Just as “Bloody Thursday” and the West Coast Strike of 1934 had marked the renewal of the seamen’s movement during the Great Depression, the Great Strike of 1946 and its maritime component helped frame the post-war labor movement.
The closing of World War II brought about an end to the shaky truce that had existed between labor and management. As A. H. Raskin, one of the leading labor reporters of that era, noted in The New York Times, “The uncertainties of the post-war period of reconversion to a civilian economy represented a time of testing for both unions and employers.”
President Harry S. Truman tried to deal with the situation by calling a summit conference of union and company heads on November 5, 1945. But, Raskin wrote, “It accomplished nothing.” Soon, a series of stalled negotiations and walkouts began emerging. The earliest of these altercations began in the auto and steel industries, but they soon affected most segments of the U.S. economy. Moreover, the situation was exacerbated by the split between AFL and CIO unions.
Despite a drastic drop-off in post-war shipping, MTD-affiliated maritime unions were able to win important increases in contracts with the Waterman and Mississippi Shipping companies in July 1946. These gains were later threatened when the National Wage Stabilization Board cut them to match the lower level won by CIO unions.
A general strike in the maritime industry was called in September 1946. One of the results of it was that the MTD-affiliated unions had their full wage increases reinstated.
Special interest groups used the post-war strikes to ram anti-union legislation through Congress, most notably the Taft-Hartley Act. For the previous 12 years, the Wagner Act had created a favorable legal climate for unions to sign up new members. Among other things, Taft-Hartley made organizing more difficult by allowing states to enact right-to-work laws. It tightened restrictions against secondary boycotts and outlawed most hiring halls.
The MTD scored its first important legislative victory by having maritime halls excluded from the bill.