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Petition from California residents to Senators William Knowland and Sheridan Downey against the Taft-Hartley Act, ca. 1947

American labor unions refrained from striking during World War II, but after the war, millions of organized workers engaged in strikes. Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio and Representative Fred A. Hartley Jr. of New Jersey sponsored a labor-management relations bill (the Taft-Hartley bill) in 1947 to restrain union actions. These pro-union Californians petitioned their senators in opposition to the legislation.

Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

Petition from California residents to Senators William Knowland and Sheridan Downey against the Taft-Hartley Act, ca. 1947

Defining Presidential Power

As the nation recovered from World War II, labor strikes abounded. Believing labor unrest could destabilize the economy, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which empowered the president to prevent strikes that affected national security. President Harry S. Truman eschewed the act when a steelworkers’ union threatened to strike during the Korean War. Claiming executive emergency powers, Truman seized the steel mills, but the Supreme Court ruled that he exceeded presidential powers conferred by Congress and the Constitution.

During the Korean War, the judicial and legislative branches checked executive power when the Supreme Court relied on the Taft-Hartley Labor Relations Act to restrain President Harry S. Truman’s seizure of steel mills.