The Democrats’ Record on Taft-Hartley

by George Saunders

The following passage appears in the Nov. 11 issue of the socialist newspaper The Militant, in an article by Maurice Williams: “The Taft-Hartley measure…has been used many times in the past half century to intervene in labor battles. The Democratic administration of  Truman, another ‘friend of labor,’ invoked the antilabor law no less than 12 times in response to the greatest labor upsurge in U.S. history—a strike wave in 1945–46, which included a national maritime strike that shut down every port on the country’s coastlines.”

Williams (or his editors?) make it sound as though Truman used Taft-Hartley in 1945–46, a good trick if he could do it, since the Taft-Hartley law was not adopted until 1947. (They could have said “in the wake of” instead of “in response to.”)

Perhaps some passages from Labor’s Giant Step by Art Preis will make things clearer. Preis was a labor reporter for The Militant and a regular contributor to that paper from the 1930s until his death in 1964. For example, here is what Art Preis wrote at the end of one of his chapters on the 1945–46 strike wave (p. 300):

“Truman's repeated incitations against labor [in 1945–46]; his seizures of the mines and railroads for purposes of strikebreaking [in 1946]; his threat of armed force against the maritime workers; his demand for a ‘draft strikers’ bill; his signing of the Hobbs Act; his invoking of an injunction and a ‘vengeful’ fine against the coal miners; his call for revision of the Wagner Act; his boast that he would ‘beat the Republicans to the punch’ in pushing anti-labor legislation; his speech to Congress calling for a federal ban on many traditional union activities—all these were vital elements in the birth-process of the Taft-Hartley Act.

“Truman was to disown the Taft-Hartley Act. But anyone who studies objectively the origin of the postwar anti-labor legislation must be struck by the startling resemblance between certain features of the Taft-Hartley foundling and some of the brain-children of the Democratic politician and ‘friend of labor’ from Independence, Missouri, who occupied the White House after Roosevelt.”

In a later chapter, Preis recounts Truman’s use of Taft-Hartley against labor even though Truman had supposedly been against this law.

“By June 23, 1948, the first anniversary of the Taft-Hartley Act, the Truman administration had secured no less than 12 anti-strike injunctions under either the ‘national health and safety’ clause of the Act or its ‘unfair labor practices’ provisions. On a straight statistical basis, Truman was the most anti-labor president ever to hold that office, and he carried out some of his worst depredations against labor in the election year of 1948.” (Labor’s Giant Step, p. 353.)