Friday, January 11, 2013

The Contender: Richard Nixon, The Congress Years 4

In my latest reading of The Contender: Richard Nixon, The Congress Years, 1946-1952, Irwin Gellman talked about Congressman Richard Nixon's support for Taft-Hartley and his service on the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

On page 104, Gellner sums up the Taft-Hartley Act, which was passed over President Harry Truman's veto:
"In the end, labor retained the right to organize, join unions, strike, and bargain collectively; none of which was ever in dispute.  Jurisdictional disputes between unions, however, now had to be settled without strikes, and secondary boycotts were curbed.  Both management and labor were bound by their contracts.  The closed shop was banned, but the union shop had thirty days to sign up workers after the start of their employment.  Union members had the right of a secret ballot when voting on union issues, and unions had to furnish financial reports and account for welfare funds.  Congress prohibited Communist-dominated unions.  If a strike affected the national interest, the U.S. Attorney General had the right to seek an injunction against the strike for ninety days to allow for government conciliation."

Nixon supported the Act, as did most Republicans, and he even debated Congressmen John F. Kennedy about the Hartley bill in a public forum.  Nixon argued that the bill was needed to "limit disruptive strikes" and that it did not "usurp fundamental labor rights", while Kennedy contended that the bill would make unions into sweatshops and end "industrywide collective bargaining" (Gellman's words on page 102).  When Taft-Hartley was passed over Truman's veto, Kennedy (along with Helen Gahagan Douglas, who later ran against Nixon for the U.S. Senate) was one of the 71 Democrats who stood with the President, whereas Lyndon Johnson was one of the 106 Democrats who voted to override Truman's veto.

I can tell that a chief purpose of Taft-Hartley was to control strikes.  As far as its elimination of the closed shop goes, I find that to be rather muddled.  Wikipedia's summary says: "The Taft-Hartley Act outlawed the closed shop in the United States in 1947, but permits the union shop, except in those states that have passed right-to-work laws, in which case even the union shop is illegal. An employer may not lawfully agree with a union to hire only union members; it may, on the other hand, agree to require employees to join the union or pay the equivalent of union dues to it after a set period of time. Similarly, while a union could require an employer that had agreed to a closed shop contract prior to 1947 to fire an employee who had been expelled from the union for any reason, it cannot demand that an employer fire an employee under a union shop contract for any reason other than failure to pay those dues that are uniformly required of all employees."  It sounds like companies can still require employees to join a union, even after Taft-Hartley, except in right-to-work states.

Regarding Nixon's service on the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Gellman states that Nixon's service on that committee (which Nixon himself did not seek) convinced him that Communism was a danger to the United States; earlier in the book, Gellman states that Nixon in 1940 hoped that Russia would defeat Nazi Germany and "held no strong anti-Communist feelings" (page 20).  But Nixon's service on HUAC intensified his anti-Communist sentiments.  Gellman portrays Nixon as a voice of reason on HUAC, one who wanted for cases to be based on solid evidence.  Moreover, Nixon was opposed to outlawing the Communist Party that was in the United States because he wanted to keep it in plain sight rather than pushing it underground; there were others, however, who favored banning it because they thought that it sought the overthrow of the U.S. government.  Another interesting detail in Gellman's narration about Nixon's service on HUAC is that Nixon really wanted for 38-year old actor and President of the Screen Actors Guild Ronald Reagan to appear before the committee, for Reagan was anti-Communist yet was "classified as a liberal and as such would not be accused of simply being a red baiting reactionary" (Nixon's words, page 117).

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