April 8, 1952 – President Harry Truman issues Executive Order over the Steel Strike – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
From 1950-1953, the United States was involved in the Korean War. To fund the war, Truman originally wanted to increase taxes and implement credit controls to limit inflation. Many Americans were opposed to this due to the previous two decades of shortages from the Great Depression and World War II rationing, so the government was forced to get creative in thinking of other ways to fund and mobilize for war. The Office of Price Stabilization (OPS) enacted price controls on various wartime industries, including steel tonnage pricing, while the Wage Stabilization Board (WSB) worked to limit wage increases for workers to what they felt was a reasonable amount. The threat of a strike loomed throughout early 1952. In March, the WSB recommended the steelworkers be granted a wage increase. Worrying that their profit margins would drop if they paid their workers more money, the steel companies asked the OPS for an increase in steel tonnage pricing. The OPS refused the proposed price increase and made a lower counteroffer, angering the steel companies. In the midst of these arguments, the workers decided to strike.
Truman issued Executive Order 10340 to seize control of the steel industries on April 8, 1952. He went before the nation to deliver an address:
President Truman: “You may think this steel dispute doesn’t affect you. You may think it’s just a matter between the Government and a few greedy companies. But it is not. If we granted the outrageous prices the steel industry wants, we would scuttle our whole price control program. And that comes pretty close to home for everybody in the country.
It is perfectly clear, from the facts I have cited, that the present danger to our stabilization program comes from the steel companies’ insistence on a big jump in steel prices.
The plain fact of the matter is that the steel companies are recklessly forcing a shutdown of the steel mills. They are trying to get special, preferred treatment, not available to any other industry. And they are apparently willing to stop steel production to get it.
As President of the United States it is my plain duty to keep this from happening. And that is the reason for the measures I have taken tonight.
At midnight the Government will take over the steel plants. Both management and labor will then be working for the Government. And they will have a clear duty to heat up their furnaces again and go on making steel.
When management and labor meet down here in Washington they will have a chance to go back to bargaining and settle their dispute. As soon as they do that, we can turn the plants back to their private owners with the assurance that production will continue.
It is my earnest hope that the parties will settle without delay–tomorrow, if possible. I don’t want to see the Government running the plants one minute longer than is absolutely necessary to prevent a shutdown.
A lot of people have been saying I ought to rely on the procedures of the Taft-Hartley Act to deal with this emergency.
This has not been done because the so-called emergency provisions of the Taft Hartley Act would be of no help in meeting the situation that confronts us tonight.”
Here is the complete address, as it was broadcast throughout the country on April 8, 1952.
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