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Letter to the President of the Senate Concerning Government Operation of the Nation's Steel Mills.

April 21, 1952

My dear Mr. President:

The Senate has before it certain proposed amendments to the Third Supplemental Appropriation Bill for the current fiscal year which would restrict the use of appropriated funds for the operation of steel mills under the Executive Order of April 8, 1952. The implications of this amendment are of such serious consequence, and much of the debate concerning it has been of such an extreme and misleading character, that I feel I should communicate with the Senate on this subject.

On April 9, 1952, I sent a message to the Congress. In that message, I stated that I had ordered temporary operation of the steel mills by the Government with the utmost reluctance; that the idea of Government operation of the steel mills was thoroughly distasteful to me; and that I wanted to see it ended as soon as possible.

I also indicated that, if the Congress wished to take action, I would be glad to cooperate in developing any legislative proposals the Congress might wish to consider. That is still my 'position. I have no wish to prevent action by the Congress. I do ask that the Congress, if it takes action, do so in a manner that measures up to its responsibilities in the light of the critical situation which confronts this country and the whole free world.

I do not believe the Congress can meet its responsibilities simply by following a course of negation. The Congress cannot perform its Constitutional functions simply by paralyzing the operations of the Government in an emergency. The Congress can, if it wishes, reject the course of action I have followed in this matter. As I indicated in my message of April 9, I ordered Government operation of the mills only because the available alternatives seemed to me to be even worse. The Congress may have a different judgment. If it does, however, the Congress should do more than simply tell me what I should not do. It should pass affirmative legislation to provide a constructive course of action looking toward a solution of this matter which will be in the public interest.

I have regarded it as imperative, for the sake of our national security, to keep the steel mills in operation. I should not, I think, be forced to a public disclosure of information that would be of value to the enemy. However, I will say this: A shutdown in steel production for any substantial length of time whatever would immediately reduce the ability of our troops in Korea to defend themselves against attack. If the communists stage another offensive in Korea this spring, the success or failure of that offensive may well depend on whether or not we have kept our steel mills in operation. This is a consideration over and above the drastic effect a steel shutdown would have on our total defense effort.

I hope that any legislation passed by the Congress on this subject will provide a method by which the steel mills can be kept in continuous operation.

Some Members of Congress may think the national emergency provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act should have been invoked in this dispute. The fact is that, before April 8, we had already had the benefit of a better emergency procedure than that available under the Taft-Hartley Act.

The emergency provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act provide for a fact-finding board, and for an eighty-day delay in any work stoppage. The Act provides no means for preventing a shutdown while the fact-finding board is making its inquiry, and it forbids the board to make any recommendations.

In the present case, we have had a board which made a thorough study and report on the facts--and recommended a settlement. We have also had a delay--voluntarily--of 100 days in the threatened work stoppage. It may be that some people will insist that we should have had a compulsory delay of 80 days instead of a voluntary delay of 100 days, but I see no advantage in it.

Some Members of Congress may feel that, in spite of all the steps already taken, the Taft-Hartley Act should yet be invoked. It appears to me that another fact-finding board and more delays would be futile. There is nothing in the situation to suggest that further fact finding and further delay would bring about a settlement. And it is by no means certain that the Taft-Hartley procedures would actually prevent a shutdown.

Furthermore, a Taft-Hartley injunction in this situation would be most unfair, since its effect would simply be to force the workers to continue at work for another 80 days at their old wages--despite the fact that they have already remained at work for more than 100 days since their old contract expired, and despite the fact that the Government's Wage Stabilization Board has already recommended a wage increase. To freeze the status quo by injunction would, of course, be welcomed by the companies, but it would be deeply and properly resented by the workers.

These are some of the facts that need to be kept in mind in considering this situation. No real solution can be found that ignores them.

I hope the Congress will give deep and serious consideration to the potential consequences of any action it chooses to take.

If the Congress decides to pass legislation indicating its belief as to what ought not to be done in the steel case, I think it is incumbent upon the Congress to. indicate by legislation at the same time its views as to what should be done. And I hope that any such legislation will be worked out carefully and constructively to help bring about a fair settlement of this problem in the public interest.

Sincerely yours,


[The Honorable Alben W. Barkley, The President of the Senate]

Note: See also Items 82, 83, 110.

Harry S. Truman, Letter to the President of the Senate Concerning Government Operation of the Nation's Steel Mills. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230561

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