Eleanor Roosevelt to Albert Harris
Eleanor Roosevelt to Albert Harris
8 September 1947 [Hyde Park]
My dear Mr. Harris:
I think I must have been a little careless or perhaps I took it too much for granted that anyone reading my recent column on the Taft-Hartley Bill would have read my previous columns on this subject. In those I made my position very clear as to the need for labor to clean house—the AFofL to get rid of its racketeers, the CIO to get rid of its communist leaders.12
I do not want communists leading our labor unions and the majority of the labor people do not want them either, but that to my mind does not justify setting labor apart as a group that must give certain assurances. From my point of view that is not the American way of doing things. We should all have to do it, or we should not expect any particular group to do it.
I know quite well that it was against the law to dismiss employees for union membership but there were many ways which were used to dismiss people and though that was not the reason given, it was the real reason and you know this as well as I do.13
I do not think that two wrongs make a right and I think abuses on the part of unions and on the part of management should both be condemned.
Labor is partly responsible for the passage of the Taft-Hartley Bill because of its failure to clean house, but that does not make the Taft-Hartley Bill perfect nor does it absolve us from stating why we think it is wrong.
I know that contributions made by the employer are made under agreements and I think those agreements should be lived up to and they have been in the past. If agreements are made whereby money will go into certain things, there is no more reason why the trade unions' books should be open for examination than why management's books should not be open to the trade unions for examination. It should be turn and turn about and equal handed justice for all.
Very sincerely yours,
TLc AERP, FDRL
1. The Taft-Hartley Act took effect on August 22, sixty days after it was enacted over Truman's veto. For more on the Taft-Hartley Act, see Document 234 (HSTE).
2. "Taft-Hartley Act Reaffirms Employees' Rights," NYWT, 22 August 1947, 15.
3. Ten State Department employees lost their jobs in August 1947. Two were removed outright; the other eight left before their loyalty investigations ended. State Department officials and the Civil Service Commission gave different reasons for the firings. The State Department said the individuals were fired for security reasons while the Civil Service Commission linked the dismissals to Communism. The firings were the second such incident at the State Department. Two months earlier the department dismissed ten other individuals because "derogatory information" on them "had been developed." Both of these instances were part of the federal government's loyalty program instituted in March 1947 after Congress pressured the Truman administration to increase security and loyalty procedures within the federal government to counter a perceived Communist threat. For more on the federal loyalty program, see n6 Document 271 ("U.S. Ousts 10 More in Loyalty Inquiry," NYT, 15 August 1947, 8; HSTE).
4. For example, in 1941, the Ford Motor Company decided to fire eleven employees who attempted to organize a union at the automaker's largest plant, River Rouge in Dearborn, Michigan. This touched off a major strike that culminated in a union for all Ford workers, higher wages, the abolition of management's spy system, and the reinstatement of all employees dismissed for union activities (Goodwin, 226-30; Lichtenstein, 178-79).
5. Besides these limitations, the Taft-Hartley Act also required that employees and employers be equally represented in the administration of such funds along with neutral people who had the approval of both groups (Hartley, Jr., 227-28).
6. In 1951, Congress amended the Taft-Hartley Act to remove restrictions on the union shop (HSTE).
7. "All that was done [during the New Deal] was to equalize the balance which always had been weighted on the side of management," ER replied. "I hope you are right … that the bulk of labor now thinks that under the Taft-Hartley bill they will have a better chance but I feel it will not work that way" (Carl Bradt to ER, [August ?] 1947; ER to Carl Bradt, [August ?] 1947, AERP).
8. "Nobody's Business," NYWT, 25 August 1947, 15. For the full text of this My Day column, see Document 253.
9. Another of ER's correspondents, Nard Jones, took her to task on this same point in a letter dated August 27, 1947:
You say that as a citizen you resent certain things in the Act. Permit me to say that as a citizen I resent your using your considerable influence against the Act now that it has become a law, and particularly with reference to the Communist phase. Should we be so unfortunate as to engage in a war with Russia I will have a boy in the Army. I should like to think of the full weight of the labor unions behind him … You are realistic enough to know that this could not happen in any union that is Communist dominated …"
I doubt whether it [her influence] will counteract even one of the people like Fulton Lewis or Mr. Pegler, so I do not think you need be concerned. You have one boy … if we have to fight Russia, I would probably have four again, or at least three and probably grandsons, but it is not the individuals that worry me. If we have another war we have begun the annihilation of the whole human race (Nard Jones to ER, 27 August 1947; ER to Nard Jones, 8 September 1947, AERP).
10. For more on management's dismissal of union members, see n4 above.
11. For more on the Taft-Hartley Act's regulations regarding union health and welfare funds, see n5 above.
12. For example, in a column dated June 10, 1947, ER wrote:
The Congress of Industrial Organizations should have got rid of Communist leaders wherever they existed … If the Russian government still hopes for world revolution brought about by representatives in other countries guided from Russia, it cannot be honest in trying to work cooperatively with other governments as they now exist. I am more than willing to believe that circumstances may modify the way of life and the forms of existing governments in many countries in the years to come, but the changes must come from the free will of the people, not from infiltration of ideas through the influence of outside governments. That is why union leaders known to be Communists should not have been allowed in our labor movement.
She continued this theme in a September 6 My Day:
I do not believe that unions should be headed by Communists. And I have long stated that the AFL should clean house and remove any racketeers it may have in positions of influence, and the CIO should remove any Communist labor leaders from power. But that is quite a different thing from asking every man who heads a union, and the head officials of these great labor organizations, to sign a declaration that they are not Communists.
That, to me, is taking one group in this country and offering them a kind of treatment which is insulting (MD, 10 June 1947; MD, 6 September 1947).
13. For more on management's dismissal of labor union members, see n4 above.