Labor law reform: 1947-78
Labor unions had flourished under the 1935 Wagner Act after it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1937 with millions of workers joining unions.

However, Republicans and right-wing Democrats decried the Wagner Act as “socialist.”

In the 1946 elections when Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress, they moved quickly to restrict labor unions and passed the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 over President Harry Truman’s veto with the help of a large number of defecting Democrats.

The law placed sweeping restrictions on unions, including, but not limited to, the following:

1.It outlawed secondary strikes, secondary boycotts and sympathy strikes designed to pressure employers. For example, it would be illegal for a union to organize a boycott of advertisers during a newspaper strike.

2.It permitted employers to wage anti-union campaigns in their workplaces, including holding captive audience meetings. Since union organizers could generally be barred from workplace facilities, this tilted union organizing drives in favor of the companies.

3.The Act permitted states to enact so-called “Right to Work” laws that allow workers covered by union contracts to opt out of union membership or service fees. This meant that unions had to represent workers who paid nothing into the union, and further meant that unions had to devote resources to recruiting members instead of representing members. Twenty-eight states as of this writing have right-to-work laws.

4.The law also barred members of the U.S. Communist Party and other left-wing individuals from holding office in labor unions if those unions sought to utilize the National Labor Relations Board.

Unions vowed to seek repeal, but efforts were half-hearted when Democrats regained control of both houses of congress—even when they enjoyed wide margins.

After abandoning efforts to repeal the Taft-Hartley Act, they focused on smaller reforms—faster union representation elections, quicker reinstatement of individuals fired for union activity and permitting union organizers on company property in non-work areas during non-work time.

In 1978, the effort at reform came within two votes of breaking a filibuster in the Senate after a reform bill had been passed overwhelmingly in the House.

A similar effort during the Clinton administration also failed.

All efforts to amend the act have failed. Unions are now at about 10% of the workforce as opposed to 35% when the Taft-Hartley Act was passed.
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