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Book Chapter

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In the early New Deal days, workers' placards in the coal fields proudly proclaimed, "President Roosevelt wants you to join the union." If not literally true, that boast was well within the bounds of poetic license. After the brief interval of federal laissez-faire treatment of labor relations ushered in by the Norris-La Guardia Act of 1932, the National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act of 1935 declared the policy of the United States to be one of "encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining." Employers, but not unions, were forbidden to coerce or discriminate against employees because of their organizational activities. Emploeyrs, but not unions, were required to bargain in good faith. Sparked by this government endorsement, the labor movement went on to enjoy the most spectacular decade of growth in its history. Only a dozen years after the passage of the NLRA, however, in the wake of the massive strikes that swept the country at the end of World War II, the national mood had changed dramatically. The House of Representatives was even prepared to repeal the policy of "encouraging . . . collective bargaining," although cooler heads like Senator Taft ultimately prevailed and this language was left intact. Taft's announced purpose was to redress the "balance" of power, so that "the parties can deal equally with each other." So now unions were prohibited, like employers, from coercing or discriminating against employees. Unions became bound by a reciprocal duty to bargain. More to the point, unions were deprived of one of their principal organizing devices, the secondary boycott, with Senator Taft explicitly disavowing any distinction between "good" and "bad" boycotts. Unions, along with employers, were made liable to suit in federal district court for breach of a labor contract, and subject to an 80-day federal injunction in the event of a strike or lockout imperiling the national "health or safety."