This inside look at government regulations analyzes the failure of the Wagner-Taft-Hartley Act

Broken Promise

The Subversion of U.S. Labor Relations Policy, 1947-1994

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James A. Gross

"[H]is well-researched, in-depth study makes an important contribution to understanding the development of labor policy in the Taft-Hartley era and poses questions about how to achieve a policy that gives meaning to the right to organize and to engage in concerted activities."
Labor Studies Journal

The Wagner Act of 1935 (later the Wagner-Taft-Hartley Act of 1947) was intended to democratize vast numbers of American workplaces: the federal government was to encourage worker organization and the substitution of collective bargaining for employers' unilateral determination of vital work-place matters. Yet this system of industrial democracy was never realized; the promise was "broken." In this rare inside look at the process of government regulation over the last forty-five years, James A. Gross analyzes why the promise of the policy was never fulfilled.

Gross looks at how the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) policy-making has been influenced by the President, the Congress, the Supreme Court, public opinion, resistance by organized employers, the political and economic strategies of organized labor, and the ideological dispositions of NLRB appointees. This book provides the historical perspective needed for a reevaluation of national labor policy. It delineates where we are now, how we got here, and what fundamental questions must be addressed if policy-makers are to make changes consistent with the underlying principles of democracy.



Read Chapter 1 (pdf).



"Resting on exhaustive research in [NLRB] files and other relevant archives and on the results of a massive oral history project that James Gross has directed, [Broken Promise] is a unique and authoritative study... [it] stands as a monumental work of scholarship."
Reviews in American History

"...this study is thoroughly researched, carefully constructed, and clearly written. ...he has posed a fundamental challenge to the standard interpretation that organized labor made a 'Faustian bargain' with corporate America in the postwar era."
The American Historical Review

"...makes another important contribution to labor history and industrial relations by carefully tracing the radical shifts in United States labor policy since World War II."
Journal of American History



1. Taft-Hartley: A Fundamental Change in Labor Policy or Merely Adjustments to Eliminate Abuses?
2. Political Maneuvering to Control a New Law, a New Board, and a New Labor Czar
3. Improper Influences
4. Repeal Taft-Hartley: A Tale of Missed Opportunities
5. Taft-Hartley Was Here to Stay
6. Bargaining National Labor Policy: A Misguided Process
7. The Eisenhower Board Remakes Labor Policy
8. Labor Law Reform, Employer Style
9. The New Frontier Labor Board: A Commitment to Industrial Democracy
10. A New Labor Policy: Taking Industrial Democracy Seriously
11. Irreconcilable Differences
12. Making the Law Favor Employers Again
13. Management Interests over Workers' Statutory Rights: The Final Irrelevance of National Labor Policy?
14. Conclusion


About the Author(s)

James A. Gross is Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. He is the author of several books, including The Reshaping of the National Labor Relations Board: National Labor Policy in Transition, 1937-1947, which won the Philip Taft Award for labor history. He is also the editor of Worker Rights as Human Rights.

Subject Categories

Labor Studies and Work
Political Science and Public Policy

In the series

Labor and Social Change, edited by Paula Rayman and Carmen Sirianni.

Labor and Social Change, edited by Paula Rayman and Carmen Sirianni, includes books on workplace issues like worker participation, quality of work life, shorter hours, technological change, and productivity, as well as union and community organizing and ethnographies of particular occupations.



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