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How Labor Can Smash the Taft-Hartley Act

(1 November 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 44, 1 November 1948, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Taft-Hartley knife has struck again – this time into the very vitals of the labor movement. In a unanimous decision, the National Labor Relations Board in Washington on Oct. 5 ruled that mass picketing, and certain other specific acts in the conduct of a strike violate the Taft-Hartley Act. The majority of the Board went further, to hold international union officials responsible for alleged illegal acts of local unionists.

This ruling, involving a small strike led by the CIO longshoremen in Petaluma, Calif., makes mass picketing, even if peaceful, “coercion” within the meaning of the section of the law that forbids coercion of employees in their right to join, or not to join, a union. Blocking the entrance of a plant parking lot and following scabs in a car were also ruled criminal offenses – even if no one is molested.

“Major Landmark”

According to NLRB Chairman Paul Herzog, the ruling establishes “a major landmark in the evolution of labor relations law.” And indeed it does. For by making mass picketing illegal, the. NLRB destroys the only really effective weapon in a major strike. Had this ruling operated a decade ago, there would have been no CIO, no unions in mass production industry. The mass picket line has been the only potent defense against strikebreakers since the dawn of organized labor.

To make more effective its deadly thrust against the unions, the NLRB gave the knife a further vicious twist. It placed on the entire leadership of the international unions the legal responsibility for those acts of local unions which the Board holds to be illegal. And this same responsibility holds for an entire union local when some of its members engage in allegedly illegal acts.

This flagrant strikebreaking decision – which, if enforced, would all but nullify the right to strike and paralyze the unions – has at last brought home to Some of the top union leaders that this is really a Slave Labor Law, fully capable of slashing the unions to pieces. And destroying the union leaders, no matter how conservative and compliant, in the progress.

But the growing fears of the top union bureaucrats is matched by their helplessness and cowardice in action. The only program most of them have been pushing these past few months is try ing to line up votes for Truman – the man who has broken more strikes than any president in history, who has been wielding the injunction club of the Taft-Hartley Act with deadly effect, and who hand-picked the very NLRB members now slipping thd knife into the unions with their “interpretations” of the Taft-Hartley law.

True enough, these union leaders have been wailing in the union publications and in press statements about how bad the Taft-Hartley Act is. But at the same time many of them have been using the Taft-Hartley Act to feather their own nests by raiding established unions that have refused to sign the yellowdog affidavits. They have turned the labor movement into a battleground of fratricidal warfare, including wholesale scab-herding and strike-breaking against rival unions. These self-styled “labor statesmen” present the picture of scavengers seeking to live off bits and pieces snatched from the bleeding body of labor.

Their conduct is all the more despicable because an effective, realistic program to combat the Taft-Hartley Act has been offered. It is the program which the AFL International Typographical Union adopted at its recent convention.

Labor Congress

The ITU, engaged in a militant, single-handed fight against the Taft-Hartley Act, appealed to all unions to join, forces in a National Emergency Congress of Labor to be held in Washington, D.C. It proposed that this Congress of Labor map out a plan of nationwide united labor action to smash the Slave Labor Law.

There is no other effective program but this – and none of the other union leaders have offered any. Yet not a single other international union leadership has responded as yet to the call of the ITU. Not even the United Mine Workers, which within its own industry has fought so valiantly against the Taft-Hartley Act. The UMW Journal hailed the ITU for its fight – but did not even mention the most significant action of the ITU convention, the appeal for a Congress of Labor.

Local Action

The workers cannot wait for the timid, narrow-minded, selfishly-engrossed union bureaucrats to act. The workers feel the lash of the Taft-Hartley Act every day, in the speed-up, in the worsening of working conditions, in the intolerable provocations and arrogance of the bosses, in the weakening of their locals and grievance committees, in strikebreaking violence and the smashing of strikes. They can see the terrible shadow of the old open-shop days creeping over the land.

If the union, members depend on the top bureaucrats to act, they will suffer cruel consequences. These leaders have never taken one major step forward until pushed and prodded and shoved by the ranks. The pressure, the demand, the initiative must come from below.

The rank and file must put the heat on the leadership as never before. All local unions and central labor bodies should pass strong resolutions demanding that their national leaders join in summoning a National Emergency Congress of Labor. Start the band-wagon rolling in the local communities by organizing united conferences of all local unions. Once the bandwagon gathers speed, the “labor statesmen” will either have to jump on or be left in the lurch.

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