Nation-Wide Strikes and the Public Need
Possibility of Steel and Rail Strikes in 1959
The Question of how far the federal government should go in controlling the collective bargaining process is likely to come up for renewed debate in the next few months. A rash of airline strikes at the end of last year, coupled with a labor dispute that shut down New York City's newspapers for 19 days, gave fresh notice of the fact that labor-management conflicts can inflict heavy penalties on large segments of the population. Members of Congress, the Department of Labor, the press, and numerous private citizens already are sorting through the familiar pile of remedies in search of one that will protect the public against strike emergencies without unduly restricting free bargaining.
Although it would not be the first time that such a debate has got under way and then been dropped, there is one good reason why the current discussion is apt to become lively. Present labor contracts for more than 550,000 steel workers are scheduled to expire on June 30, and contracts for a million railroad workers on Oct. 31. A general walkout in either of those key industries would make the problem of so-called emergency labor disputes of immediate concern.
President's Call on Labor to Temper Demands
Steel and railroad negotiators are certain to be reminded by the press and others of words which President Eisenhower included in his Economic Report on Jan. 20. The President warned then that lack of “self-discipline and restraint” in actions affecting wages and prices would lead to “either inflation, which would … work hardships on millions of Americans, or controls, which are alien to our traditional way of life.” Labor leaders were told that “the great power lodged in their hands” gave them “a particularly critical role to play” in the general effort to achieve “economic growth with stable prices.” The Chief Executive cautioned against seeking “increases in money wages and other compensation not justified by the productivity performance of the economy” such increases, he said, were “inevitably inflationary [and] in the end self-defeating.”