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   Vol.66/No.42           November 11, 2002  
 
 
How antiunion Taft-hartley
law has been used
 
BY MAURICE WILLIAMS  
When President George Bush invoked the Taft-Hartley Act against 10,500 dock-workers, citing that "national security" and "our military" were imperiled by the work stoppage imposed by the shipping bosses, it was the first time the law had been used in 24 years. In 1978 coal miners stood up to former president James Carter, a "friend of labor," who invoked the act and threatened to use troops to break their 110-day strike.

The Taft-Hartley measure, however, has been used many times in the past half century to intervene in labor battles. The Democratic administration of Harry 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 countryís coastlines.

Prior to Trumanís antilabor offensive, his predecessor, President Franklin Roosevelt, had attained a degree of success in collaborating with union officials in imposing restrictions on workersí fighting for higher wages and other demands. This included "no strike pledge" resolutions adopted by the officialdom during the Second World War. Roosevelt bumped into a hurdle, however, after threatening to call on soldiers in 1943 to force 530,000 striking coal miners to return to work. The miners, who refused to work for starvation wages, defiantly responded to the president: "You canít dig coal with bayonets," and subsequently won their demands for an acceptable pay increase.

A steady rise of unauthorized strikes in 1944 and 1945 started breaking down the "no strike" policy adopted by the union officialdom. Some 43,000 oil workers in 20 states walked off the job in September 1945, the opening shot of a strike wave that eventually involved up to 5 million workers. This fight coincided with tens of thousands of U.S. troops overseas waging "Bring us home" demonstrations after the Japanese government formally surrendered to the U.S.-led Allied powers. Many of the soldiers involved in those protests were workers who had participated in the labor upsurge of the 1930s that had transformed the union movement.

The labor actions in 1945-46 involved 225,000 auto workers, 200,000 coal miners, 70,000 truck drivers, 40,000 machinists, and thousands of other workers who went on strike. In response to those union battles, a flood of antilabor bills poured into the congressional hoppers to stanch the rising labor militancy.

After taking over several facilities, including the railroads and struck coal mines, Truman demanded Congress draft an "emergency" bill in May 1946 that would immediately authorize the president to draft into the armed forces workers on strike. Those who defied the proposed measure faced a $5,000 fine, one year in prison, getting fired, or losing seniority rights.  
 
ĎSlave labor billí
The presidentís antilabor drive--which included the "Truman Doctrine" of U.S. military intervention against anticolonial and anticapitalist struggles, and an assault on the Bill of Rights that led to the rise of the McCarthyite anticommunist witch-hunt--was a prelude to the Taft-Hartley bill, which became law in 1947. Dubbed the "slave labor bill" by unionists, the measure was vetoed by Truman, posing as a "friend of labor." A two-thirds majority in Congress promptly overrode the presidentís veto in June of that year.

Within one year after the law went into effect Truman dropped his "friend of labor" mask to obtain 12 injunctions against striking West Coast longshore workers, railworkers preparing to walk out, packinghouse workers, and other unionists, under the "national health and safety" provisions of the Act or its "unfair labor practices" clause.

The Taft-Hartley Act contains a number of clauses that authorize the government to impose restrictions on the rights of unions. The president is authorized to obtain federal court injunctions to declare strikes illegal for a "cooling off" period of 80 days. It also requires unions to file annual financial statements with the government.

When the law was passed some 212,000 outraged miners walked out of the pits in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Alabama, Virginia, and West Virginia. "Let the Senators dig the coal," was their battle cry before they won a 44-cent hourly wage increase.

Three decades later the coal miners once again defied a Taft-Hartley injunction when they stood up to President Carterís vow "to protect our country and "to preserve the health and safety of our people."

"Let Carter mine the coal," said UMWA members across the country, who stayed out for 110 days despite the presidentís threats to fine or jail their union leaders, seize their union treasuries, and cut off food stamps for their families. Carter was forced to back down and the coal bosses offered a new contract that included a 30 percent pay increase over three years and dropped most of their antiunion demands. That coal strike was a political victory that stayed the hand of the U.S. rulers from using the Taft-Hartley slave labor law for nearly 25 years.  
 
 
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