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1950

Truman orders army to seize control of railroads

On this day in 1950, in anticipation of a crippling strike by railroad workers, President Harry S. Truman issues an executive order putting America’s railroads under the control of the U.S. Army, as of August 27, at 4:00 pm.

Truman had already intervened in another railway dispute when union employees of the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee Railway Company threatened to strike in 1948. This time, however, Truman’s intervention was critical, as he had just ordered American troops into a war against North Korean communist forces in June. Since much of America’s economic and defense infrastructure was dependent upon the smooth functioning of the railroads, the 1950 strike proposed by two enormous labor organizations, the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen and the Order of Railway Conductors, posed an even greater threat. In July, Truman ordered the formation of an emergency board to negotiate a settlement between the railroad unions and owners. The unions ultimately rejected the board’s recommendations and, by August 25, seemed determined to carry out the strike.

In a public statement that day, Truman insisted that “governmental seizure [of the railroads] is imperative” for the protection of American citizens as well as “essential to the national defense and security of the Nation.” He used the same justification for seizing control of steel plants when the United Steel Workers union struck later in the year.

The railroad strike lasted for 21 months. Finally, in May 1952, the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, the Order of Railway Conductors and another union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, accepted the Truman administration’s terms and went back to work.

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