On this day in labor history, the year was 1947.
That was the day spontaneous protest strikes began against the new Taft-Hartley Act.
250,000 soft coal miners walked out of the pits.
132,000 shipyard workers of the CIO’s Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers followed the miners’ example, on the East and Gulf coasts.
The Greater Akron Area Council of Labor Unions, a joint AFL & CIO council representing 185,000 workers, demanded that top union leaders call a general strike in defense of labor’s civil liberties.
Workers at Chrysler’s Kercheval plant walked out in protest even as the nations’ steel mills and auto plants began to slow from the absence of coal.
Congressman Fred Hartley, co-author of the slave labor bill denounced the UMW as mutinous citizens and demanded immediate enforcement of the Act against the walkout.
Millions of trade unionists, white-hot with anger at the repressive, union-busting legislation were ready for job actions.
But in this instance, William Green, head of the AFL and Philip Murray, head of the CIO were agreed in their opposition to general strike action.
William Green reported that he had been flooded with appeals from AFL unions across the country calling for a general strike.
He feared taking strike action would invite lawsuits and favored fighting through the courts and private contracts.
Murray echoed Green and rejected any talk of a general protest strike.
He invited leaders of the AFL and the Railroad Brotherhoods to join the CIO in a two-pronged fight against Taft-Hartley.
Murray looked to challenge the Act’s constitutionality in the courts and hoped to unseat the congressmen who passed it in the 1948 elections.
70 years later, unions are still hamstrung by many of the Act’s provisions.
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