How Did the Taft-Hartley Act Come About?
Mr. Wagner, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of History, Department of Social Science, Missouri Southern State College.
The Taft-Hartley Act was a major revision of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (the Wagner Act) and represented the first major revision of a New Deal act passed by a post-war Congress. So, in order to understand the Taft-Hartley Act, one must begin with the Wagner Act. The Wagner Act was the most important labor law in American history. It gave a major impetus to labor organizations and earned the nickname "labor's bill of rights." It covered all firms and employees in activities affecting interstate commerce except government employees, agricultural workers, and those subject to the Railway Labor Act. It gave workers the right to organize and join labor unions, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to strike. It also set up the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an independent federal agency with three members appointed by the president, to administer the act and gave it the power to certify that a union represented a particular group of employees.
The Wagner Act also forbade employers from engaging in five types of labor practices: interfering with or restraining employees exercising their right to organize and bargain collectively; attempting to dominate or influence a labor union; refusing to bargain collectively and in "good faith" with unions representing their employees; and, finally, encouraging or discouraging union membership through any special conditions of employment or through discrimination against union or non-union members in hiring. This last provision, in effect, permitted closed and union shops (a closed shop is when an employer agrees to hire only union members and a union shop is when an employer agrees to require anyone hired to join the union). There were no provisions in the Wagner Act that prohibited union practices that Congress might deem unfair. Another omission, according to the act's opponents, was a provision that would allow the government to delay or block a strike that threatened national interests.
In the mid-term elections of 1946, the Republican Party won control of the upcoming Eightieth Congress, gaining majorities in both houses for the first time since 1931. The "Class of 1946," as the first-term Republicans were called, was dominated by members of the conservative "old guard": John Bricker of Ohio, William Jenner of Indiana, William Knowland of California, George Malone of Nevada, Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, Arthur Watkins of Utah, John Williams of Delaware, Richard Nixon of California, Karl Mundt of South Dakota, and Charles Kersten of Wisconsin. These freshmen congressmen were eager to overturn as much New Deal legislation as possible and one of their first priorities was to amend the Wagner Act.
On June 23, 1947, the Republican-controlled Congress passed, over President Truman's veto, the Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947 (The Taft-Hartley Act, co-sponsored by Republican Senators Robert Taft of Ohio and Fred Hartley of New Jersey). The Taft-Hartley Act retained the features of the earlier Wagner Act but added to it in ways widely interpreted as anti-labor. Labor leaders dubbed it a "slave labor" bill and twenty-eight Democratic members of Congress declared it a "new guarantee of industrial slavery."
The act allowed the president, when he believed that a strike would endanger national health or safety, to appoint a board of inquiry to investigate the dispute. After receiving the report of the investigation, the president could ask the Attorney General to seek a federal court injunction to block or prevent the continuation of the strike. If the court found that the strike was endangering the nation's health or safety it would grant the injunction, requiring the parties in the dispute to attempt to settle their differences within the next sixty days. Other provisions extended the negotiating period by twenty days, in effect creating an eighty-day "cooling off" period during which the law would prohibit a "national emergency strike."
To the Wagner Act's list of prohibited management practices, the Taft-Hartley Act added a list of prohibited labor union practices. These practices included secondary boycotts (when a union induces employees to strike against their employer to get him or her to stop doing business with another employer with whom the real dispute exists); sympathy strikes or boycotts (attempting to compel an employer, other than one's own, to recognize or bargain with an unrecognized union--a practice anti-labor groups often called "blackmail picketing"); and jurisdictional strikes and boycotts (attempting to force an employer to give work to members of one particular union instead of another). Also outlawed were the closed shop and union hiring halls that discriminated against non-union members. The law allowed union shops as long as state law did not forbid them. This led to movements in several states for the passage of so-called "right-to-work" laws. Another provision that would become contentious required all union officers to file a non-communist affidavit and take an oath that they were not communists.
During the Eisenhower administration, labor policy debate centered on amending the Taft-Hartley Act. Eisenhower did not favor repeal of the act as organized labor advocated, but he did feel that some of its provisions were too harsh and needed amending. In his final years, Senator Taft had come to share these views. Early efforts to amend the act failed, however, and by the mid 1950s the motivation to do so had waned. Historian R. Alton Lee, in his book on the topic, concluded that "urgency for amending Taft-Hartley waned during the 1950s because it did not become the slave labor law union leaders predicted. Continued prosperity calmed fears that the law would adversely affect wages, hours, and working conditions, and labor-management relations steadily improved in most parts of the nation."
Presidents have invoked the Taft-Hartley Act thirty-five times in attempts to halt work stoppages in labor disputes. All but two of those attempts were successful. The most recent attempt, however, was in 1978 when President Jimmy Carter attempted to use the law to end a coal strike, but the courts refused to issue an injunction. The last successful attempt was in 1971 when President Nixon invoked the law to end a longshoremen's strike. The Taft-Hartley Act's eighty-day "cooling off" period has been enough time for the dispute to be settled 70% of the time.
On October 7, an attempt by Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao to negotiate a thirty-day contract extension between port operators and the International Longshore Warehouse Union broke down. Port operators rejected the contract extension, believing that it would result in a work slow down, which they claim precipitated their lockout of the longshoremen. The union accepted the contract extension, and claimed the port operators were seeking government intervention.
Hours after the breakdown in negotiations, President Bush took the first step toward invoking Taft-Hartley by appointing the required board of inquiry to report to him on the economic damage of the shutdown and the likelihood that the parties involved could settle the dispute on their own. The board reported back to the president the following day, October 8, stating that they had "no confidence that the parties [would] resolve the West Coast port dispute within a reasonable time." President Bush then requested that the Federal District Court in San Francisco issue a court order halting the lockout.
As justification for invoking the act, President Bush said that he was worried about the movement of military supplies through West Coast ports in the event of war in Iraq or elsewhere. His aides, meanwhile, stressed the President's fear that a prolonged shutdown would undermine the nation's economic recovery (economists have estimated that the shutdown has already cost more than $10 billion). Later that evening Judge William Alsup issued a temporary injunction that ordered the ports reopened immediately. Judge Alsup said he would hold a hearing this week on whether to grant a full 80-day injunction.
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matt eugene hood - 6/4/2007
In 1963 the petro-chemical industry conspired with ABC non-union industrial constactors in Freeport, Texas to use the Taft-Harty act,"the right to work law," to destroy the union after a 6 month strike. They used every legal and illegal act at their desposal. I work the last union job in Freeport Texas at Dow Chemical at plant B for Gunnels Industrial Paint Company. The petro-chemical industries and the non-union ABC contractors used for 30 years illegals with willingly fore-knowledge of malice that destroyed my life time Union job. I went from $15 dollars an hour in 1981 with full union benefits with Painters Local 130, Houston and healthcare to $10 dollars an hour with zero benefit in 2 months. Over half of the non-union employees where illegals. The petro-chemical industry has become a plantation of no hope of a future. The Taft-Hartly has given this nation organized slavery where non-union wages have been frozen because they have fixed the wages among themselves. They have dstroyed the unioon. They no longer have to compete with union jobs.THE RIGHT TO WORK LAW is what destroyed Nazi Germany. Its fascism! The few get rich while the rest support the few. Democracy is dead. What we have is a criminal conspiracy by our elected officials to fabricate the illusion this nation has a say about their government. Democracy was murdered on its way to Washington when Bush, the grandson of a Nazi, was elected President
Todd Jordan - 5/1/2005
What's Wrong With The Labor Unions?
Todd Jordan - 5/1/2005
We all declare for liberty, but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. The constitution of the United States of America is not designed to be something that would protect the working-class in America. The problems and conflicts contrary to the working-class interests in our constitution are the defensive articles for corporate rights and private property. These articles in our constitution not only limit the ability of the working-class, but defend the capitalist structure which works contrary to the people it is suppose to represent. The constitution defends the ruling-class of America and the quest for profit over human needs. To this day the labor movement has relied on the law created by the ruling-class to operate in. This structure is designed to reduce the threat of a revolution against the current system in America. The ruling-class of America has been preparing their long term strategy against the working-class while distracting them with trivial short term tactics within this structure. Since the labor movement began it's path away from true unionism and social justice it has been on set back after another for the working-class in America.
Today we rely on this structure of laws as a means of meaningless power and false protection. These laws are often used against us and offer no real protection and only a false since of power to the working-class. The laws within this structure are tested and attacked every year since their passage to distract and weaken further and movement within this country. Instead of keeping the mission of the union and economic freedom from exploitation and slavery by the means of market wages, the America unions made the wrong decisions for the movement which ultimately effect the change of all social movements within the working-class in America. They moved to support this structure of laws to operate within and the era of partnership with the ruling-class was born. In the end as a total change came to it's final day of victory the leaders of the labor movement feared the rise of this revolution that was swelling within the working-class in the mid 1900's. They feared what they created as a threat to their new personal wealth and power they had achieved from the movement's progress against the ruling-class.
Today we now see the betrayal and the results of this mistake of greed in our country. There can never be a brotherhood of labor and capital. They are forever two opposing forces working against one another. There is no law or any type of reform that will ever help the movement. These things operate within a capitalist law structure and provide only temporary gains and solutions to the larger problem. Today, it is not in the interest of the labor movement's leadership to change this system. They have gained to much from their bureaucratic system that they built around them at the expense of the movement. The New Deal legislation is a clear understanding of this process to transform the movement into a controled entity. This is an example of the betrayal to the working-class. It is very negative to the movement's political power and potential.
The ideology behind accepting these traps is to endorse and accept the present system of capitalism while attempting to reform a system that can't operate in the interests of the working-class. Forced to limit strikes and operate within boundaries of this structure the unions watch as their solidarity and membership decline. The Taft-Hartley Act simply expanded on the attacks against the working-class. Part of the capitalist ruling-class long term strategy, this slave legislation only added more fuel to the fire and stopped any potential movement against the current system. Unions began losing far left thinking leaders and members durning the Cold War as a result, this tearing down of the movement continues today as a threat to the current leaders bureaucratic control. Leaders and officials within the movement labeled communist or socialist where removed by force from their offices under this deception of the ruling-class and their lieutenants in power over the labor unions. This deprived the labor movement of the last elements of building a revolution against capitalism within the labor unions of America.
Now we sit idle and watch the corporations control the very soul and direction of the labor movement. To this day the labor unions in America hold on to the capitalist Democratic Party and operate within this structure. They continue to act as lap dogs and house slaves to a corrupt two party system of capitalist rule. Labor gives te capitalist system a fear far greater than any market drop. The labor movement has potential to lead the many other social movements in America to challenge the very existance of capital, this is why they place priority on this strategy and fear solidarity above any threat. Trapped within a controlled structure of rules, laws and bureaucracy unions are sustained in an immobilised state. Only through radical change can this be stopped. The laws are stacked against the working-class in order to protect capitalism and the ruling-class. Everyday new laws are introduced that in some manner expand their power and their control over the working-class.
The biggest defeat of labor within this structure was the inability to strike at will over any injustice in the workplace. The corrupt bureaucratic structure of the NLRB and the union leadership stop any real progress toward change. It must start from the movement first, there will never be a real change so long as the cast and solid influence of the union bureaucrats remain unchallenged and unhurt. The movement's leaders run the unions from the top down, this control is the first obstacle in the way of breaking out of the structural prison built around the working-class in America.
Neither constitutions, nor bills of rights, republics, nor constitutional monarchies can ever make men free as long as their livelihoods are at the mercy of a small class which holds sway over the means of life. Workers of the world unite!
Vince Treacy - 4/18/2005
The Act permits labor unions and employers to negotiate pension and welfare benefit plans that are administered by joint labor-management boards of trustees.
It is in section 302(c)(5) and is codified at 29 U.S.C. 186(c)(5).
Insurance can cover medical or hosoital care, pensions, compensation for injuries, unemployment, life insusrance, accident, illness or disability insurance.
The law is still in effect.
Dr. Milton A. Reid - 1/13/2004
I want to know if the Taft Hartley Act regarding insuring
all Americans is still operational? What kind of insurance
that can be provided under this act?
Dee - 11/16/2003
I was looking for a quick reference on the legacy of the Wagner Act. Looks like I found one!
chas. - 9/24/2003
i work for a major railroad in the u.s, it is the largest a matter a fact. i am a union memeber , whether i want to or not!! they still take union dues out of my check monthly. i believe every person in the u.s that works for a large company that has a union has a right to strike. it only protects the working people. if not for strikes the working person gets behind in wages and benefits and the big man on top only gets fatter!!
Joe Mellor - 9/19/2003
i like history on Tuesdays!
Margaret S. Blanchard - 9/18/2003
HRM course paper
Gail McDaniel - 9/18/2003
I am studying this case for a final exam in my business law. This article helps. Were there any other legal action taken on this case that you know of? GAil
wendy - 7/11/2003
Thanks for the great article. It was a grea source of info on my paper on factors contributing to the passage of Taft Hartley.
sara - 5/27/2003
what are you talking about sex has nothing to do with the labor act.
kb - 4/28/2003
this helps alot considering that you answered exactly what i needed for my government class.
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