June 20, 1947 – on this day President Harry Truman was handed a bill, the Taft-Hartley Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, authored by Senator Robert Taft and Representative Fred Hartley and passed by the Senate. Taft-Hartley was designed to restrict the activities of labor unions in the workplace. Labor leaders called it the “slave-labor bill” and President Truman argued that it was a “dangerous intrusion on free speech” and that it “conflicted with important principles of our democratic society”. And so he refused to sign it:
President Truman: “I return herewith, without my approval, H.R. 3020, the “Labor Management Relations Act, 1947.”
I am fully aware of the gravity which attaches to the exercise by the president of his constitutional power to withhold his approval from an enactment of the Congress.
I share with the Congress the conviction that legislation dealing with the relations between management and labor is necessary. I heartily condemn abuses on the part of unions and employers, and I have no patience with stubborn insistence on private advantage to the detriment of the public interest.
But this bill is far from a solution of those problems.
When one penetrates the complex, interwoven provisions of this omnibus bill, and understands the real meaning of its various parts, the result is startling.
The bill taken as a whole would reverse the basic direction of our national labor policy, inject the Government into private economic affairs on an unprecedented scale, and conflict with important principles of our democratic society. Its provisions would cause more strikes, not fewer. It would contribute neither to industrial peace nor to economic stability and progress. It would be a dangerous stride in the direction of a totally managed economy. It contains seeds of discord which would plague this Nation for years to come.
Because of the far-reaching import of this bill, I have weighed its probable effects against a series of fundamental considerations. In each case I find that the bill violates principles essential to our public welfare.
I. The first major test which I have applied to this bill is whether it would result in more or less Government intervention in our economic life.
Our basic national policy has always been to establish by law standards of fair dealing and then to leave the working of the economic system to the free choice of individuals. Under that policy of economic freedom we have built our nation’s productive strength. Our people have deep faith in industrial self-government with freedom of contract and free collective bargaining.
I find that this bill is completely contrary to that national policy of economic freedom. It would require the Government, in effect, to become an unwanted participant at every bargaining table. It would establish by law limitations on the terms of every bargaining agreement, and nullify thousands of agreements mutually arrived at and satisfactory to the parties. It would inject the Government deeply into the process by which employers and workers reach agreement. It would superimpose bureaucratic procedures on the free decisions of local employers and employees.
At a time when we are determined to remove, as rapidly as practicable, Federal controls established during the war, this bill would involve the Government in the free processes of our economic system to a degree unprecedented in peacetime.
This is a long step toward the settlement of economic issues by government dictation. It is an indication that industrial relations are to be determined in the halls of Congress, and that political power is to supplant economic power as the critical factor in labor relations.
II. The second basic test against which I have measured this bill is whether it would improve human relations between employers and their employees.
Cooperation cannot be achieved by force of law. We cannot create mutual respect and confidence by legislative fiat.
I am convinced that this legislation overlooks the significance of these principles. It would encourage distrust, suspicion, and arbitrary attitudes.
I find that the National Labor Relations Act would be converted from an instrument with the major purpose of protecting the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively into a maze of pitfalls and complex procedures. As a result of these complexities employers and workers would find new barriers to mutual understanding.
The bill time and again would remove the settlement of differences from the bargaining table to courts of law. Instead of learning to live together, employers and unions are invited to engage in costly, time-consuming litigation, inevitably embittering both parties.
The Congress has, I think, paid too much attention to the inevitable frictions and difficulties incident to the reconversion period. It has ignored the unmistakable evidence that those difficulties are receding and that labor-management cooperation is constantly improving. There is grave danger that this progress would be nullified through enactment of this legislation.”
Despite his veto, the Senate overrode his veto and Taft-Hartley became law, and is still, for the most part, in effect.
Here is that radio address, as it was broadcast on June 20, 1947.