way.

Shot-Gun Tactics

Now the government is intervening immediately and directly m every major labor dispute. It becomes a party to the negotiations all along the line. It. abrogates the right to strike in advance of a threatened walkout. It dictates the terms on which a anion must settle and with whom it must negotiate. The capitalist government, in effect, puts the Taft-Hartley shot-gun to the union’s head and says “Sign on the dotted line as I dictate, or else –”

Consider some of the recent uses of the Taft-Hartley Law. Take the ITU case, for instance. Federal Judge Swigert last March ordered the ITU and its affiliates to “cease and desist” from making certain demands which had been in ITU contracts for 50 years. For the ITU leaders even to raise these issues in current negotiations places them in jeopardy of huge fines and imprisonment for “contempt.” The effect of this injunction, if observed within the interpretation of the NLRB and the employers, would be to compel the ITU to sign a contract on the employers’ terms. They cannot even refuse to sign any contract. They must eventually sign one within the framework of the judge’s order or be subject to “contempt” penalties.

Or take the case of the Taft-Hartley injunctions that Truman hurled at the AFL atomic workers in Oak Ridge, the railroad workers and the maritime workers. These unions hadn’t even gone on strike. They were merely threatening to strike. Truman’s injunctions said in each case that such strikes were barred IN ADVANCE. This is a new and unprecedented use of federal injunctions. The very right to strike, under this procedure, becomes a dead letter.

Goldsborough Dictated

In the case of the United Mine Workers, the use of injunctions was carried an unheard-of step further. Federal Judge Goldsborough dictated to the UMW that it must sit down and draft a contract with certain specified coal operators’ agents, with whom the union refused to deal.

There is no way labor can “live with” such a law. To play around with it is like playing catch with a bottle of nitro-glycerine, or dancing on a combination time-bomb and multiple booby-trap.

In the past, you might have put down the union leaders’ messing around with the Taft-Hartley Act to ignorance or fool-hardiness. We have seen enough of its explosive and damaging effects now to place no such generous interpretation on their continued failure to take adequate measures to nullify this law.

The experiences of the past year have demonstrated that you can’t “get around” the Taft-Hartley Law. You cannot deal with its hundreds of deadly provisions piece-meal. You cannot depend, on the capitalist courts to safeguard labor’s rights.

The only way to escape the Taft-Hartley Act is by a gigantic, unified effort of the whole labor movement to nullify in action every word and clause of it, and wipe this tyrannical act from the statute books.

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