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“Iron-fisted Breach,” drawing by Jerry Costello, Knickerbocker News, April 23, 1952

When a labor-management dispute in the steel industry reached an impasse in 1952, a nationwide steelworkers’ strike seemed imminent. Rather than request an 80-day injunction under the Taft-Hartley Act, which he so disliked, President Harry S. Truman decided to seize control of the country’s steel for war production. A cartoon reflected widespread criticism of Truman’s action.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

“Iron-fisted Breach,” drawing by Jerry Costello, Knickerbocker News, April 23, 1952

Defining Presidential Power

As the nation recovered from World War II, labor strikes abounded. Believing labor unrest could destabilize the economy, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which empowered the president to prevent strikes that affected national security. President Harry S. Truman eschewed the act when a steelworkers’ union threatened to strike during the Korean War. Claiming executive emergency powers, Truman seized the steel mills, but the Supreme Court ruled that he exceeded presidential powers conferred by Congress and the Constitution.

During the Korean War, the judicial and legislative branches checked executive power when the Supreme Court relied on the Taft-Hartley Labor Relations Act to restrain President Harry S. Truman’s seizure of steel mills.