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Broken Promise: The Subversion Of U.S. Labor Relations

James Gross

Publication Year: 2010

The Wagner Act of 1935 (later the Wagner-Taft-Hartley Act of 1947) was intended to democratize vast numbers of American workplaces: the federal government was to encourage worker organization and the substitution of collective bargaining for employers' unilateral determination of vital work-place matters. Yet this system of industrial democracy was never realized; the promise was "broken." In this rare inside look at the process of government regulation over the last forty-five years, James A. Gross analyzes why the promise of the policy was never fulfilled. Gross looks at how the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) policy-making has been influenced by the President, the Congress, the Supreme Court, public opinion, resistance by organized employers, the political and economic strategies of organized labor, and the ideological dispositions of NLRB appointees. This book provides the historical perspective needed for a reevaluation of national labor policy. It delineates where we are now, how we got here, and what fundamental questions must be addressed if policy-makers are to make changes consistent with the underlying principles of democracy.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xiii

In 1935 Congress passed the Wagner Act, intended to democratize vast numbers of American workplaces so that workers could participate in the employment decisions that most directly affected their lives. Under the Wagner Act the right of workers to participate in these decisions was considered essential for social justice, and worker organization and collective bargaining were considered...

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pp. xv-xvi

In addition to the many capable and generous people whose assistance was acknowledged in my two previously published books covering earlier periods of the National Labor Relations Board and U.S. labor policy, I thank my colleague Cletus Daniel. He was not only a patient sounding board and a constant source of excellent ideas but also a true friend in all seasons....

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1. Taft-Hartley: A Fundamental Change in Labor Policy or Merely Adjustments to Eliminate Abuses?

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pp. 1-14

In 1935 the Wagner Act established the most democratic procedure in U.S. labor history for the participation of workers in the determination of their wages, hours, and working conditions. The act was not neutral as between individual and collective bargaining; it intentionally favored collective bargaining....

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2. Political Maneuvering to Control a New Law, a New Board, and a New Labor Czar

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pp. 15-25

Even before the Taft-Hartley Act went into effect on August 22, 1947, supporters and opponents of the new law began maneuvering to influence the NLRB. By early August many of the most powerful CIO unions, in steel, automobiles, electrical, rubber, meat packing, farm equipment, lithography, food and tobacco, and longshore, had announced their intention to boycott the...

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3. Improper Influences

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pp. 26-41

The NLRB devoted most of July and August 1947 to preparing and carrying out changes in organization and procedure required by Taft-Hartley; developing new rules, forms, and instructions to personnel; and assembling all regional directors and attorneys at a conference to discuss new and anticipated problems. The Board also designed a new staff structure to administer...

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4. Repeal Taft-Hurley: A Tale of Missed Opportunities

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pp. 42-57

Public opinion polls taken before the 1948 Democratic convention showed that Truman's approval rating among the American people had dropped from approximately 70 percent immediately after Roosevelt's death to an all-time low of 32 percent.1 In 1946, for the first time since 1930, the nation had voted the Republican Party into control of both houses of Congress: 51 Republicans and...

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5. Taft-Hurley Was Here to Stay

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pp. 58-71

Beginning in the earliest days of Taft-Hartley, evidence had been accumulating that the separation of powers between the Board and the general counsel was not working. From the hostile negotiations over the delegation agreement in 1947, the dispute over the scope of the noncommunist affidavit provision, and Denham's role in the lTU episode, to the ongoing power struggle over who had...

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6. Bargaining National Labor Policy: A Misguided Process

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pp. 72-91

Truman appointed George Bott to replace Robert Denham as general counsel of the NLRB. In sharp contrast to the flamboyant and combative Denham, Bott was a quiet, humorous, unpretentious man who got along with everyone and maintained such a low profile that when his appointment was announced, neither Washington reporters nor NLRB publicists could find pictures of him,...

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7. The Eisenhower Board Remakes Labor Policy

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pp. 92-121

Despite its failure to amend Taft-Hartley in Congress, the Eisenhower administration was still able to bring about major changes in the meaning of the act: a Republican-controlled NLRB reversed many of the Truman Board's interpretations. By March 1954 the NLRB, for the first time in its history, had a Republican-appointed majority, and by March 1955, a Republican-appointed general counsel....

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8. Labor Law Reform, Employer Style

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pp. 122-145

Control over appointments to the NLRB remained with the Republicans throughout the 1950s, since Eisenhower retained the presidency by defeating Adlai Stevenson again in 1956 by ten million votes, almost double his margin of victory in 1952.1 During the same period, however, Democrats regained and strengthened their control of the House and Senate, increasing their margin over...

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9. The New Frontier Labor Board: A Commitment to Industrial Democracy

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pp. 146-162

The passage of the Landrum-Griffin amendments in 1959 once again demonstrated the limited extent of the Democratic Party's commitment to organized labor and Taft-Hartley Act reform. Many liberals, in and out of the party, moreover, no longer considered organized labor a force for social reform; from their perspective there was little to distinguish "big labor" from "big...

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10. A New Labor Policy: Taking Industrial Democracy Seriously

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pp. 163-191

For eight years, the Eisenhower Board had deregulated employer opposition to unionization and collective bargaining and intensified the regulation of unions' use of economic weapons, particularly organizational picketing. McCulloch, Brown, and Fanning quickly set about reversing Eisenhower Board policy, just as the Farmer Board had done to the Truman Board's doctrines in the early...

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11. Irreconcilable Differences

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pp. 192-216

The events of the 1960s illustrated how national labor law had been made and the inadequacy of the process. The issue of management prerogatives raised in Fibreboard,1 for example, was at the core of the national labor policy. The determination of what business decisions should be subject to collective bargaining with a labor organization was, as one scholar put it, "but a step removed...

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12. Making the Law Favor Employers Again

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pp. 217-241

The Labor Law Reform Group hoped the 1968 elections would provide two keys to the success of its Labor Law Reform Project: a favorably disposed Republican president, Richard Nixon, and a Congress at least not actively opposed to the group's legislative proposals. It got neither. Nixon won the presidential election but with barely a plurality of the popular vote. Moreover, he...

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13. Management Interests over Workers' Statutory Rights: The Final Irrelevance of National Labor Policy?

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pp. 242-271

Although Congress rejected union-sponsored labor law reform during Carter's one-term administration, the Carter White House was able to have a short-lived effect on the national labor policy through the appointment process. Democrats regained control of the Board when Carter named John Fanning chairman in April 1977 and, six months later, appointed NLRB executive secretary John...

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14. Conclusion

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pp. 272-286

U.S. labor policy has been at cross-purposes with itself ever since Congress incorporated into the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 not only the Wagner Act statement that it is the policy of the federal government to encourage collective bargaining but also a new Declaration of Policy saying that the purpose of the act is to protect the rights of individual employees. Although there is no necessary...


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pp. 287-390


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pp. 391-404

E-ISBN-13: 9781439903704

Publication Year: 2010