Guffey-Vinson Act of 1937

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In May 1936 the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the Guffey-Snyder Act, a measure enacted in 1935 to curb the destructive effects of cutthroat competition in the bituminous coal industry through agreements on business practices and prices and the improvement of wages and labor conditions. Anxious to preserve the essentials of the act, proponents of federal legislation to stabilize the industry, primarily operators in the northern coalfields and the United Mine Workers (UMW), pressed Congress to approve a revised measure, minus the labor provisions the court had found objectionable. Sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Guffey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, and Representative Fred Vinson, Democrat of Kentucky, it passed the House of Representatives in June 1936, but was killed in the Senate by a filibuster.

Aided by the decisive Democratic victory in the 1936 election and the growing political power of John L. Lewis, head of the UMW, the bill's proponents in 1937 overcame the opposition of southern operators, who had argued that it would negate the competitive advantage they enjoyed from the use of low-wage nonunion labor. The House approved the bill without a record vote on March 11, while the Senate passed it on April 5 by a vote of 58 to 18.

The Guffey-Vinson Act, which was to run for four years, provided for a National Bituminous Coal Commission (NBCC) with authority to determine minimum prices for coal and enforce marketing and fair practices agreements. Almost immediately implementation floundered. Patronage squabbles involving the filling of the hundreds of posts within the NBCC divided the commissioners, and the process of getting operators to establish coal classifications and fix prices dragged on for years, running afoul of the regional splits that had long bedeviled the industry. Complaints about increased prices from such large consumers of coal as railroads and public utilities and disputes over the lack of public hearings added fuel to the commission's difficulties. Tiring of the turmoil, President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the summer of 1939 transferred the NBCC's functions to the Department of the Interior.

Despite Roosevelt's action, the wrangling over prices continued, and not until October 1940 did the coal authorities promulgate the minimum prices sought by northern operators and the UMW. By this time prices were already climbing because of the emerging war economy, eliminating the need for minimum prices. Nevertheless, Congress in 1941extended the Guffey-Vinson Act for two more years, but in 1943, no longer seeing any need for legislation to protect operators and miners from competitive pressures, Congress let the act die when it reached its legal limit.



Halt, Charles Eugene. "Joseph P. Guffey, New Deal Politician from Pennsylvania." D.S.S. diss., Syracuse University. 1965.

Hawley, Ellis W. The New Deal and the Problem of Monopoly: A Study in Economic Ambivalence. 1966.

Johnson, James P. The Politics of Soft Coal: The Bituminous Industry from World War I through the New Deal. 1979.

St. Clair, James E., and Linda C. Gugin. Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of Kentucky: A Political Biography. 2002.

John Kennedy Ohl

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Guffey-Vinson Act of 1937

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