From Fourth International, September-October 1947, Vol.8 No.8, pp.227-228.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.
On August 26, the Taft-Hartley Slave Labor Law – the most savage legislation ever aimed against organized labor in the United States – became the law of the land. Since that date the union movement has been grappling with the problem of averting this threat to its life. This law is designed to facilitate the real aim pursued by the capitalist rulers – the complete destruction of the trade unions, or more accurately, their reduction to bodies completely subservient to the employers and the capitalist state machine.
It deprives the unions of rights, gains and protection won by decades of bitter struggle and sacrifice. It provides the employers with a whole arsenal of weapons for undermining the unions, intimidating their members and victimizing their leaders. At the same time, the federal administration, the courts and newly appointed Labor Czar, Denham, are given powers to outlaw strikes, smashing them by injunction and penalizing workers by fines and prison sentences. On top of this, it restricts the rights of free speech and free press as well as the right of unions to participate in political activities. A strict interpretation would prohibit union publications from even publishing the records of the Republican-Democratic representatives of Big Business who pushed through this law.
The “dangerous thought” clauses of this Slave Labor Law refuse representation to any union officials whose political views are frowned upon as “communist” by the government. This legal supplement to the red-baiting campaign along with the other provisions of the law opens the way for the destruction of union security and the restoration of the open-shop. No wonder it has been nicknamed “The Tough-Heartless Act!”
Last spring the union ranks, instinctively grasping the dangers of this frontal assault upon their organizations, showed determination to prevent passage of this law by combatting it with every means at their command. But the AFL and CIO official leadership discouraged any united mobilization of labor’s power, sabotaged any nationwide mass actions. Some among these bureaucrats foolishly and feebly hoped that their prayer? and petitions would keep Congress from carrying out Wall Street’s orders. But above all, the whole crew of these cringing “labor statesmen” feared to cut loose from the apron strings of the political representatives of Big Business, even when the Republic-Democratic combination was delivering such deadly blows to the foundations of the unions.
Subservient to these political machines, the labor officialdom is now conniving to bow down before the Slave Labor Law. They are now telling the workers: “After all, this is the law Of the land and we must abide by it until – someday, somehow – we manage to repeal it. Meanwhile, let us appeal to the courts and see whether the judges will throw out some of the harsher provisions of the Act.”
When a decisive struggle is on the order of the day, and the enemy attacks-to capitulate without a struggle is to suffer the worst possible defeat. Yet this is precisely what top-bureaucrats of labor are now proposing. Heading this course of capitulation are the AFL officials. Such a case-hardened labor lieutenant of capitalism as AFL Teamsters’ President Daniel J. Tobin urged the workers to observe “scrupulously” the provisions of the Act and slandered as “enemies of labor” the millions of unionists who insist on struggle and who called for a nationwide protest strike. Ready as the official union leaders are to capitulate to the law as a whole, they are most inclined to embrace the NLRB. The majority of the AFL Executive Council were eager to obey the edict of National Labor Rerations Board’s General Counsel Denham that all top labor federation officials must file “anticommunist” statements before their affiliates can obtain the right of appeal to the Board or legal recognition as a collective bargaining agency. Surrender on this issue implied surrender all along the line.
Their surrender has been blocked only by the refusal of John L. Lewis to sign any such “yellow dog” affidavits. At the recent Council meeting Lewis condemned his colleagues as “cowards” and “weaklings” and correctly declared it was better to fight uncompromisingly against the Act now than to become entangled in a one-sided war of attrition which h the end would leave the unions too weak to battle at all.
Underlying this struggle over signing the “anti-communist” affidavits is the far more important and fundamental issue which has yet to be decided: Will the unions submit to this statute or will they take a firm stand to fight it on all fronts? That is the question now being fought out within the union movement.
Like the question of the no-strike pledge during the war, the stand taken upon compliance or non-compliance with the Taft-Hartley Aet has become a touchstone for distinguishing the genuine defenders of labor’s rights from those who are ready to surrender them without struggle.
The militant attitude of the bulk of the union membership is unmistakable. All the CIO conventions held since the law went into effect have gone on record for resistance. At the CIO United Rubber Workers Convention the delegates decisively repudiated President Buckmaster’s proposal that the union agree to qualify for the NLRB under the Taft-Hartley Act. A week later the CIO United Electrical Workers took an equally strong stand.
The following week the National Maritime Union convention delegates unanimously voted to boycott the “employer-dominated” NLRB. “Any idea that the union can live with the slave law is suicidal. Capitulation to the law is out ... We must fight to defend the union and its contracts, using whatever tactics may be necessary on or off the job.” This kind of language in the NMU resolution voices the sentiments, not only of the men on the ships but also of the workers in the shops.
But within the upper circles of the unions a different disposition prevails. With a few notable exceptions, the labor chiefs are seeking ways and means to disregard the wishes of the ranks and operate within the choking confines of the law. The question of whether to compromise with the union-busting Act or to meet it head-on, is the key question before the organized labor movement as the AFL and CIO Conventions prepare to meet in October.
The tendency to yield is strong not only among the AFL but also among the CIO leadership. Although the CIO President has as yet not dared to advise this policy publicly, spokesmen close to Murray have been campaigning for compliance. In addition to the relentless pressure of Wall Street, its government and press, there are powerful factors driving the spineless union bureaucrats in that direction.
The smaller unions, and the weak sections of the big unions, have secured their footholds in many places through the NLRB election machinery. By refusing to qualify with the Board, they fear losing their rights of representation or being replaced by other unions. If rival unions comply with the NLRB regulations, they risk being left out in the cold, The CIO officials anxiously eye the AFL unions; the United Auto Workers are suspicious of the Machinists Union. Thus the division, jurisdictional competition and double-crossing among the labor leaders breaks down both the ability and the will of the unions to resist and plays the game of the bosses.
Moreover, the five-member NLRB may modify Denham’s ruling and release the top AFL and CIO officers from filing the “yellow-dog” affidavits. Such a reversal would remove the most immediate obstacles and facilitate their collaboration with the Taft-Hartley set-up.
Meanwhile, the NLRB is baring its fangs and demonstrating how completely it serves the employers as an anti-labor tool under the Taft-Hartley Act. On the West Coast the Waterfront Employers Assn. have taken advantage of the law to deny the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union the bargaining rights it won for foremen in a pre-Taft-Hartley election. In Baltimore the NLRB has filed unfair labor practices against the International Typographical Union. In Albany it obtained an injunction ordering longshoremen to halt a strike.
These are only the first blows dealt in the anti-union warfare conducted under the aegis of this deadly Act. John L. Lewis was absolutely right when he affirmed that here and now organized labor must stand and irreconcilably fight this menace by all means at its disposal.
But even Lewis, with all his aggressiveness, does not show the workers how they can fight Wall Street’s Slave Law on the main arena – the field of political action. This hateful Law will not be repealed and the American workers protected against even worse legislation so long as the unions remain subservient to and dependent upon the Republican and Democratic parties. The workers have to drive all the political representatives of Big Business from public office and move forward to their own Labor government. The first step toward that end is the creation on a local, state and national scale of their own Independent Labor Party.
October 3, 1947
This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
Last updated on 16.2.2009