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Statement by the President on the Labor Dispute in the Steel Industry.

December 22, 1951

I HAVE today referred to the Wage Stabilization Board the labor dispute between the United Steelworkers of America, CIO, and various companies in the steel industry. This dispute has now arrived at a stage where it gravely threatens the progress of national defense.

According to the report of the Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the union presented a list of 22 proposals covering both economic and noneconomic matters. No counterproposals were made by the leading companies on any of the economic items. The companies asserted that any wage increases in the steel industry would necessarily require an equivalent increase in steel prices. The union declined to modify its position on any of the major issues in the absence of counterproposals from the companies.

Negotiations between the union and the steel companies are at an impasse, and there appears to be no hope of settlement through mediation. Unless some means is found for breaking this impasse, a shutdown of the steel industry at the end of this month is in prospect.

It is of the utmost importance to prevent an interruption in the production of steel. Steel is a key material in our entire defense effort. Each day of steel production lost is a day lost forever in the achievement of our production schedules. Continuous production of this industry is essential in order to meet urgent demands for steel--steel for weapons, for factories, for highways and hospitals and schools.

It is for this reason that I have certified this matter to the Wage Stabilization Board. This will provide the parties with a forum where their differences may be resolved, and a fair settlement reached, without resort to a costly shutdown.

Steel is of such basic importance to the defense effort, and wages and prices in the steel industry have such a profound effect throughout our economy, that the public has a very vital interest in the outcome of this dispute. In order to have a proper understanding of what is involved, there are certain essential facts that should be kept clearly in mind.

Over the past 18 months, we have developed an anti-inflation program as an integral part of our mobilization effort. In this program, we have established machinery for the equitable handling of such situations as that which now confronts us. We have the Wage Stabilization Board to consider the question of what wage increases should be allowed the steelworkers and how the other issues in dispute between the parties should be settled. We have the Office of Price Stabilization to consider whether or not the steel companies are entitled to a price increase on account of any wage increase or other cost increases which might result from the settlement of the dispute.

The Wage Stabilization Board is made up of representatives of labor, management, and the public. This Board will give both sides an opportunity to present the facts and arguments they think the Board should consider. Then the Board will consider the case, trying to find the best solution from the standpoint of labor, industry, and the public-balancing the equities and the interest of all three. The Board will consider the case promptly on its merits and make recommendations for a fair settlement, consistent with sound stabilization policies.

No one is in a position as yet to say how much of an increase in wages or other benefits would be permissible under wage stabilization policies. The Wage Stabilization Board is the only body qualified to make such a determination, and the matter has not been before the Board. The "dope stories" that have been appearing in the press stating the amount of the wage increases that could be allowed without "piercing existing ceilings" have no official basis and are not to be relied upon.

We must wait for the Wage Stabilization Board's report before any sound judgment is possible as to what wage increases are proper in this case.

After the decision is reached as to wages, the Office of Price Stabilization will be responsible for determining whether or not any wage increase justifies a price increase. The law and regulations assure that the steel companies will get price increases if they are entitled to them. No other advance assurances are necessary.

Thus, the machinery we have provides a reasonable and practicable method for doing justice to the parties, for preventing an inflationary price-wage spiral, and for meeting the overriding necessity for keeping steel production going. This machinery should be given an opportunity to meet the present crisis. The national interest demands it.

This means that the steel companies and the steelworkers must continue production in the industry while the matter is before the Board, and cooperate fully with the Board's proceedings.

The immediate obligation on the steel companies is to maintain normal work and production schedules, and to be prepared to lay the full facts in the case before the Board.

The immediate obligation on the steelworkers is to decide to remain at work while the Board considers the case. This is a decision that should be made before a strike begins--not afterward. The United Steelworkers of America is a responsible union. Its members are good citizens. Its leaders are distinguished Americans.

The union members and their leaders, and the managers of the steel companies, have a responsibility to defend the United States against its enemies just as I do. In my judgment, they will not be living up to that responsibility by permitting a needless stoppage in steel production for even a single day.

Note: See also Item 305.

Harry S Truman, Statement by the President on the Labor Dispute in the Steel Industry. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231339

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