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The Eisenhower Transition: Labor Policy in the New Political Economy*

  • M. Stephen Weatherford (a1)


Eisenhower is credited with steering a course between ideological extremes, his “presidency of consolidation” implying that his economic policy traced a smooth, unitary path. Instead, I argue that his is a twofold legacy. Eisenhower's most frequently cited actions, such as modifying Social Security and unemployment insurance, involved moderating the pace but maintaining the direction of past policy. But in relation to the New Deal labor policy regime, his actions carried a quite different developmental significance. When it came to the federal government's posture toward unions and labor organizing, Eisenhower reversed both the direction of policy and the future capacity of institutions to fulfill the New Deal's goals. As with any presidency, the first two years of Eisenhower's term were crucial in setting the agenda and determining priorities. Two initiatives, amending the Taft-Hartley Act and shaping the membership and decisions of the National Labor Relations Board, show how Eisenhower's ideas and policy tactics developed. The success of his administrative strategy had the effect of consolidating the potential inherent in the Taft-Hartley Act and—long before Reagan's “war on labor”—altering the developmental trajectory of the political economy of labor policy.


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Several colleagues and reviewers have provided insightful criticism and support, including Andrew Polsky, David Eisenhower, Charles Tien, and Kristoffer Smemo, commenting on an earlier version presented at the conference on “Ike Reconsidered: Lessons from the Eisenhower Legacy for the 21st Century” (Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute and Hunter College, Mar. 2013); and two anonymous reviewers, Eric Schickler and the editors of Studies in American Political Development, whose meticulous criticism and encouragement were crucial inputs to clarifying and strengthening the argument.



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1. A “reconstructive” president comes into office opposing a vulnerable regime; an “affiliated” president is allied with a still-strong regime; a “disjunctive” president presides over the rapid decline of a political regime; and a “preemptive” president represents a minority party interlude in a period dominated by a still-strong regime. Skowronek describes the politics of preemption as “the most curious of all leadership situations,” and his treatment of preemptive presidents is brief compared to the other categories (Skowronek, Stephen, The Politics Presidents Make: Leadership from John Adams to George Bush [Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1993]; cf. Crockett, David, The Opposition Presidency: Leadership and the Constraints of History [College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2002]).

2. Skowronek, Presidents, p. 46. Skowronek describes Eisenhower as “the most remarkable of preemptive leaders,” emphasizing his ability to legitimate his own version of “new Republicanism” in the shadow of the resilient Democratic regime, but noting that Eisenhower's proposed direction quickly faded as a viable alternative when he left office. This seems a fair summary of those Eisenhower policies that essentially reaffirmed the New Deal's key directions; but it underestimates Eisenhower's impact on labor policy, where his impact was not consolidation but realignment.

3. Notable examples of this characterization of the Eisenhower administration include Key, V. O. Jr., Public Opinion and American Democracy (New York: Knopf, 1961); Hargrove, Erwin C. and Nelson, Michael, Presidents, Politics, and Policy (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984); Milkis, Sidney, “The Politics of the Policymaking State,” in Living Legislation: Durability, Change, and the Politics of American Lawmaking, ed. Jenkins, Jeffery A. and Patashnik, Eric M. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012).

4. Party activist and Eisenhower advisor Bill Robinson praised Eisenhower's technique for “dispell[ing] completely the Taft forces' charges that you were a New Dealer; you were beholden to Roosevelt and Truman; you were another Willkie; you are not a valid Republican … [Within the Republican Party] there is virtually no concern about your political philosophy on domestic problems,” Robinson to Dwight D. Eisenhower (DDE), June 19, 1952; quoted in Ambrose, Stephen E., Eisenhower, Vol. 1: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect, 1890–1952 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), 533.

5. Galambos, The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower, vol. X, no. 447, pp. 612–14.

6. Pre-Presidential Papers (PPP), 1957, 840 (Oct. 1, 1956); 994 (Oct. 23, 1956); Eisenhower, Dwight D., Selected Speeches of Dwight David Eisenhower, Thirty-Fourth President of the United States (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1970), 41. Eisenhower's commitment to restraining the national government appears in his ardent drive for budget-balancing and pay-as-you-go funding mechanisms, his bias toward states' rights, and his willingness to experiment with public-private collaborations. See Morgan, Iwan, Eisenhower versus “the Spenders”: The Eisenhower Administration, the Democrats, and the Budget, 1953–1960 (New York: St. Martin's, 1990); James Reston, “Eisenhower opens ‘crusade’ amid his boyhood scenes: General hews to old-fashioned revivalist line with appeal for frugality, honesty,” New York Times, June 5, 1952; “Transcript of General Eisenhower's First Press Conference Giving his Political Views,” New York Times, June 6, 1952); cf. Eisenhower, Dwight D., Mandate for Change, 1953–56: The White House Years. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1963), 33; Memo to Sherman Adams, Dec. 20, 1954. DDE Diary Series, Box 8, Dec. 10, 1954; Wildavsky, Aaron, Dixon-Yates: A Study in Power Politics (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1962); Vaillancourt, Pauline, ed., Public-Private Policy Partnerships (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).

7. Bowie, Robert R. and Immerman, Richard H., Waging Peace: How Eisenhower Shaped an Enduring Cold War Strategy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), chap. 2; Ferrell, Robert H., ed., The Eisenhower Diaries (New York: Norton, 1981), 143, and chap. 7.

8. PPP, 1953, 33–34. Eisenhower had expressed similar sentiments in a widely praised speech to the American Bar Association in 1949 (“Text of General Eisenhower's Address Before Bar Association,” New York Times, Sept. 6, 1949, p. 17). For quantitative comparisons of presidential ideology, see Zupan, Mark A., “Measuring the Ideological Preferences of U.S. Presidents: A Proposed (Extremely Simple) Method,” Public Choice 73 (1992): 351–61; Weatherford, M. Stephen, “Comparing Presidents' Economic Policy Leadership,” Perspectives on Politics 7, no. 3 (Sept. 2009): 537–60.

9. DDE to Brigadier General Bradford G. Chynoweth, July 20, 1954 (DDE Diaries, Box 4, Jan.–Nov. 1954, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library [DDEL]). Eisenhower laid out the practical political considerations in a letter to his brother Edgar, who deplored his refusal to publicly embrace the priorities of the Republican Old Guard: “Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. I knew from the beginning that noisy, strong-arm tactics would accomplish nothing, even if I were so inclined” (DDE to Edgar Eisenhower, Nov. 8, 1954; cf. DDE to Everett E. “Swede” Hazlett, Jr. February 24, 1950 and Nov. 14, 1952, DDEL, Ann Whitman File [AWF], Diary Series, Box 4).

10. Griffith, Robert, “Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Corporate Commonwealth,” American Historical Review 87, no. 1 (1952): 87122; Larson, Arthur, A Republican Looks at His Party (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1974); Stebenne, David, Modern Republican: Arthur Larson and the Eisenhower Years (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001).

11. “Text of General Eisenhower's Speech at A.F.L. Convention,” New York Times, Sept. 18, 1952; cf. DDE to Milton Eisenhower, Nov. 6, 1953, AWF, DDE Diary Series, DDEL.

12. Greenstein, Fred I., The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), shows that Eisenhower made wide use of this mode for evaluating alternative courses of action.

13. Patashnik, Eric M., Reforms at Risk (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008); Patashnik, Eric M. and Zelizer, Julian E., “The Struggle to Remake Politics: Liberal Reform and the Limits of Policy Feedback in the Contemporary American State,” Perspectives on Politics 11, no. 4 (2013): 1071–87.

14. Pierson, Paul, “When Effect Become Cause: Policy Feedback and Political Change,” World Politics 45 (1993): 595628; Campbell, Andrea Louise, How Policies Make Citizens (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003); Mettler, Suzanne and Soss, Joe, “The Consequences of Public Policy for Democratic Citizenship: Bridging Policy Studies and Mass Politics,” Perspectives on Politics 2, no. 1 (2004): 5573; Maltzman, Forrest and Shipan, Charles R., “Continuity, Change and Branch: The Evolution of the Law,” American Journal of Political Science 52, no. 2 (2008): 252–67; Berry, Christopher R., Burden, Barry C. and Howell, William G., “The Lives of Federal Programs,” in Living Legislation: Durability, Change, and the Politics of American Lawmaking, ed. Jenkins, Jeffery A. and Patashnik, Eric M. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012).

15. Phillips-Fein, Kim, Invisible Hands: The Businessmen's Crusade Against the New Deal (New York: W. W. Norton, 2010), 14; cf. Fones-Wolf, Elizabeth, Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism, 1945–1960 (Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1995).

16. Patterson, James T., Congressional Conservatism and the New Deal: The Growth of the Conservative Coalition (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1967); Fraser, Steve and Gerstle, Gary, The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930–1980 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989); Katznelson, Ira and Lapinski, John S., “Congress and American Political Development: Missed Chances, Rich Possibilities,” Perspectives on Politics 4, no. 2 (2006); Farhang, Sean and Katznelson, Ira, “The Southern Imposition: Congress and Labor in the New Deal and Fair Deal,” Studies in American Political Development 19 (2005); Katznelson, Ira, Geiger, Kim, and Kryder, Daniel, “Limiting Liberalism: The Southern Veto in Congress, 1933–1950,” Political Science Quarterly 108, no. 2 (1993): 283306.

17. Schickler, Eric and Caughey, Devin, “Public Opinion, Organized Labor, and the Limits of New Deal Liberalism, 1936–1945,” Studies in American Political Development 25 (2011): 178; Schickler, Eric and Pearson, Kathryn, “Agenda Control, Majority Party Power, and the House Committee on Rules, 1937–52,” Legislative Studies Quarterly 34, no. 4 (2009).

18. Schickler and Caughey, “Public Opinion,” 179.

19. Lichtenstein, Nelson, “From Corporatism to Collective Bargaining: Organized Labor and the Eclipse of Social Democracy in the Postwar Era,” in The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930–1980, ed. Fraser, Steve and Gerstle, Gary (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 134; cf. Goldman, Eric F., The Crucial Decade—and After: America 1945–1960 (New York: Vintage, 1960).

20. Patterson, James T., Mr. Republican: A Biography of Robert A. Taft (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972), chaps. 23, 28.

21. Stebenne, Modern Republicanism; Phillips-Fein, Kim, “Conservatism: A State of the Field,” Journal of American History 98 (Dec. 2011): 735; Norton-Smith, Richard, Thomas Dewey and His Times (New York: Random House, 1982).

22. The Wagner Act, perhaps the most emblematic legislation of the second New Deal, included protections for union organizing and strictures on corporations who refused to bargain in good faith or sought to undermine union organizing efforts. Declaring the government's official recognition of a public interest in the right of workers to bargain collectively, it marked a sea change in political economic relations, by bringing the power of workers and corporations into more even balance. On the origins of the Wagner Act, see Leuchtenburg, William F., Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932–1940 (New York: Harper and Row, 1963); Bernstein, Irving, The New Deal Collective Bargaining Policy (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1950); on the course of labor legislation through the 1950s, see Lichtenstein, “From Corporatism to Collective Bargaining”; Tomlins, Christopher L., The State and the Union: Labor Relations, Law, and the Organized Labor Movement in America, 1880–1960 (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

23. It is not unusual for the enacting coalition to overreach in writing reform legislation, and the signs that Taft-Hartley merited revision were visible not only from liberals and organized labor but also from conservatives and moderates. During the six-month debate over repeal in 1949, Taft himself had offered a list of amendments that “constituted considerable movement [toward] restoring the Wagner Act” and would have passed but for organized labor's “all or nothing” insistence on repeal (Gross, James A., Broken Promise: The Subversion of U.S. Labor Relations Policy, 1947–1994 [Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995], 56); in 1952, craft-dominated AFL unions had supported the Republican ticket and now lobbied for revising the Act (Shanley Diary, “White House Days 4,” May 7 and June 4, 1953, Box 2, DDEL); Grand Old Party (GOP) moderates saw revision as the most promising action to fragment the Democratic coalition; and the Republican platform formally called for the adoption of such amendments “as time and experience show to be desirable and which further protect the rights of labor, management and the public” (National Party Conventions, 1831–1996, Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1997), 98. In the campaign, Eisenhower had been specific in his advocacy, including on Taft-Hartley's most contentious provision: “since patriotic American union leaders must swear that they are not Communists, then the employers with whom they deal should be subject to the same requirement” (Political Speeches, Political Campaign Series, 1952, AWF, DDEL).

24. AWF, Political Speeches, Political Campaign Series, 1952, DDEL. Early drafts stated this even more resolutely (Minnich Cabinet meeting notes, Jan. 30, 1953, AWF, DDEL).

25. Several construction trades unions had supported Eisenhower, and experienced Republican operatives such as Summerfield were determined not only to repay their support but also to capitalize on the symbol of the Durkin appointment to further weaken the Democratic coalition. Durkin's reputation as a reasonable and effective leader of the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters, along with his Catholic religion, were important considerations for Clay and Brownell. But support for him in the administration was qualified from the beginning: Eisenhower worried about whether he would fit in, and Sherman Adams accused him to trying to appoint New Dealers throughout the department. Taft objected so vehemently that Eisenhower met with him on Dec. 30, 1952, to work out a process for consultation before future nominations were made public. See Parmet, Herbert S., Eisenhower and the American Crusades (New York: MacMillan, 1973), chap. 21; Donovan, Robert J., Eisenhower: The Inside Story (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1956), chaps. 2 and 7; Eisenhower, Mandate, 90, 114–20; Henderson, Philip G., Managing the Presidency: The Eisenhower Legacy from Kennedy to Reagan (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1988); Adams, Sherman, Firsthand Report: The Story of the Eisenhower Administration (New York: Harper, 1961), 165.

26. On the February 6, 1953 meeting, see Donovan, Inside Story, 33–34; Parmet, Eisenhower, 325–26. On the history of the idea of corporatist-style councils in U.S. labor relations, see Brinkley, Alan, The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (New York: Vintage/Random House, 1995), 201–26; Lichtenstein, Nelson, The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit: Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor (New York: Basic, 1995). Durkin believed that labor's proposal of consultative committees was in fact carrying out the president's wishes, as Eisenhower had promised to “ask the advice and suggestions of all groups—the public, management, and labor” both in his address to the AFL and in the State of the Union address (“Text of General Eisenhower's Speech at A.F.L. Convention,”New York Times, Sept. 18, 1952); Martin Durkin, “The Labor Program: Why I Resigned,” Vital Speeches (Oct. 15, 1953), 6.

27. This orientation both led him to reject the recommendation of Weeks and Dunn that the administration enact comprehensive labor legislation that would strictly circumscribe collective bargaining (Gross, Promise, 78–79), and underlay a statement Eisenhower made to Clay early in the 1952 campaign: “I don't believe the problems arising in labor relations can be ended by punitive law or a statement made in a press conference” (DDE to Clay, May 20, 1952, quoted in Ambrose, Eisenhower, v. 1, p. 568).

28. In addition to Weeks and Durkin, the members included chairs of the relevant committees, Senator H. Alexander Smith (R-NJ) and Representative Samuel K. McConnell, Jr. (R-PA), along with Senator Taft. Eisenhower foresaw the potential for problems, noting in his diary that “At the moment my two slight worries involve Weeks of Commerce and Durkin of Labor. The former seems so completely conservative in his views that at times he seems to be illogical. I hope that I am mistaken or if not, that he will soon become a little bit more aware of the world as it is today. Mr. Durkin seems to me to carry a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Whenever he presents anything in the Cabinet meetings, it is with an attitude that seems to be just a bit jeering … . It is the kind of problem I have often had before, and I am by no means discouraged” (DDE Diary, February 7, 1953, DDEL). The aphorism about the Cabinet's composition is from “Eisenhower's Hard Choice in Korea,” The New Republic (Dec. 15, 1952), 5.

29. Gross (Promise, chap. 6); cf. Parmet, Eisenhower, 326–27; and Eisenhower, Mandate, 197. Ambrose points out that Eisenhower's “critics were quick to note [that he] never told Weeks to stop being a special pleader for business” (Ambrose, Eisenhower, Vol. 2: The President, 117).

30. Durkin struggled to advocate his strong belief that some aspects of Taft-Hartley were patently unfair to labor—particularly Section 14(b), which permitted states to pass “right to work” laws that essentially outlawed union organizing—in a context where the president's initially sympathetic feelings toward labor were in constant danger of capture or betrayal by the representatives of business (Martin P. Durkin, “The Labor Program”; New York Times, Sept. 23, 1953; “Text of Durkin's Address Explaining Resignation from Cabinet,” New York Times (Sep. 23, 1953). Weeks insisted that the committee consider only the two “liberalizing” modifications that Eisenhower had mentioned in the campaign (relating to the non-Communist oath and to the right of workers to vote on the question of representation after they have gone on strike), and that any modifications should strengthen states' jurisdiction over strikes and bring NLRB decisions into line with Taft-Hartley (cf. Lewis William Douglas to DDE, Jan. 15, 1954, AWF, DDE Diary; DDE to Douglas, Jan. 18, 1954, AWF, Administration Series; Parmet, Eisenhower, chap. 29).

31. Eisenhower was especially disappointed in Weeks, who he had hoped would take a more statesmanlike role. Whenever he lost in the committee, he would insist on meeting with the president to plead a case that Shanley told Eisenhower was “pretty reactionary on the whole.” Shanley describes the president as smiling and telling him: “I realize this but I wanted to get the story straight because one is just as bad as the other [Durkin]. It seems to be a complete impossibility to get them to agree on any basis.” (Shanley Diary, “White House Days 5” Box 2, June 6, 1953, pp. 911–12, DDEL; Ambrose, Eisenhower, v. 2, 23.)

32. “Eisenhower Joins Talks on Taft Law,” New York Times, June 30, 1953.

33. Shanley sent the draft message to Durkin, Weeks, McConnell, and Smith on July 30. Durkin says he was assured that the message had been finalized for presentation to the Congress on July 31 (Durkin, “The Labor Program,” 7).

34. In a memo to Shanley that went on to make the case against the more progressive elements of the nineteen-point proposal, Smith emphasized that “It would be very serious, as I see it, if this message came out in this form just as Senator Taft has passed away” (quoted in Reichard, Gary W., The Reaffirmation of Republicanism [Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1975], 144).

35. Smith to Shanley, “Taft-Hartley Working Papers 5,” Aug. 1, 1953, Box 83, President/Confidential Subject Series, DDEL.

36. “Senators Put off Study of Taft Act,” New York Times, May 26, 1953; Joseph Loftus, “Message on Labor Blocked by Nixon,” New York Times, Aug. 6, 1953. Gross (Promise, chap. 6) traces the leak to Dunn, who, upset with the Shanley-Morgan proposals, had taken them to the general counsel of the National Association of Manufacturers.

37. “[S]o voluminous and acrimonious was the mail that presidential aides began answering it with a form letter that minimized the message as a ‘working draft’.” (Newsweek, Sept. 21, 1953, p. 28; “Labor Message to Wait,” New York Times, Aug. 5, 1953); Albert Clark, “Eisenhower Circulates His Ideas for Revising Taft-Hartley Law,” Wall Street Journal, Aug. 3, 1953. Nixon joined Weeks in arguing that any administration move that appeared to weaken Section 14(b) would alienate both business groups and states' rights supporters, dooming the Party's electoral prospects (Joseph A. Loftus, “Message on Labor Blocked by Nixon,” New York Times, Aug. 5, 1953); Albert Clark, “Taft-Hartley Law: Eisenhower Circulates His Ideas for Revision; They Favor the Unions,” Wall Street Journal, Aug. 3, 1953; “Draft of Message Eisenhower Proposes on Taft-Hartley,” Wall Street Journal, August 3, 1953; Eisenhower, Mandate, 197.

38. Quoted in Lee, R. Alton, Eisenhower and Landrum-Griffin: A Study in Labor-Management Politics (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1990), 30; Bernard Shanley and Gerald Morgan to DDE (Sept. 30, 1953) AWF, Administration Series, DDEL.

39. Gross (Promise, 90) suggests that the White House negotiators “seemed particularly naïve about power relations within their own party and with Congress”; DDE Diaries, 1953–1954, Box 9, p. 5, DDEL; cf. “Taft Act Changes Killed by Senate: Democrats Solid,” New York Times, May 8, 1954.

40. Working from his own notes and contacts with other participants, Shanley reported that Taft, who had attended four of the five meetings, had agreed fully with ten of the nineteen proposed amendments and was clearly opposed to six, including repealing Section 14(b). On the latter, Shanley's view was that “Taft felt that the section was wrong in principle, but he was opposed to repealing it.” (DDE to Bernard Michael Shanley, Sept. 26, 1953, White House Central Files [WHCF], Confidential File, Taft-Hartley, DDEL; Shanley to DDE, Sept. 30, 1953, AWF/Administration Files: Taft-Hartley; DDE to William Fife Knowland, Aug. 25, 1953, AWF, Name Series).

41. Senate Republicans' election of William Knowland as the new majority leader marked the triumph of the party's right wing, and ushered in the conservatives' dominance of the Republican leadership for the balance of Eisenhower's presidency. Both Knowland and the dominant position of the Old Guard were a constant annoyance to Eisenhower (Greenstein, Hidden Hand; Ambrose, Eisenhower, v. 2).

42. Durkin had understood the President to have expressed his support for the nineteen-point proposal at their meeting on August 10, but Eisenhower denied that he had made any such promise. His reaction to Durkin's resignation focused on the accusation that Eisenhower had broken a promise, and—clearly more concerned about its effect on his reputation than about labor law revision—at a news conference a week later, Eisenhower interpreted questions about Durkin and the right-to-work issue as raising doubts about his own integrity (Eisenhower, Mandate, 197–99). James P. Mitchell, who had been a Bloomingdale's vice president in charge of labor relations, replaced Durkin.

43. It is worth noting that Eisenhower continued to oppose more restrictive legislation when it was introduced by Senator Goldwater and by the Republican majority on the House Labor Committee (Joseph Loftus, “House Unit Votes Labor Board Curbs,” New York Times, Mar. 4, 1954; Congressional Record 83rd Cong., 2nd Session, May 3, 1954, pt. 5: 5834–36; cf. Shanley Diary, “White House Years 3,” Box 2).

44. Some of president's advisors, who had been willing to go along with the direction of the Shanley-Morgan proposals so long as Eisenhower endorsed the process, now were more outspoken in their opposition. In early December, for example, Eisenhower recorded in his diary that George Humphrey had the previous day advised him “that under no circumstances should I recommend detailed amendments to the Taft-Hartley Act, except only in the particular areas in which I promised amendments in the campaign” (AWF, DDE Diaries, Dec. 11, 1953). The president also signaled a chill in his relations with labor unions, sending Mitchell to the CIO convention in late 1953 bearing a formal, almost stilted, communication (DDE to Walter Philip Reuther and the Fifteenth Constitutional Convention of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, Nov. 12, 1953, AWF, DDE Diaries Series; cf. also Donovan, Eisenhower, 176).

45. The administration's January 11, 1954, message relaxed Taft-Hartley's prohibition of secondary boycotts, applied the non-Communist oath requirement equally to union members and managers, and allowed striking workers to vote (and ensured a secret ballot) in an NLRB-certified election for collective bargaining representatives (Gross, Promise, 87; Lee, Landrum-Griffin, 34–37; see PPP, 1954, 40–44; Congressional Quarterly Almanac, 1954, 300–304; Joseph Loftus, “Labor Message Asks U.S. Poll Employees in Walkouts,” New York Times, Jan. 12, 1954).

46. The president's message appeared to suggest that the White House would be open to amendments that narrowed the federal role even further (DDE to H. Alexander Smith and to Samuel K. McConnell, Jr., Mar. 26, 1954, AWF, DDE Diaries Series). When Barry Goldwater led a group of Republican Senators in a move to weaken federal standards, however, the president's response was so ambiguous that Senator Smith inferred that Eisenhower did not “know quite what it was about” (Quoted in Reichard, Reaffirmation of Republicanism, 146).

47. U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, “Labor-Management Relations Act, 1947, as Amended: Report to Accompany S. 2650, 83rd Congress, 2nd Session, 1954, S. Rept. 1217.

48. Eisenhower suffered a coronary thrombosis on September 24, 1955, while vacationing in Colorado. He recuperated at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver, and returned to a reduced schedule of duties in Washington on Veterans Day, November 11. See Lasby, Clarence G., Eisenhower's Heart Attack: How Ike Beat Heart Disease and Held onto the Presidency (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1997); Donovan, Eisenhower, 362–86; and Ambrose, Eisenhower, v. 2, 270–86.

49. Schickler and Caughey, “Public Opinion.”

50. Jones, Daniel Stedman, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012); Mirowski, Philip and Plehwe, Dieter, eds. The Road from Mont Pelerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009); Burgin, Angus, The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets Since the Depression (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012); Harris, Howell John, The Right to Manage: Industrial Relations Policies of American Business in the 1940s (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982).

51. Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands, 100–101. This section draws especially on chap. 5.

52. “Boulwarism” is typically associated with the bargaining strategy Boulware pioneered. In response to employers' dissatisfaction with the “haggling” involved in collective bargaining, GE came to the bargaining table with a “take it or leave it” offer that, they claimed, was deeply researched and accounted for short-term and medium-term outcomes. “Under [Boulware's] leadership, the company essentially stopped engaging in genuine give-and-take bargaining sessions with the union (Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands, 98, 99; cf. Bloom, G. F. and Northrup, H. R., Economics of Labor Relations [Homewood, IL: Irwin, 1969], 126, who note that “The bargaining offensive in this instance reverts to the employer”).

This change in bargaining tactics was unquestionably influential, but its foundation lay in an even more fundamental change in the ideational framing of labor management relations, away from the image of political relations between groups with competing interests and toward the nonconflictual satisfaction of individual preferences. Boulware saw workers and consumers as individuals susceptible to campaigns of persuasion from multiple sources. Corporations and their allies, by undertaking economic education programs directed toward each individual, could persuade workers to abandon the “socialist” views associated with unions. In a world where management not only has a monopoly on crucial relevant information but embodies the company's contribution to the nation's material prosperity, unions are “destructive interlopers” between management and individual workers, and inevitably selfish participants in contract negotiations. It was not only the abandonment of the bargaining exchange but the ideological frame that brought allegation of unfairness from the CIO: Stephen K. Galpin, “Boulwarism: CIO Cries Foul as ‘Tough but Fair’ Wage Policy Spreads,” Wall Street Journal, Nov. 3, 1954, p. 1.

53. Lipset, Seymour Martin, “The Law and Trade Union Democracy,” Virginia Law Review 47, no. 1 (Jan. 1961): 150. This image was apparent in business communications to the president, and Eisenhower's remarks on the issue came increasingly to repeat these sentiments: “Our whole platform here will stress the interests of the laboring man rather than those of the labor leader … . Most certainly we are not consciously seeking the favor of the so-called labor leader” (DDE to Milton Eisenhower, Nov. 6, 1953, AWF, DDE Diary Series; Jan. 6, 1954; AWF, Administration Series: Summerfield– EP 14: 561, Oct. 6, 1953). The White House was also attuned to the shift of public opinion regarding labor leaders (Roy Wilson Howard to DDE, Nov. 1953, AWF, Administration Series), and when Labor Secretary Mitchell proposed that the president call on states to repeal their own “right to work” laws, Eisenhower rebuffed the idea (PPP 1954, 1091; cf. DDE to Julius Earl Schaefer, Dec. 13, 1954, AWF, Name Series, DDEL).

The shift toward a more individualistic frame for industrial relations and labor politics was not limited to conservative ideologues; it underlay the trend of public opinion (Witwer, David, “Pattern for Partnership: Putting Labor Racketeering on the Nation's Agenda in the Late 1950s,” in The Right and Labor in America: Politics, Ideology, Imagination, ed. Lichtenstein, Nelson and Shermer, Elizabeth Tandy [Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012], 207–26), and it grounded the arguments of left-wing critics (Lichtenstein, Nelson, “Pluralism, Postwar Intellectuals, and the Demise of the Union Idea,” in The Great Society and the High Tide of Liberalism, ed. Milkis, Sidney M. and Mileur, Jerome M. [Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005], 83114).

54. Henry Cabot Lodge to DDE, February 19, 1955, AWF, Administration Series, DDEL; DDE to Lodge, February 21, 1955, AWF, Administration Series, DDEL; Lodge to DDE, Mar. 15, 1955, AWF, Administration Series, DDEL; cf. DDE to Edward Everett Hazlett, Jr., Dec. 8, 1954, AWF, Name Series, DDEL.

55. Lee, Landrum-Griffin, 160.

56. Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands, 111; Cannon, Lou, Reagan (New York: Putnam, 1982), 9294; Reagan, Ronald, An American Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990), 127–28; McCartin, Joseph A., Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). Lichtenstein (“Pluralism”) presents an alternative reading that focuses on the role of ideas.

57. “Appointments,” memo from the President to members of his Cabinet, Sept. 7, 1953, Box 4, Confidential Subject Series, DDEL.

58. This discussion draws on interviews and unpublished documents described in Gross (Promise); see also Seymour Scher, “Congressional Committee Members as Independent Agency Overseers: A Case Study,” American Political Science Review 54: 4 (Dec. 1960); Seymour Scher, “Regulatory Agency Control Through Appointment: The Case of the Eisenhower Administration and the NLRB,” Journal of Politics 23: 4 (Nov. 1961); Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands).

59. In testimony before the Senate Labor Committee (U.S. Senate, Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Proposed Revisions of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, 83rd Cong., 1st sess., 1953, 157–59), the Chamber either misunderstood the appointment process or envisioned that the current incumbents would hand in their resignations voluntarily on the occasion of a change of party government. “Now, we think there should be a clean sweep and an opportunity for the new administration; if there are any present members of the Board or their staff that are good, they can be reappointed, but if they are not good then they can be eliminated.”

60. Taft had proposed (S. 659, 83rd Congress, 1st Session) increasing the size of the Board to seven and splitting it off from the General Counsel, allowing Eisenhower to appoint a new administrator and two new members, and giving the White House control of both branches of the new agency. See Scher, Seymour, “The Politics of Agency Organization,” Western Political Quarterly 15, no. 2 (June 1962), 328–44.

61. The committee held nearly three months of hearings beginning in February 1953. In the absence of any presidential proposal, the focus was almost solely on the NLRB's interpretations of Taft-Hartley. The proceedings included some 72 days of testimony from small employers, particularly in the South, most of whom had never faced a union organizing campaign before the one which brought them to the NLRB's attention. The committee, as Scher, “Congressional Committee Members” (1960, p. 915) notes, “provided disgruntled litigants with an opportunity to object to trial examiners' and Board findings and to win support from committee members for the witnesses' version of conduct that had been termed unfair labor practices by the agency.” NLRB officials were invited on the last day of hearings to give their response to weeks of previous testimony.

62. Dunn had been the legislative representative for the Furniture Manufacturers Association, and in hearings on Taft-Hartley had advocated banning industry-wide bargaining and restricting the NLRB to a purely judicial function within the Justice Department (U.S. Senate, Committee on Labor and Public Works, Labor Relations Program, Hearings, 80th Congress, 1st Session, 1947, pp. 1690 ff.)

63. Farmer was confirmed July 10, 1953 (U.S. Senate, Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Nomination Guy Farmer to be a Member of the National Labor Relations Board, Hearing, 85th Congress, 1st session, 1953); Rodgers on August 30, 1953 (U.S. Senate, Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Nomination of Philip Ray Rodgers to by a Member of the National Labor Relations Board, Hearing, 85th Congress, 2nd Session, 1954). See Gross, Promise, chap. 7 for detailed biographies.

64. Scher, “Regulatory Agency Control” 1961, 672.

65. U.S. Senate, Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Nomination of Albert Cummins Beeson to be a Member of the National Labor Relations Board, 83rd Congress, 2nd Session, 1954; “Senate Group Backs NLRB Nominee,” New York Times, Jan. 27, 1954; “NLRB Nominee Gets 2nd Hearing,” New York Times, Jan. 31, 1954; Clayton Knowles, “Beeson Wins NLRB Post, 45-42, after Senate Fight,” New York Times, February 19, 1954.

66. This section draws on The NLRB under Republican Administration: Recent Trends and Their Political Implications,” Columbia Law Review 55, no. 6 (June 1955): 852906, and The Eisenhower Board: Taft-Hartley under a Republican Administration,” Utah Law Review 4, no. 3 (Spring 1955): 380404.

67. Important exceptions, carved out by Southern Democrats as a condition for enacting legislation on Labor Relations (as on Fair Labor Standards and Social Security), included domestic servants, agricultural workers, and railroads. See Katznelson et al., “Limiting Liberalism”; Katznelson, Ira, When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth Century America (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005); Weir, Margaret, “States, Race, and the Decline of Liberalism,” Studies in American Political Development 19 (Fall 2005): 157–72; Goluboff, Risa L., The Lost Promise of Civil Rights (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007); Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd, “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past,” Journal of American History 91 (Mar. 2005): 1233–63.

68. Columbia Law Review, “The NLRB under Republican Administration,” 854, fn. 21.

69. The Taft-Hartley Act had actually tightened the constraint on the NLRB's discretion to cede formal jurisdiction. Republicans Goldwater, Ives, and Wiley initially introduced bills to amend Taft-Hartley (or, if necessary Wagner) to permit the states to take on regulatory responsibilities wherever the NLRB chose not to. But Taft-Hartley proponents feared that state labor statutes (“little Wagner Acts”) would be more union-friendly than the national Board, and none of these bills was enacted. The upshot was that restricted jurisdiction and relaxed enforcement under the Eisenhower Board, not any change in the Act itself, carried the weight of what amounted to an historic shift in the institutions of labor relations. See NLRB Jurisdictional Standards and State Jurisdiction,” Northwestern University Law Review 50 (May-June 1955): 192–93; “NLRB to Accept Fewer Small Cases,” New York Times, July 1, 1954; “NLRB Narrows Its Powers Again,” New York Times, July 15, 1954; Whitney, Fred, “NLRB Jurisdictional Policies and the Federal-State Relationship,” Labor Law Journal (Jan. 1955): 56.

70. The following states had enacted Labor Relations Acts, but their capacity to substitute for the NLRB's investigatory and adjudicatory functions varied greatly and none measured up to the national agency: Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wisconsin.

71. U.S. Congress, Joint Committee on Labor Management Relations, Hearings, 80th Congress, 2nd session, 1948, p. 1125. See Schulman, Margaret B., “Does the NLRB Have the Power to Decline to Exercise Its Jurisdiction?George Washington Law Review 26 (Mar. 1958): 448–57; Hanley, Dexter, “No-Man's Land in Labor Relations—A Survey,” Georgetown Law Review 43 (Nov. 1954): 6771.

72. These two categories inevitably overlap, with unfair labor practices including cases involving “unprotected” strikes, respecting picket lines, grievance presentation, secondary pressures, jurisdictional disputes, discrimination by an employer or a union, employer refusal to bargain, and employer interference in elections; and representation issues including questions about the appropriate unit, excluded categories of workers, and the conduct of elections. Gross (Promise, chap. 7) reviews this history in detail.

73. Logan, John, “Representatives of Their Own Choosing? Certification, Elections, and Employer Free Speech, 1935–1959,” Seattle University Law Review 23 (2000): 556.

74. The Supreme Court narrowed the “strict neutrality” standard in NLRB v. Virginia Electric and Power Co. (1941), ruling that employer speech was protected so long as it was not coercive. The Board articulated the “equal opportunity” expectation in NLRB v. Bonwit Teller (1951) and NLRB v. Metropolitan Auto Parts (1953).

75. It is worth detailing the change of direction from previous NLRB rulings, particularly when it came to taking account of the differential power intrinsic to the relationship between the employer and the individual employee. In NLRB v. Federbush Co. (1941) the Board had held that any anti-union statement by an employer who essentially controlled the livelihoods of his employees was bound to be coercive. In the Supreme Court's validation of the Board's decision, Justice Learned Hand famously noted that “Words are not pebbles in alien juxtaposition; they have only a communal existence; and not only does the meaning of each interpenetrate the other, but all in their aggregate take their purport from the setting in which they are used, of which the relation between the speaker and the hearer is perhaps the most important part … . What to an outsider will be no more than the vigorous presentation of a conviction, to an employee may be the manifestation of a determination which it is not safe to thwart” (NLRB v. Federbush Co. 121 F.2d 954, 957). In contrast, the Eisenhower Board's decision in the Livingston Shirt case emphasized property rights and wide free speech protections for employers in union representation elections. By framing the choice (for the employer to intervene or for employees to join a union) in terms of individual rights, the new Board extracted the question of employer intervention from the context of unequal economic power, thus removing a crucial ideational support from the notion that neutrality in the conduct of labor relations entailed assuring balance in the bargaining status of competing, organized interests. See Koretz, Robert, “Employer Free Speech under the Taft-Hartley Act,” Syracuse Law Review 6 (Fall 1954): 8292; Wollett, Donald and Rowen, James, “Employer Speech and Related Issues,” Ohio State Law Journal 1 (Summer 1955): 380402.

76. NLRB v. American Laundry Machinery Co. (1953); NLRB v. Blue Flash Express (1954); and NLRB v. The Liberal Market, Inc. (1954). These rulings explicitly set aside the whole fabric of sociological and political presuppositions about how the context of organizing and the psychological impact of employer statements would influence the outcome. Commentators noted the dearth of empirical research underlying the decisions (Wirtz, Willard, “The New National Labor Relations Board; Herein of ‘Employer Persuasion,’Northwestern University Law Review 49 [Nov.-Dec. 1954]: 594618; Summers, Clyde, “Politics, Policy Making, and the NLRB,” Syracuse Law Review 6 [Fall 1954]: 98).

77. Logan, “Representatives,” 564.

78. The Taft-Hartley Act severely narrowed the range of permitted secondary activities, but the NLRB had interpreted its provisions as allowing secondary activities in certain situations, including with trucking and delivery companies where the situs of the primary dispute was not a fixed location (NLRB v. Conway's Express [1949], affirmed at the Court of Appeals level [195 F.2d 906, 2nd Circuit 1952], and Schultz Refrigeration [1949]). In Washington Coca Cola Bottling Co. (1953) and McAllister Transfer Company (1954), the Eisenhower Board tightened these exceptions.

79. In BVD Company, Inc. (1954), the Board sided with the company when it refused to reinstate strikers who continued to picket peacefully during a violent, strike-related episode led by other, unknown persons; and in Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Co. (1954), the Board ruled illegal the union's action of picketing only selected offices on an irregular schedule rather than striking the entire company.

80. Previous Board rulings had held employers guilty of unlawful retaliation for locking out their workers when the union struck another member of the association, but in Buffalo Linen Supply Co. (1954), the Eisenhower majority upheld such a lockout as a “defensive” action in light of the “implicit threat” of a future strike.

81. Labor: Politics and the NLRB,” Fortune (Oct. 1956): 238; Summers, “Politics, Policy-Making,” 98. Moe, Terry, “Control and Feedback in Economic Regulation: The Case of the NLRB,” American Political Science Review 79, no. 4 (Dec. 1985): 1094–116.

Moe goes on to conclude that in “the post Taft-Hartley period of professionalism and moderation, the NLRB loses virtually all of its overt political salience and essentially joins the rank-and-file of federal agencies” (p. 1097). This inference, however, is not supported by his data and is contradicted by this and other qualitative analyses. The inference is based on a measure of labor–management advantage in NLRB outcomes that compares the number of victories in cases filed under Section 8(a) (charging employers with unfair labor practices) versus victories in Section 8(b) cases (charging unions with unfair practices). Because the balance tends toward 50 percent over the 1948–1979 period, Moe proposes that there may be a systematic tendency toward equilibrium. Unfortunately, no attempt is made to weight the cases by the content of the dispute at issue or the ramifications for the future status of the parties (p. 1103, fn. 8). This means that the proportion is not anchored by a valid zero-point. For example, the balance would approximate 50 percent even if employers' victories had the effect of carving out a widening space for influencing all future certification elections, while union victories typically consisted of the NLRB invalidating a specific election and ordering the employer to pay a fine and hold a new representational election. This is not to deny the value of Moe's analysis, which is well-crafted for examining the presidential control hypothesis; but only to point out that the analysis is not designed to test whether the enactment of Taft-Hartley and the success of Eisenhower's administrative strategy actually had their intended effect—to tilt the playing field at a radically different angle than the Wagner Act. Both this article and the analyses of many other authors detail that the NLRB has not lost its “overt political salience” (e.g., Lichtenstein, Nelson, State of the Union: A Century of American Labor (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002) and the works cited there). Indeed, the fact that Republicans from Taft to Eisenhower, Reagan, and Bush have sought to circumscribe its authority, and that in the twenty-first century congressional Republicans have dedicated themselves to blocking President Obama's NLRB appointments, offers powerful testimony that the Board retains practical and symbolic significance.

82. Goldfield, Michael, The Decline of Organized Labor in the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987); Goldfield, Michael and Bromsen, Amy, “The Changing Landscape of U.S. Unions in Historical and Theoretical Perspective,” Annual Review of Political Science 16 (2013): 231–57.

83. The comparison with Taft is the appropriate operationalization of this counterfactual, since Taft mounted a long and vigorous campaign for the GOP nomination and had made it a two-candidate contest by the time of the convention.

84. Murphy, Charles J. V., “The Eisenhower Shift,” Part 1, Fortune 53, no. 1 (Jan. 1956): 89. On Eisenhower's strategic ambiguity, see Greenstein, Hidden-Hand, 50; Reichard, Reaffirmation of Republicanism. Diggins, John P., The Proud Decades: America in War and Peace, 1941–1960 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1989), calls Eisenhower's campaign “a masterpiece of evasion” (p. 125).

85. Patterson, Mr. Republican, 135, 278.

86. Richard Rovere, “What Course for the Powerful Mr. Taft?” New York Times Magazine, Mar. 22, 1953; Adams, Firsthand Report, 104; cf. Bowie and Immerman, Waging Peace, chap. 4; Larson, Arthur, Eisenhower: The President Nobody Knew (New York: Scribner, 1968), 68; Donovan, Eisenhower, 147; Hughes, Emmet John, The Ordeal of Power: A Political Memoir of the Eisenhower Years (New York: Athenaeum, 1963), 81.

87. Wagner, Steven, Eisenhower Republicanism: Pursuing the Middle Way (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2006); Stebenne, Modern Republican; Beer, Samuel H., “Liberalism and the National Idea,” in Left, Right and Center: Essays on Liberalism and Conservatism in the U.S., ed. Goldwin, Robert A. (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1965), 145–46.

* Several colleagues and reviewers have provided insightful criticism and support, including Andrew Polsky, David Eisenhower, Charles Tien, and Kristoffer Smemo, commenting on an earlier version presented at the conference on “Ike Reconsidered: Lessons from the Eisenhower Legacy for the 21st Century” (Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute and Hunter College, Mar. 2013); and two anonymous reviewers, Eric Schickler and the editors of Studies in American Political Development, whose meticulous criticism and encouragement were crucial inputs to clarifying and strengthening the argument.

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