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What was the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947?

The Taft-Hartley Act gave the federal government the power to end strikes that endangered the public.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
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  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2014
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The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 is more appropriately termed the Labor-Management Relations Act. It gets the former of these two names from the co-sponsoring of the bill by House Representative Fred A. Harley, Jr, and Senator Robert Taft. The initial bill was used to more clearly define actions labor unions could take in the event of disagreements with management, and also defined the actions permissible by management during a labor/management dispute. The act was not supported by all, and was especially not supported by then President Harry Truman, who actually vetoed the bill. Nevertheless, Congress overrode the veto and made the bill law.

The senator and representative authoring the Taft-Hartley Act were attempting to amend an act that formerly governed labor and management disputes. This was the 1935 Wagner Act or National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Essentially the Taft-Hartley Act added a number of prohibited activities for labor, and gave the Federal government power to issue injunctions to end strikes if those strikes posed hazards to American people.

One provision of the Taft-Hartley Act is the banning of jurisdictional strikes. These are strikes undertaken by union members because they want certain types of jobs. Other forms of strikes outlawed by the Taft-Hartley Act include wildcat strikes and secondary boycotts. Wildcat strikes are those undertaken by union members without union authorization. A secondary boycott is the lobbying of a union of other companies to boycott the businesses that continue to do business with companies with striking workers.

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Another concern of the Taft-Hartley Act was that people who belonged to unions might be communists. Early on, many unions appeared to endorse some of the beliefs held in Marxism, and the post-World War II era brought American fear of communism to new heights. To attempt to separate labor movements from communism, the Act required union leaders to sign statements swearing they were not communists.

One aspect of the bill that seemed to strike at the heart of the labor movement was the empowerment of management to fire supervisors with union sympathies. This tension between lower level management and striking employees is still felt today. Usually supervisors are salaried, and thus no longer belong to unions. Through the Taft-Hartley Act, continued union sympathy or pro-union sentiment could be countered by threatening or taking people’s jobs.

Many who criticized the Taft-Hartley Act felt that it was unbalanced, a blow to unions and too oriented on giving management advantages against strikes. There have been several attempts to repeal the Act, often when Democratic presidents have been in office. Both Presidents Carter and Clinton fought to repeal it, but were unsuccessful.

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