The Post-War Period

Shortly after the United States entered World War II, the nation's key labor leaders promised President Roosevelt that they would avoid strikes during the war so as not to interrupt the nation's defense production. During this period, unions won many important fringe benefits and their membership soared. After the war ended in 1945, strikes began again, with the number of work stoppages reaching its peak in 1946.

Soon there was a sharp reaction against what many people considered to be the unwarranted power of unions. Many believed that the Wagner Act had been biased in favor of labor and they demanded a new law to correct this imbalance. As a result, in 1947 Congress passed the Labor Management Relations Act over President Truman's veto.

The Labor Management Relations Act, better known as the Taft-Hartley Act, prescribed standards of conduct for unions as well as for employers. It banned the closed shop and the secondary boycott, permitted employers to sue unions for broken contracts and for damages inflicted during strikes, required unions to abide by a 60-day "cooling-off" period before striking, and created other special rules for handling strikes that endangered the nation's health or safety. It also required unions to make public their financial statements. Despite continued efforts to repeal this act, federal courts have upheld its major provisions.

In light of this resurgence of opposition to labor, the AFL and CIO began to consider joining forces. But the two leading labor groups had to overcome philosophical and other differences. In 1952, one obstacle disappeared when the leaders of the AFL and the CIO, William Green and Philip Murray, both died. They had been involved in the split between the two organizations. In 1955, the AFL and the CIO merged, becoming the AFL-CIO -- the nation's largest labor organization. George Meany, who had been president of the AFL from the time of William Green's death, assumed the presidency of the newly formed labor organization.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy issued an executive order that gave federal employees the right to organize and to bargain collectively, but not to strike. Similar legislation was passed in many states, and a few even allowed state government workers to strike. Public employee unions grew rapidly, and police, teachers and other government employees organized strikes in many states and cities during the 1970s.

During this period, union membership among minorities and women also increased. Labor leaders helped women, blacks, Mexican-Americans and others who often held the poorest paying jobs to obtain certain rights such as equal pay. During the 1960s, for example, Cesar E. Chavez, a Mexican-American labor leader, began to organize migrant and other farm laborers in California, many of whom are Mexican-Americans. Chavez established what is now the United Farm Workers of America.