Special Message to the Congress Urging Legislation for Industrial Peace
[As delivered in person before a joint session.]
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Congress of the United States:
I desire to thank you for this privilege of appearing before you, in order to urge legislation which I deem essential to the welfare of our country. For the past two days the Nation has been in the grip of a railroad strike which threatens to paralyze all our industrial, agricultural, commercial, and social life.
Last night I tried to point out to the American people the bleak picture which we face at home and abroad if the strike is permitted to continue.
The disaster will spare no one. It will bear equally upon businessmen, workers, farmers and upon every citizen of the United States. Food, raw materials, fuel, shipping, housing, the public health, the public safety--all will be dangerously affected. Hundreds of thousands of liberated people of Europe and Asia will die who could be saved if the railroads were not now tied up.
As I stated last night, unless the railroads are manned by returning strikers, I shall immediately undertake to run them by the Army of the United States.
I assure you that I do not take this action lightly. But there is no alternative. This is no longer a dispute between labor and management. It has now become a strike against the Government of the United States itself. That kind of strike can never be tolerated. If allowed to continue, the Government will break down. Strikes against the Government must stop. I appear before you to request immediate legislation designed to help stop them.
I am sure that some of you may think that I should have taken this action earlier, and that I should have made this appearance here before today. The reason I did not do so, was that I was determined to make every possible human effort to avoid this strike against the Government and to make unnecessary the kind of legislation which I am about to request.
For months, publicly and privately, I have been supervising and directing negotiations between the railroad operators and the twenty different railroad unions. I have been doing the same with respect to the pending labor dispute in the coal mines. Time and again I have seen the leaders of the unions and the representatives of the operators. Many hours have been spent by me personally and many days have been spent by my representatives in attempting to negotiate settlements of these disputes.
I assure you that it was not easy to be patient. But until the very last moment I made every effort to avert this crisis. In fact my representatives were in conference with the two striking railroad unions up to 2 hours before I took my place at the microphone last night.
However, when the strike actually broke against the United States Government which was trying to run the railroads, the time for negotiation definitely had passed and the time for action had arrived. In that action you, the Congress of the United States, and I, the President of the United States, must work together--and we must work fast.
The action which I have already taken, and the action which I shall ask you to take are necessary for the preservation of our Government. That action is also necessary to save the great and mighty masses of working men and women from the dangerous effects of the ill-advised and misguided acts of some of their own leaders.
This particular crisis has been brought about by the obstinate arrogance of two men. They are Mr. Alvanley Johnston, President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, and Mr. A. F. Whitney, President of the Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen. Eighteen other unions and all of the railroad companies of the Nation are ready to run the railroads, and these two men have tried to stop them.
I can well appreciate the attitude of those members of the Congress and those citizens of the United States outside of the Congress who would seek to take vengeance for the unpatriotic acts of these two men. However, I am sure that none of us wishes to take any action which will injure labor.
The contribution of labor to the growth of this country in peace and to victory in war, is at least as great as that of any other group in our population. Without Well-paid, well-housed, and well-nourished working men and women in this country, it would stagnate and decay. I am here not only to urge speedy action to meet the immediate crisis, but also deliberate and weighty consideration of any legislation which might affect the rights of labor.
The benefits which labor has gained in the last 13 years must be preserved. I voted for all these benefits while I was a member of the Congress. As President of the United States I have repeatedly urged not only their retention but their improvement. I shall continue to do so.
However, what we are dealing with here is not labor as a whole.
We are dealing with a handful of men who are striking against their own Government and against every one of their fellow citizens--and against themselves.
We are dealing with a handful of men who have it within their power to cripple the entire economy of the Nation.
I request temporary legislation to take care of this immediate crisis. I request permanent legislation leading to the formulation of a long-range labor policy designed to prevent the recurrence of such crises and generally to reduce stoppages of work in all industries for the future.
I request that the temporary legislation be effective only for a period of 6 months after the declaration by the President or by the Congress of the termination of hostilities. It should be applicable only to those few industries in which the President by proclamation declares that an emergency has arisen which affects the entire economy of the United States. It should be effective only in those situations where the President of the United States has taken over the operation of the industry. In such situations where the President has requested the men either to remain at work or to return to work and where such a request is ignored, the legislation should:
(a) authorize the institution of injunctive or mandatory proceedings against any union leader forbidding him from encouraging or inciting members of the union to leave their work or to refuse to return to work; subjecting him to contempt proceedings for failure to obey any order of the Court made in such proceedings;
(b) deprive workers of their seniority rights who, without good cause, persist in striking against the Government.
(c) provide criminal penalties against employers and union leaders who violate the provisions of the act.
The legislation should provide that after the Government has taken over an industry and has directed the men to remain at work or return to work, the wage scale be fixed either by negotiation or by arbitrators appointed by the President and when so fixed, it shall be retroactive.
This legislation must be used in a way that is fair to capital and to labor alike. The President will not permit either side-industry or workers--to use it to further their own selfish interest, or to foist upon the Government the carrying out of their selfish aims.
Net profits of Government operation, if any, should go to the Treasury of the United States.
As a part of this temporary emergency legislation, I request the Congress immediately to authorize the President to draft into the Armed Forces of the United States all workers who are on strike against their Government.
[At this point the President was handed a message by Leslie L. Biffle, Secretary of the Senate.]
Word has just been received that the railroad strike has been settled, on terms proposed by the President!
These measures may appear to you to be drastic. They are. I repeat that I recommend them only as temporary emergency expedients and only in cases where workers are striking against the Government.
I take this occasion again to request early action by the Congress to continue its price control and stabilization laws in an effective form. The stoppage of work in many industries has brought about a decline of production which has caused great pressure upon price levels. We must protect the workers whom we ask to remain on their jobs, as well as the millions of workers who have remained on their jobs and the many millions of other American citizens, against the extraordinary inflation which may come upon us. Delay by the Congress is daily increasing these pressures and I urge immediate action.
I have said that I am most anxious--as I am sure the majority of the Members of the Congress are--to do nothing which would injure labor or the cause of labor.
I believe that the time has come to adopt a comprehensive labor policy which will tend to reduce the number of stoppages of work and other acts which injure labor, capital, and the whole population.
The general right of workers to strike against private employers must be preserved. I am sure, however, that adequate study and consideration can produce permanent long-range legislation which will reduce the number of occasions where that ultimate remedy has to be adopted. The whole subject of labor relations should be studied afresh.
I recommend the immediate creation by the Congress of a joint committee to make that study. That committee should study the whole problem and, within a period of 6 months bring in recommendations for appropriate legislation which would be fair to labor and to industry and to the public at large.
I make these recommendations for temporary and long-range legislation with the same emphasis on each. They should both be part of one program designed to maintain our American system of private enterprise with fairness and justice to all the American citizens who contribute to it.
I thank you.
Note: The President spoke shortly after 4 pm. The address was carried on a nationwide radio broadcast.
S. 2255 and H.R. 6578, bills "to provide on a temporary basis during the present period of emergency for the prompt settlement of industrial disputes vitally affecting the national economy in the transition from war to peace," were introduced and referred to committee.
Harry S Truman, Special Message to the Congress Urging Legislation for Industrial Peace Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231712