Labor Relations Laws and Communism
The power of labor unions in the United States had always been dependent on laws that either limited or supported their efforts. The growth of labor unions in World War II led some to fear their influence and call for new legislation. In 1947, the Labor Management Relations Act, known as the Taft-Hartley Act, was passed to amend the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. The act set limitations on unions and protected individual employees from what Congress perceived as unfair practices by unions. Unions opposed the limits the act created, especially the provision that made it illegal to form closed shops.
One provision in the Taft-Hartley Act emerged from beliefs that these powerful unions were controlled by Communist Party members loyal to the Soviet Union. The law stated that labor union officers must take an oath that they were not supporters of the Communist Party. This law spurred efforts in unions to purge their organizations of communists. By 1950, Communist Party members, who had once been numerous in Congress of Industrial Organizations unions, had been driven out. The ban on Communists in labor union leadership remained in effect until it was repealed in 1965.
Mollie’s Break from Communism
The priorities and needs of Mollie’s life changed dramatically upon becoming a mother. The irregular income and erratic requirements of Mollie and her husband’s involvement in the Communist Party did not provide a steady life for Steve. After spending two years in hiding, Mollie decided to change her path. She rented an apartment and pursued a new career as a printer.
As her commitment to staying in the Communist Party waned, the opportunity came for her to join the Chicago Typographical Union. Because of the Taft-Hartley Act and the Red Scare, Mollie knew that she could not be welcomed into the union and fully participate while associated with the Communist Party. In 1962, Mollie ended her membership in the Communist Party after nearly 30 years.
Although she still agreed with some of ideas of the Communist Party, Mollie believed she could accomplish more for workers and for women through dedication to labor unions. Mollie left the Communist Party, but she continued her support of radical left-wing politics.
James West remained dedicated to the Communist Party. This and other disagreements led to the couple’s separation and eventual divorce in 1969. From this time, Mollie faced the challenges of raising and supporting her son alone.
Header image: Mollie West with young Steve West