3 - The great strike wave of 1946 and its political consequences  pp. 47-67

The great strike wave of 1946 and its political consequences

By Irving Richter and David Montgomery

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When the Second World War ended, only a small minority of the general public favored a law barring strikes in peacetime. Yet the majority of the voting public put into office a Republican Congress in the elections of 1946, which acted on the belief that the giant postwar strike wave was politically inspired, the product of “communist” and “subversive” influences. The 80th Congress in 1947 enacted what labor unions universally termed the “Slave-Labor” law. The Labor-Management Relations (Taft-Hartley) Act – passed over President Truman's veto – inaugurated drastic changes in the New Deal labor law, the National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act. While the new labor law continued the governmental policy favoring collective bargaining, it was atavistic. Among many other changes, Taft-Hartley barred supervisors from Labor Board protection; restricted the right of unions with respect to striking; and, acting on the belief that it was communists and fellow travelers who were responsible for the great postwar strike wave, imposed in Section 9(h) a loyalty test on union officers. Under Section 9(h), unions wishing to use the reconstructed Labor Board's services would be required to have their officers each year sign what the union leadership generally termed a “loyalty” or “noncommunist” affidavit. Enforcement of that particular provision by the reconstructed National Labor Relations Board and the Department of Justice, as well as the unions' own ambivalence, resulted in further division of an already highly fragmented labor movement. The latter point, developed in detail in Chapter 5, is worth emphasizing here.