(TIME, April 28, 1947) -- What was the President going to do about the phone strike? Would he veto a tough labor bill? What about prices? What about Henry Wallace? While the questions went unanswered, insouciant Harry Truman ducked his regular press conference and had a week of fun.
He got off to a good start by buying the first poppy of the Veterans of Foreign Wars' 1947 sale from six-year-old Saundra Fay Hall, gave her in return a little silver sombrero he had picked up in Mexico. Later that afternoon he drove over to the Bethesda Naval Hospital to pin a Medal of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster on ailing, aging former secretary of State Cordell Hull.
He found time for everyone. Round-the-world Flyer Milton Reynolds and crew came by to receive the President's congratulations and give him a Reynolds ball-point pen. Democratic bigwigs dropped in to talk politics. Said Jersey City's Boss Frank Hague: "Everything's fine -- everything's lovely."
At week's end, the President drove through cheering crowds to throw out the first ball at the postponed Senators-Yankees baseball opener. To the consternation of newsmen who had billed him as a southpaw, Harry Truman first tossed out a blooper with his right arm, obligingly threw another with his left for the cameramen. Then he settled back to sip a Coke in the bright spring sunlight, unexpectedly popped up half an inning early for the traditional seventh inning stretch. Final score: Yankees, 7; Senators, 0.
This week the President turned to graver matters. Everything was still lovely, but for that troublesome cloud shadow on the spring landscape -- high prices and the danger of a recession. Speaking at the annual luncheon of the Associated Press in Manhattan's Waldorf-Astoria hotel, Harry Truman ringingly reiterated his familiar formula for avoiding depression: "Prices must be brought down." (Before leaving the capital, the President had a new vaccination as a precaution against Manhattan's smallpox scare.)
He said little that he had not said before. He quoted figures: house furnishings were up 23% above 1945; clothing up 24%; food up 31%; wholesale prices were even higher all along the line. Once prices were lowered, he expected labor to do its part by following his "counsel of moderation," farmers to keep production high. Government could help best, he said, by keeping taxes up, reducing the debt, holding fast to rent, export and credit controls.
Said the President: "Only if we maintain and increase our prosperity can we expect other countries to recognize the full merits of a free economy . . . the responsibility of preserving our free enterprise system will continue to rest upon the joint efforts of business, labor, the farmers and government."
THE CONGRESS Challenge
The American people had had enough, and the House knew it. Labor's spring strike fever had given the nation a new fit of chills. The Hose, even more constituent-conscious than labor-shy, reacted with a stunning strike-curb bill, then clinched its purpose by passing the measure by a stunning majority -- 308 to 107 -- plenty of votes to override a presidential veto. With the 215 Republicans, 93 Democrats broke ranks to vote for the bill.
The 66-page measure struck in three directions: at the national Labor Relations (Wagner) Act, at the Norris-LaGuardia (anti-injunction) Act, at Communist influence in trade unions. Its chief points were long, strong and sharp. They were nailed down by stern rules and broad new definitions. The only kind of "compulsory unionism" the bill permitted was the union shop, and then only if a majority of the workers wanted it and the employer himself had no objection. (Closed shop: only union members may be hired. Union shop: workers must join the union after they are hired.) The bill would safeguard both workers' and employers' rights to speak out against unions. It would deprive workers of the right to strike over anything but questions of wages, hours, work requirements and work conditions; strikes over any question of union security would be unfair labor practices. These rules drastically revised the so-called "Magna Charta of Labor"-the Wagner Act. By giving employers the right to ask for court injunctions when confronted by an "unlawful strike," the bill drastically revised the Norris-La Guardia Act. It attacked Communist union influence by barring not only Communists, but even ex-Communists and party-liners, from holding union office.
Against Tyranny. The House's avowed aim was to bring an end to "widespread industrial strife." That had also been the avowed aim of Congress in 1935, when it passed the Wagner Act. But the 80th Congress now thought that the hard facts of industrial strife had demonstrated the fallacy in congressional thinking twelve years ago. From an annual average of 753 strikes involving 297,000 workers in 1946. Annual average of man-days lost before NRA: 10,828,000. In 1946: 116,000,000.
Numerous people had numerous explanations, aside from the Wagner Act, for this staggering and sometimes frightening phenomenon. One of the reasons was the increase in employment. But the House was certain that it had put its disciplinary finger on the basic reason. The reason was not the U.S. worker -- "deprived," as the labor committee said, "of his dignity as an individual . . . cajoled, coerced, intimidated and on many occasions beaten up. . . . The employer's plight has likewise not been happy." The committee blamed the unions, which the Wagner Act had made into a "tyranny more despotic than one could think possible in a free country." Congressmen were resolved to trim down that tyranny. A minority of committeemen protested that the bill would "result in bitter and costly strikes."
Balance of Power. The bill had some holes in it; some of the ground rules were vaguely defined. But essentially it accomplished what Labor Chairman Fred Hartley jr. and his committeemen wanted. It would restore the balance of power in labor dealings to management, which, in the apparent opinion of a majority of U.S. Congressmen, is where it belongs in a system of free enterprise.
Organized labor wailed in agony. William Green had declared: "Hartley will be classified as one of labor's chief enemies." C.I.O. spokesmen called the measure "a poisonous witches' brew." Old New Dealers in Congress echoed them.
The bill was still a long way from being law. On the other side of Congress, Senator Robert Taft's almost equally tough labor proposition had been flattened into a pancake by his own committee. The Senate would be more cautious in its labor legislation; in fact, some members of the House voted as they did because they felt secure in that belief. But the House's impressive vote also strengthened Taft, who now might be able to restore much of his bill. But whatever happened -- a compromise between the two houses, a possible presidential veto even of the compromise -- the House action had thrown down a challenge to the industrial U.S.
LABOR New Mood
The mood of the nation and the House was reflected in the mood of labor. It registered with seismographic sensitivity in Pittsburgh, where the C.I.O.'s Big Three had gathered.
The United Electrical Workers' Jim Matles arrived, brandishing a contract from Westinghouse, with the same $.15 raise U.E. had gotten from General Motors five days before. Walter Reuther arrived, with a similar offer from G.M., but still holding out for $.23 1/2.
It all depended on Phil Murray's steelworkers. They had been tied up in negotiations since January, had extended the deadline once -- until April 30. Now time was running out. Both Murray and Reuther were obviously piqued that management had stolen their thunder by dealing first with the Red-wired electrical workers. But the Big Three meeting broke up with no word of results. Walter Reuther went back to Detroit, still breathing intransigence.
Phil Murray was conferring feverishly. There was a closed- doors conference with U.S. Steel Vice President John A. Stephens, an all night session with Stephens and other U.S. Steel negotiators. Rumors of a settlement drifted out at the same time that "No Contract, No Work" stickers appeared on steelworkers' cars.
Then Phil Murray made his announcement. Steel had settled for slightly more than $.15. Murray had given up his demands for a union shop and the annual wage, had promised not to press his portal-to-portal pay suits; U.S. Steel "hoped" to hold the price line.
With the announcement, the whole labor picture changed. G.M. promptly signed with 3,000 rubber workers in Dayton at the magical new $.15 figure. At the least, it meant that Walter Reuther would be hard put to it to avoid accepting about the same terms at G.M., at Chrysler, and at Ford. At most it meant that the U.S. could look forward to a season of real labor peace.
Signs of Peace. There were already other signs that peace was at hand. In Manhattan last week, 50,000 Western Union employees tore up their $.25 demands, accepted a $.05 "down- payment" raise. The oldest dispute in the nation was finally settled: on the Toledo, Peoria & Western Railroad, which had suffered more than five years of wrangling, Government seizure and bloodshed, culminating in the murder of President George McNear Jr.
The one visible road block was the telephone strike. Even that strike seemed to be crumbling around the edges. A.T. & T. claimed it was handling four-fifths of the normal number of local calls, that long-distance service was up to 35%. Telephone workers were beginning to straggle back in many places: twelve in Kosciusko, Miss; 1,500 Commercial Telephone Workers Union members in New Jersey, pending arbitration and a constitutional test of the state's drastic new anti-strike law; so many in the South that Southern Bell had removed emergency restrictions from long- distance calls.
The N.F.T.W., which had started, without sufficient strength, money or appreciation of the company's ability to keep the phones going, was desperately sending up trial balloons. It would be glad to take a $6-a-week wage boost and arbitrate everything else. Picket-line tension grew. In Detroit two strikers were injured and 22 arrested after a battle with police and nonstrikers reporting for work. In Milwaukee, one fun-loving picket paraded tauntingly in a baby buggy as a miserly "Ma Bell".
At week's end, somewhat heartened by financial aid from the C.I.O. and A.F. L., N.F.T.W. President Joseph Beirne appealed to the White House for settlement help. He admitted to newsmen: "If we don't settle by Monday, our people will still be out on strike, but some of them may want to go back to work."
A.T. & T. was still holding tight. But equipment was suffering from lack of maintenance. As much as anything, it had been waiting to see which way steel would jump. Now it had its cue.
For telephone workers of Woodward, Okla., the phone strike ended the moment they could dig out from the debris of last fortnight's tornado. While union officials ordered workers to ignore the emergency and stay on strike, 30 union operators rushed back to their jobs. Last week they made the strike's end official, sent in their resignations with a blistering telegram: "Girls refuse to stop. Will work as long as needed. . . . Would be ashamed of a union which would put up pickets in a disaster like this."
THE HOUSE LABOR BILL
June 30, 1947 LABOR The New Law
The Taft-Hartley Act-officially the Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947 -- is the first fundamental change in labor-relations ground rules in nearly twelve years. By expert analysis, these are some of the things it will do or not do:
It will not halt strikes. The emergency procedure will only affect nationwide strikes that threaten the national safety.
But the new law should curb such strikes. Union leaders will not be able summarily to call workers out, since the workers must first vote by secret ballot on whether to accept the employer's final offer.
Since unions will be liable to suit for contract violation, wildcat strikes will become unpopular. Jurisdictional strikes and boycotts will be sharply curtailed by the NLRB's authority to get injunctions.
Employers will be able to speak freely to their employees on labor policies, demand elections if they think the union no longer represents the majority of their workers. Unions will be required to act responsibly, will be held more closely to their contracts.
The power of union leaders to discriminate against individuals will be curbed. Unions will be prevented from arbitrarily excluding men from jobs; employers will have greater freedom in hiring & firing as a result of the outlawing of closed shops. Union shops will still be legal.
Established unions will have some troubles. The new voting rules, by giving craft and professional workers the right to separate organizations, may tend to break up some C.I.O.-type industry-wide unions into smaller craft unions like A.F.L.'s.
The NLRB will have to be expanded. Its procedures will be more complex.
One loophole looked as big as a mine shaft; refusal to work because of "abnormally dangerous" conditions was not considered a strike. On June 30, John L. Lewis might find something dangerous in every mine in the U.S.
To the lawyer's eye, there seemed to be many another loophole and many an arguable provision in the Taft-Hartley Act, as there was in the Wagner Act. Final interpretation will only come, as it did with the Wagner Act, after years of litigation in the nation's courts.
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