Actions Against Striking Workers

When a new wave of striking unions shut down industries, Truman threatened to draft strikers into the army. "It was as high-handed, as unconstitutional, a measure as imaginable," says biographer David McCullough. "But he meant it."

Transcript

Narrator: The new year brought a new wave of strikes - 5000 before the year was over. As a Democrat, Truman needed union support. But he had removed the lid on prices, appeasing businessmen, and the unions were angry.

The cost of almost everything skyrocketed, and working men and women demanded that their wages keep up. At one point, more than a million workers walked off the job at the same time. Truman believed that the unions were holding the country hostage, and personally betraying him.

Victor Reuther, Assistant to the President, UAW: While Harry supported labor and the right to strike, he was never happy when there was a strike. He was seeing it as a small businessman and it could wreck a small business. He just didn't like strikes of any kind. And he was very frank about that.

Narrator: Then, in May, the railway workers went out, forcing the country to a standstill. Truman was furious. While negotiators searched for a compromise, a frustrated Truman proposed a solution no President had ever dared: he threatened to draft the striking railway workers into the army.

Victor Reuther, Assistant to the President, UAW: That kind of a threat wasn't even made during the war! And, ah, I think everyone in the Labor Movement was quite shocked by that, but they felt, "Well, this is, ah, an off-the-cuff Truman threat, but he won't carry through on that."

Narrator: But Truman stuck by his plan. When his Attorney General questioned its constitutionality, Truman told him: "We'll draft 'em and think about the law later."

David McCullough, Biographer: It was as high-handed as -- unconstitutional a measure as imaginable. But he meant it -- because he saw the country being -- the very life of the country, at stake.

 

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  • NEH