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1948 in Review – What’s Ahead for 1949

Unions Faced 2-Pronged Attack
of Taft-Hartley Act, Inflation

(27 December 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 52, 27 December 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

American labor in 1948 suffered a government-employer pincers attack – rising prices that slashed real wages and the Taft-Hartley Act that crippled the ability of the unions to fight back.

In the spring, the CIO campaigned for third-round wage increases. This drive was seriously weakened at the start by Philip Murray’s declaration that under no circumstances would his steel union strike. No coordinated CIO wage fight was organized.

The CIO Packinghouse Workers lost a bitter two-month strike against the “Big Four” meatpackers. Local police and national guards assaulted picket lines. Three pickets were killed by strikebreakers. Local judges handed out anti-picketing injunctions left and right. On May 24, after Truman’s “fact-finding” commission backed the employers’ offer, the packinghouse workers voted to accept employer terms.

The Chrysler workers, in a determined strike, broke the wage log-jam in May with a 13-cent increase. This was followed by settlements in Ford, GM, electrical equipment, rubber and steel. Five presidents of Flint GM locals, who initiated the auto wage campaign, proposed the cost-of-living- sliding wage scale. A sliding-scale clause was included in the new GM contract. While this clause had serious flaws, it did boost GM wages 14-cents an hour by July.

T-H Act Enforcement

Truman and his National Labor Relations Board zealously enforced the Taft-Hartley Act. In May, Truman blocked a scheduled railroad strike by injunction and army seizure. Injunctions were slapped on CIO maritime workers, AFL atomic workers and AFL longshoremen.

The AFL International Typographical Union and the United Mine Workers spearheaded the fight against the Taft-Hartley Act. The ITU was hit by a far- reaching NLRB-sponsored injunction in February, aimed principally at its strike against all Chicago daily papers, now in its second year. In April 350,000 soft coal miners, defying an injunction, won their demand for wage increases and retirement pension. Their threat to shut the mines indefinitely prevented imprisonment of John L. Lewis, but Federal Judge Goldsborough extorted a $1,420,000 “contempt” fine.

The Taft-Hartley Act inspired fratricidal warfare inside the union movement. Some union leaders, taking advantage of the “non-communist” oath clause, raided non-complying unions and sent scabs through picketlines. Daniel J. Tobin and his lieutenant, David Beck, used AFL teamsters to help smash the 144-day IAM strike at Boeing Aircraft in Seattle.

In November East and West Coast shipping was tied up. The CIO maritime strike on the west coast defeated a union-smashing drive. On the Atlantic coast, the first general AFL longshore strike, which began as a revolt against a contract sell-out by ILA President Joseph Ryan, won substantial gains.

CP Driven Back

It was a year of disaster for the Stalinists in the CIO. The Murray machine waged a smashing offensive against the Stalinists, climaxed at the CIO convention last month when the CIO Executive Board yanked the charter of the Stalinist-controlled Greater New York CIO Council and took authority to intervene in Stalinist-dominated unions. The Stalinists were voted out of power in two of their key bases, the National Maritime Union and Transport Workers Union.

The AFL and CIO post-election conventions were turned into redbaiting demonstrations for U.S. imperialism’s war program. The AFL leaders endorsed anti-labor revision of the Wagner Act. The CIO, leaders strengthened their bureaucratic powers.

Congress of Labor

Genuine progressive groupings, anti-Stalinist in program and leadership, are developing to challenge the old-line conservative bureaucrats. Such groups have made considerable progress in both the auto and rubber unions.

The outstanding progressive union proposal of the year was the ITU convention’s resolution calling for a National Emergency Congress of Labor, representing all unions, to forge a united labor front to smash the Taft-Hartley Act. This proposal remains the key to successful labor struggle in the coming year for unconditional repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act, housing, civil rights, and other legislation.

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Last updated: 28 March 2023