Democratic Sweep Gives Chance For New Labor Laws, Says Dunlop

GOP Stand Alienated Labor Leaders

(Associate Professor of Economics, Faculty of the School of Public Administration.)

(This is the second in a series of articles by Faculty members on the significance of various aspects of the election.)

"Labor did it," the President is reported to have said in the first flush of triumph. The Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, in proclaiming victory just before the Dewey telegram, opened his statement by acknowledging that the largest share in the results belonged to organized labor. While a more detached view will reveal that other factors were operative in producing the upset, labor leaders did work hard in the campaign and will not be bashful in claiming credit.

The Taft-Hartley law was the fighting issue, even though many other actions of the 80th Congress did not please labor. The Republican leadership in Congress had sponsored and pushed through the law. The fact that a majority of Democrats voted for the law was offset by the strong veto of the President. The Taft-Hartley Law made it impossible for even Republican labor leadership to endorse Governor Dowey. Under the New Deal there were always a number of Republican labor leaders to endorse their party's candidate. It is significant that this year only one president of an international union, McFetridge of the Building Service Employees, endorsed the Republican nominee. Lewis was strongly against Truman, it is true, but Dewey's Pittsburgh labor speech called forth almost equal invective. For the first time, there was no prominent labor leader, such as Mr. Hutchinson who had filled the job previously, to be the head of a Republican labor committee. The Taft-Hartley law alienated virtually all labor leadership from the Republican party. At the same time the overwhelming majority of union presidents endorsed Mr. Truman.

The Taft-Hartley law was a hodge-podge and contained, to use the past tense, some long overdue reforms, such as the provisions for the filing of financial reports by unions and the strictures against jurisdictional disputes and secondary boycotts. Other sections simply wrote into law the decisions of the NLRB, as in the case of the provisions granting "free speech" to employers. Many sections of the law were misguided and reflected a failure to understand labor organizations, such as the requirements for union shop elections. Other sections, the ban on the closed shop, were interpreted by the labor unions as clearly anti-union. The authors of the Act, and the Republican party in the campaign, insisted that the Act was for the benefit of the individual worker; it would free him from the labor boss. It was this attempt to drive a wedge between the labor leader and the rank and-file which probably explains more than any other single factor the intensity of the reaction of labor leaders. The Taft-Hartley act was written on the premise that the union leader did not truly represent the workingman.


Organized labor asked for the repeal of the Taft-Hartley law. The Democratic platform likewise called for repeal. It seems likely that the law will be technically repealed. Its seventy pages are almost too complex to review piece-meal. Yet the new labor law will hardly be the old Wagner Act. Many of the less objectionable features of the Taft-Hartley law will no doubt be found in the new act.

The present occasion provides the new administration with a unique opportunity. The Wagner Act came to be regarded by management as one-sided. The Taft-Hartley act was vindicative toward labor. The pendulum has swung widely. Now is the time for a moderate and constructive approach, one which would formulate the legal framework of collective bargaining on a new basis.

A new statute can be made to represent the consensus of responsible labor and management leaders. The Railway Labor Act of 1926 was such a consensus. In the present state of collective bargaining the new statute need not be thrust down the threat of labor or management. The time has passed for more "get even" laws. Management's lessons from the Wagner Act and labor's from the Taft-Hartley act have created an awareness to the rights of the other party and a greater sense of public responsibility. There are signs that the administration intends to follow the course of consulting labor and management in developing the new labor law.

Labor will insist most strongly that the new law eliminate the ban on the closed shop, the union shop elections, the prohibition on political expenditures, the secondary boycott provision, and the use of the injunction in unfair labor practice cases.

There will be little objection to the continuation of the financial reporting requirements of the Taft-Hartley act. The nonCommunist affidavit will not be asy to eliminate politically in view of the current international situation. Labor leaders will insist generally that the affidavit be made applicable to employers as well as union leaders. There will be little objection to the employers free speech and jurisdictional disputes provisions although significant changes in language are required.

The occasion of a new labor law is a challenge to establish the principle that henceforth the legal framework of collective bargaining shall be shaped largly by the consensus of labor and management.

Recommended Articles