Labor History in 2:00

June 23 Legislating Labor’s Destruction

June 23, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1947. 

That was the day the despised Taft-Hartley Act became law. 

It was a direct retaliatory response to the 1946 post-war strike wave, where millions walked off the job after waiting years for basic demands. 

The labor movement mobilized against the slave labor bill through numerous rallies.  

The AFL joined the CIO in threatening 24-hour strikes across whole industries in protest, as the bill wound its way through Congress. 

11,000 soft coal miners in Pennsylvania walked out in a spontaneous protest strike earlier in the month. 

The bill passed over the veto of President Harry S. Truman, who would invoke it a dozen times over the course of his presidency.

Many union leaders hailed Truman as a friend of labor for his 11th hour veto.  

Labor party advocates were incensed that of 219 congressional Democrats, 126 voted in favor of the bill.

Practically overnight, the labor movement had been pushed back 25 years.

Taft-Hartley was nothing short of disastrous for the American labor movement. 

With the stroke of a pen, the Act criminalized many of the actions key to historic union victories in the thirties and forties. 

Jurisdictional strikes, secondary boycotts, solidarity strikes, closed shops and mass picketing were just a few of the most basic trade union activities now outlawed. 

The Act helped fire the first shots of the McCarthy Red Scare by mandating that union officers file non-Communist affidavits with the government, later found to be unconstitutional. 

The Act also provided the ammunition needed to strangle strikes by empowering the president to easily acquire strikebreaking injunctions.

And it allowed for the rapid growth of right-to-work laws at the state level. 

The union movement has suffered ever since.