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A Remembrance for Labor Day

By Leocthasme

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An Article of History and Information

Composed, Compiled and Researched

By Leo C. Helmer


Over the history of our nation, we the people have sent lawmakers to congress to represent us. And, over all that time we the people have seen that no matter how we try to get legislation passed favorable to the majority of voters, in the end we all get just nibbles and bits of something that could be worthwhile. Over the two hundred years or so of The United States of America’s existence we can count on our fingers the few good things that ever came from our lawmakers. It took over ten years after the end of the Revolution to finally get our founding fathers to agree on our Constitution. Now we have over 500 Representatives and 100 Senators and each has his or her own agenda, so getting agreement of some sort with that many individuals is nearly impossible.

Maybe every 100 years or so we get a couple of good leaders; a Jefferson, who doubled the size of our country over the opposition of many; a Lincoln who really wanted amnesty for the south and real freedom from slavery, for which he got shot; a Roosevelt who pulled us through the great depression and a terrible war; and a Truman who tried to continue the efforts and gains of the Roosevelt years only to have a new breed of Senators and Congressmen thwart every effort. And, that brings me to this bit of history and the awful mess our elected lawmakers have thrust upon us since then.

Yes, I said ‘since then’. Before WWII, we had a few decent politicians, who COULD agree once in a while. But, after that time we have had a consistent and ongoing parade of politicians who do NOT owe their allegiance to those who elected them but to those who ‘support’ them.

SUPPORT that is a word many voters do not understand. We think voter support means we get behind a candidate and help him/her win. But that is only a very small part of support. We, you and I, us folks back home, can give our support a few bucks at a time, pass out a few flyers, put a sign in the yard, ring doorbells, make some phone calls, and so on. But, the real support comes from Big Time Contributions that we folks back home can never match. And since our elected officials have, since 2001, when Bush and his bunch stole the election, made most of us very poor and a few of us very rich then you can bet the most of us can do little in the way of support. And now I and many of us who would like to see a certain politician get elected begin to wonder ‘will they really do something for us’? I doubt it. We all busted our butts to get rid of the ‘do nothing’ bunch last November, and what did we get? More of the same. Not a damn one of them is going to be a s…t disturber.. They don’t owe you or me any support. They owe their SUPPORTERS all the support their money bought.

We at home have to live and support our families, we can’t donate gobs of money, or take the tremendous time involved doing all those things described. So where does the money and support come from? Well, it comes from the BIG MONEY GUYS; the Chambers of Commerce, the Lobbyists, Funded Organizations set up for whatever reason, such as The National Right To Work Committee which was set up in 1947 not long after the passage of the Taft/Hartley Act for the express purpose of ‘educating’ workers about ‘unscrupulous’ union bosses who ‘take’ workers money. Corporations themselves cannot give money to candidates, but through Lobbyists firms and contributions to such Organizations as I mentioned the money gets to the Senator or Representative who we at home ‘think we supported’ by our best efforts. The ordinary citizen’s very best efforts are puny compared to what THE BIF MONEY GUYS can do. So, who do our elected officials answer to? Not too often to you or me. Even our own political parties to whom we may contribute raise only so much money and when election time comes around, the money is spread to only those candidates the party thinks can win or to an area where it is ‘necessary’ to win. So, those millions spent on campaigns are not from you and me or even our party, it’s from the Organizations that buy our Senators and Congressmen.

I know about ‘Right To Work’ I was there when that organization started ‘educating’ workers. Maybe a few others know about it, but for the most part most people do not know how that and other organizations of that ilk are funded. They are not funded by you and me the ordinary citizen that they claim to help, we are lucky to send a few bucks to the Red Cross or the Cancer Society or maybe buy some cookies from the kid down the street. These ‘educational’ Organizations hell bent on spreading anti labor propaganda are funded by the anti labor Corporations. Coors Brewery is a big contributor of The National Right To Work Committee (and I don’t drink Coors).

That is only one Organization that spreads anti labor and anti union propaganda. There are hundreds of Corporate Foundations set up for tax breaks, but still using those breaks to spread propaganda. There are Religious Organizations, who use the pulpit to pass out their propaganda and are taking advantage of their tax free status.

So, you wonder, how come these anti labor, anti union, anti worker, anti whatever, can get by with their lies and dupes. Well, they get by because of what I just told you. And what each of us must understand about big business is that they are in it for the money. They are in it for profit and stockholders satisfaction. They are in it so the CEOs can get huge salaries by reducing work forces so profits rise. Don’t you wonder why each daily newscast always makes sure they report the rise and fall of the Dow regardless of whether they report on what congress is doing for us or to us?

Well, so much for a very short explanation of SUPPORT. Let’s get to what I really want to tell you about Unions, Union Busting, and Taft/Hartley. And, who put that anti worker bill into existence in the first place. Notice I did not say anti union bill, I will try to refrain from that so as not to be a Propagandist myself. I specifically want all to understand that the Taft/Hartley Act was strictly anti worker, anti labor, anti ordinary citizen. So let’s look into its history.

How it Started

Leveling the playing field between labor and management means limiting the role a U.S. president can play in "breaking" a strike through the power of the Taft-Hartley Act, according to two University of Illinois labor professors.

The 1947 act, which allows the president to seek an injunction ending strikes that "imperil the national health" has outlived its usefulness and should be amended, if not repealed, because it has shifted the balance of bargaining power in critical strikes, usually to the detriment of unions," Michael H. LeRoy and John H. Johnson IV, University of Illinois professors of labor and industrial relations, wrote in a paper appearing in the Arizona Law Review. It is reprinted below.

The Taft-Hartley Act: Why the American Labor Movement Called it a "Slave Labor Bill"

On June 23, 1947, the U.S. Senate joined the House of Representatives in voting to override President Truman's veto of the Taft-Hartley Act. Thus became law the most repressive piece of anti-labor legislation in this country's history.

The enactment of Taft-Hartley followed a tremendous post-World War II upsurge by union workers all across the country. During the war years, workers had experienced a drastic decline in their living standards as a result of a government-imposed wage freeze, despite steeply rising living costs. Moreover, workers had been subjected to long hours, intensified speed-up and poor working conditions. Meanwhile the corporations were making profits hand over fist. The end of the war in 1945 found workers determined to win wage increases and improve their conditions. A massive strike wave erupted, and during 1945-46 over five million workers walked off their jobs in a whole range of industries, including auto, steel and steel fabricating, packinghouse, electrical equipment, coal, rail, maritime, communications, machine tools and transit.

The ruling circles in the U.S. decided it was time to crack down on the labor movement and throttle the rising tide of discontent. The result was Taft-Hartley, which was passed by politicians from both establishment parties. The House vote was 331-83, with Democrats voting 106-71 in favor of the measure. The Senate passed the measure by a 68-25 margin, with 20 Democrats voting to override the veto and 22 voting to uphold it. Thus a majority of Democrats in Congress voted to join the Republicans in approving a measure the labor movement characterized as a "slave labor bill." As for Democratic President Harry Truman, he could do little or nothing; although he vetoed the bill he could not get enough support to override it.

This paper will examine the major facets of Taft-Hartley and how this legislation undermined and weakened the labor movement, making it far more difficult to organize the unorganized and protect workers' living standards.

Injunctions to Break and Prevent Strikes

The original National Labor Relations Act, called the Wagner Act, was adopted by Congress in 1935. This law enumerated a number of employer’s unfair labor practices with nothing directed against labor organizations. The Taft-Hartley Act changed this with a number of Draconian unfair labor practices targeting unions and prohibiting them and their members from conduct that would "threaten," "restrain," or "coerce" other employees and employers in the exercise of their rights. Taft-Hartley thus made it far easier for courts to issue injunctions banning mass picketing during strikes and reducing the number of pickets to a token few. This, in turn, made it much easier for scabs and strike breakers to cross picket lines of striking workers.

The Act also empowered the President to set up a fact-finding board to inquire into any strike which the President deemed to affect the national health and safety. Upon receiving the board's report, the President can seek a federal court injunction to make the strike illegal for a "cooling off" period of 80 days.

Outlawing Secondary Strikes and Boycotts

Unions' strategy for winning strikes has historically been to cut off business of the struck employer by spreading the strike to that employer's suppliers and customers. Taft-Hartley largely put an end to that practice by prohibiting secondary strikes and boycotts.

Here's how it worked: Prior to Taft-Hartley, if a union struck the Heinz Ketchup Company and the Kroger supermarket chain insisted on continuing to sell the struck product, the union could picket Kroger stores and urge customers to shop elsewhere. Kroger employees might also decide to honor the picket lines and refuse to work. So as the price of continuing to sell Heinz Ketchup increased, Kroger could face a tremendous loss of profits and even have some of its operations shut down or at least curtailed. Faced with this, Kroger might have decided its best course was simply to sell other brands of ketchup, not the Heinz brand. This obviously was a powerful weapon helping the Heinz workers to win their strike.

Taft-Hartley took away this weapon. It made secondary strikes and boycott actions directed against suppliers and customers of a struck company illegal. So in the situation described above, a union that today goes on strike against Heinz Ketchup can request that Kroger not carry the Heinz product, but if Kroger persists in doing so, all the union can do is urge customers going into Kroger not to buy the struck product. The union cannot ask customers not to shop at Kroger, nor can it encourage any Kroger employee to stay off the job. Taft-Hartley has made this illegal.

Authorizing States to Outlaw Union Shop Agreements

Taft-Hartley also contains a misnamed "right-to-work" provision. This enables states to pass legislation prohibiting union shop agreements. Some 20 states, mostly in the South and West, have done precisely that.

A union shop agreement specifies that all workers in a workplace where the union has been voted in (or otherwise been recognized by the employer after demonstrating majority support) must belong to the union as a condition of employment. Under federal law, the union is required to represent all the workers in a given unit, so it is only fair and right that all employees in the workplace contribute to the cost of maintaining the union by paying union dues. After all, every worked in the unit receives the pay increases and benefit improvements negotiated by the union. And any worker can be fired unjustly, which forces the union to file a grievance, often spending thousands of dollars from the union's treasury to win back that worker's job. Workers wishing to avail themselves of the union's grievance procedure should surely contribute to paying their fair share so that the union can protect the rights of all workers the costs.

But Taft-Hartley says a state can bar that. In "right-to-work" states, a worker can accept all the wage increases and benefit improvements negotiated by the union, as well utilize the union's grievance procedure, but never belong to the union or pay any dues toward its upkeep. This is simply another device imposed by government to divide workers and weaken the union.

Closed Shop Outlawed

Taft-Hartley also outlawed the closed shop. A closed shop agreement obligated an employer to hire only workers who are already union members. This was of particular importance to the building trades unions, which sought to ensure that all construction be done by union labor and that building trade’s workers receive good wages standardized throughout the industry. So under a closed shop, employers who needed workers got them through the union.

Taft-Hartley made that practice illegal. Union workers today are faced with the threat of non-union contractors who employ non-union workers at lower wages and less benefits, and drive down industry standards. This has the added benefit for the employers of pitting union workers against non-union workers and dividing the workforce.

Strikes by Federal Employees Outlawed

The Taft-Hartley Act prohibited strikes by federal government employees or workers in government-owned corporations. Even if federal workers are paid poverty level wages or toil under unbearable working conditions, they are forced to stay on the job. If they dare to strike, they can expect to face harsh sanctions.

A dramatic example of this occurred in 1981 when the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) struck. The workers were fired -- some were hauled away in ball-and-chain to serve prison sentences -- and PATCO was destroyed. This was government strike-breaking and union-busting at its worst.

Contributions by Unions to Candidates for Federal Office Outlawed

As a further step to weaken unions and limit their political power, Taft-Hartley made it illegal for unions to contribute any money from their treasuries to candidates for federal office.

Of course, a union can still collect money from individual members given on a voluntary basis and contribute to a candidate for federal office. But, many unions have substantial treasuries and could, if it were not illegal, contribute larger sums in furtherance of their program to elect people to office who support a workers' agenda.

Damage Suits Against Unions

Taft-Hartley permits employers to file damage suits against unions for breach of contract. Because the American legal system is not kind to unions and the workers they represent, a union that fights hard for its members can find itself in court, defending unsuccessfully against a damage suit for millions of dollars. Such an award was issued recently against the American Airline pilots union after pilots called in sick at a time when they could not get a decent contract.

This legal weapon, which enables the corporations to sue unions for damages, is intimidating and dangerous. It is another device to discourage unions from taking strong actions in defense of their members to protect living standards and working conditions.

Anti-Communist Oath

Taft-Hartley required officers of local, national, and international unions to file an affidavit swearing they were not members of the Communist Party and did not support any organization advocating the overthrow of the government by force or any "unconstitutional" means. Even rabidly anti-communist union leaders opposed this measure because they saw it as another unwarranted government intrusion into unions' internal affairs, and because they recoiled at the idea of being forced to swear out the affidavits, which they regarded as insulting and degrading.
The Supreme Court later declared this provision of Taft-Hartley unconstitutional.


The negative effects of Taft-Hartley upon the ability of unions to organize, bargain collectively and strike have been devastating. In fact, this Act profoundly affect the relationship of forces between management and workers to the detriment of the organized labor movement.

Moreover, the situation was compounded when Congress passed the Landrum-Griffin Act in 1959. This Act further barred union solidarity actions when it prohibited unions from negotiating "hot cargo" agreements, thus forcing union workers to either handle and process scab products from other work places that are on strike or face discharge. In addition, Landrum-Griffin gave the government unprecedented oversight and control over internal union affairs, dictating the conduct of elections and the handling of finances. And the government has in recent years expanded its control over unions in the U.S. by ruling off the ballot in union elections candidates who had never even been indicted or convicted of any crime.

In the aftermath of Taft-Hartley, the labor movement made its repeal an overriding priority. But as time went by and the so-called friends of labor in both the Democratic and Republican parties made clear that Taft-Hartley was staying on the books, union leaders adapted to it, and the cry for its repeal became muted. The Labor Party, formed in 1996, called for a labor bill of rights which included the repeal of Taft-Hartley and all other anti-labor legislation. Ralph Nader called for repeal of Taft-Hartley in his 2000 presidential bid.

From time-to-time, piecemeal measures to restore at least some of labor's rights, such as barring the hiring of permanent replacements when workers strike, and allowing common sites picketing, have been introduced in Congress. But to date nothing has come of these.

It is clear that American workers will have their rights protected only when they exert their collective muscle.

(End of UI Professors’ paper)

And here is some more information about the Taft-Hartley Act that I can tell you about. It 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 (that nutty part was probably put in by McCarthy).

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 labor 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.

Recently, an attempt by Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao to negotiate a thirty-day contract extension between port operators and the International Longshoremen’s 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 later on whether to grant a full 80-day injunction.

MB United States

The first nationwide strike occurred in 1877, when railroad workers struck in the middle of an economic depression. With the advent in the 1880s of such labor organizations as the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor, strikes became more frequent. Some of the more important industry-wide strikes in the United States have been those waged by the railroad employees in 1877 and 1894, by the United Mine Workers in 1902 and 1946–47, by the steel workers in 1919, 1937, 1952, and 1959, and by the auto workers in 1937 and 1946. Important local strikes have included those of the Western Federation of Miners in the early 20th century and of the Teamsters Union in Minneapolis in 1934. The 1960s and 70s witnessed an increasing number of strikes by public employees, notably teachers, municipal workers, police officers, and firefighters, but generally the tendency in the United States after World War II has been toward fewer strikes. The number of strikes dropped from a record high of 470 involving 1,000 workers or more in 1952, when 2.7 million workers went on strike, to a record low of 29 in 1997, when 339,000 workers struck. (In 1988 only 118,000 workers went out on strike, but there were 40 strikes involving 1,000 workers or more.) In the 1980s employers increasingly adopted the tactic of replacing striking union workers with nonunion workers; in 1981, for example, President Reagan ordered the replacement of 8,590 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization when they went on strike.

Isn’t it an amazing historical fact that work stoppages, strikes, and boycotts of businesses always bring Presidential Decrees, troops, detective agencies, police, national guards, and court injunctions against working men and women who only want decent working conditions. Hardly ever has any industry or corporation been treated in this way regardless if it is right or wrong. Everything seems to favor big business, never the worker who keeps that business running. Maybe what is needed is a general workers strike against all business in general.

God Bless Labor on this Labor Day.

Leo C. Helmer


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