Franklin D. Roosevelt

Veto of the Smith-Connally Bill.

June 25, 1943

To the Senate:

I am returning herewith, without my approval, S. 796, the so-called War Labor Disputes Bill.

It is not a simple bill, for it covers many subjects. I approve many of the sections; but other sections tend to obscure the issues or to write into war legislation certain extraneous matter which appears to be discriminatory. In the form submitted to me, the accomplishment of its avowed purpose—the prevention of strikes in wartime- could well be made more difficult instead of more effective.

Let there be no misunderstanding of the reasons which prompt me to veto this bill at this time.

I am unalterably opposed to strikes in wartime. I do not hesitate to use the powers of Government to prevent them.

It is clearly the will of the American people that for the duration of the war all labor disputes be settled by orderly procedures established by law. It is the will of the American people that no war work be interrupted by strike or lockout.

American labor as well as American business gave their "no-strike, no-lockout" pledge after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

That pledge has been well kept except in the case of the leaders of the United Mine Workers. For the entire year of 1942, the time lost by strikes averaged only 5/100 of 1 percent of the total man-hours worked. The American people should realize that fact—that 99 and 95/100 percent of the work went forward without strikes, and that only 5/100 of 1 percent of the work was delayed by strikes. That record has never before been equaled in this country. It is as good or better than the record of any of our allies in wartime.

But laws are often necessary to make a very small minority of people live up to the standards that the great majority of people follow. Recently there has been interruption of work in the coal industry, even after it was taken over by the Government. I understand and sympathize with the general purpose of the War Labor Disputes Bill to make such interruptions clearly unlawful.

The first seven sections of the Bill are directed to this objective.

Section one provides that the Act may be cited as the War Labor Disputes Act.

Section two relates to definitions.

Section three gives statutory authority to the President to seize war facilities- a power already exercised on several occasions under Executive Order or Proclamation.

Sections four and five of the Bill provide for maintaining existing terms and conditions of employment except as directed by the War Labor Board.

Section six makes it a criminal offense to instigate, direct, or aid a strike in a Government-operated plant or mine.

This would make possible the arrest of a few leaders who would give bond for their appearance at trial. It would assure punishment for those found guilty, and might also have some deterrent effect. But it would not assure continuance of war production in the most critical emergencies.

Section seven gives the National War Labor Board statutory authority and defines its powers.

Broadly speaking, these sections incorporate into statute the existing machinery for settling labor disputes. The penalties provided by the Act do not detract from the moral sanctions of labor's no-strike pledge.

If the Bill were limited to these seven sections I would sign it. But the Bill contains other provisions which have no place in legislation to prevent strikes in wartime and which in fact would foment slow-downs and strikes.

I doubt whether the public generally are familiar with these provisions. I doubt whether the Congress had the opportunity fully to appraise the effects of these provisions upon war production.

Section eight requires the representative of employees of a war contractor to give notice of a labor dispute which threatens seriously to interrupt war production to the Secretary of Labor, the National War Labor Board, and the National Labor Relations Board in order to give the employees the opportunity to express themselves by secret ballot whether they will permit such interruption of war production.

It would force a labor leader who is trying to prevent a strike in accordance with his no-strike pledge to give the notice which would cause the taking of a strike ballot and might actually precipitate a strike. In wartime we cannot sanction strikes with or without notice. Section eight further makes it mandatory that the National Labor Relations Board on the thirtieth day after the giving of the notice take a secret ballot among the employees in the "plants, mines, facilities, bargaining unit or bargaining units," as the case may be, on the question of whether they will stop work. This requirement would open the whole controversy over "bargaining units," a fruitful source of controversy and of bitter jurisdictional strife.

Section eight ignores completely labor's "no-strike" pledge and provides in effect for strike notices and strike ballots. Far from discouraging strikes these provisions would stimulate labor unrest and give Government sanction to strike agitations.

The thirty days allowed before the strike vote is taken under Government auspices might well become a boiling period instead of a cooling period. The thought and energies of the workers would be diverted from war production to vote-getting.

The heads of our military, naval, and production agencies have testified that these provisions are likely to be subversive of the very purpose of the Bill- uninterrupted production.

Section nine of the bill prohibits for the period of the war political contributions by labor organizations. This provision obviously has no relevancy to a bill prohibiting strikes during the war in plants operated by the Government or to a "War Labor Disputes Act." If there be merit in the prohibition, it should not be confined to wartime, and careful consideration should be given to the appropriateness of extending the prohibition to other non-profit organizations.

There should be no misunderstanding—I intend to use the powers of Government to prevent the interruption of war production by strikes. I shall approve legislation that will truly strengthen the hands of Government in dealing with such strikes, and will prevent the defiance of the National War Labor Board's decisions.

I recommend that the Selective Service Act be amended so that persons may be inducted into non-combat military service up to the age of 65 years. This will enable us to induct into military service all persons who engage in strikes or stoppages or other interruptions of work in plants in the possession of the United States.

This direct approach is necessary to insure the continuity of war work. The only alternative would be to extend the principle of Selective Service and make it universal in character.

I recognize that this bill has an entirely praiseworthy purpose to insure full war production. But I am convinced that Section eight will produce strikes in vital war plants which otherwise would not occur. Therefore, I could not properly discharge the duties of my office if I were to approve S. 796.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Veto of the Smith-Connally Bill. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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