Nathan Witt

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Nathan Witt
Madden witt fahy.jpg
Witt (center), with NLRB Chair J. Warren Madden (left) and NLRB Chief Counsel Charles Fahy in 1937
Born(1903-02-11)February 11, 1903
DiedFebruary 16, 1982(1982-02-16) (aged 79)
Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S.
EducationJD Harvard Law School
Alma mater New York University
Occupation Lawyer

Nathan Witt (February 11, 1903 – February 16, 1982), born Nathan Wittowsky, was an American lawyer who is best known as being the Secretary of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) from 1937 to 1940. He resigned from the NLRB after his communist political beliefs were exposed and he was accused of manipulating the Board's policies to favor his own political leanings. He was also investigated several times in the late 1940s and 1950s for being a spy for the Soviet Union in the 1930s. No evidence of espionage was ever found.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Lawyer legal professional who helps clients and represents them in a court of law

A lawyer or attorney is a person who practices law, as an advocate, attorney, attorney at law, barrister, barrister-at-law, bar-at-law, canonist, canon lawyer, civil law notary, counsel, counselor, counsellor, solicitor, legal executive, or public servant preparing, interpreting and applying law, but not as a paralegal or charter executive secretary. Working as a lawyer involves the practical application of abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve specific individualized problems, or to advance the interests of those who hire lawyers to perform legal services.

National Labor Relations Board

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent agency of the Federal government of the United States with responsibilities for enforcing U.S. labor law in relation to collective bargaining and unfair labor practices. Under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 it supervises elections for labor union representation and can investigate and remedy unfair labor practices. Unfair labor practices may involve union-related situations or instances of protected concerted activity. The NLRB is governed by a five-person board and a General Counsel, all of whom are appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate. Board members are appointed to five-year terms and the General Counsel is appointed to a four-year term. The General Counsel acts as a prosecutor and the Board acts as an appellate quasi-judicial body from decisions of administrative law judges.

Contents

Early life

Witt was born February 11, 1903, into a Jewish family on the Lower East Side of New York City. [1] [2] His father changed the family name to Witt shortly after his birth. [2] [3] His college education was interrupted several times by the need to earn a living, but he graduated in 1927 from New York University (NYU). It was at NYU (then "Washington Square College") that he met Lee Pressman. [1] [4]

Lower East Side Neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City

The Lower East Side, sometimes abbreviated as LES, is a neighborhood in the southeastern part of the New York City borough of Manhattan, roughly located between the Bowery and the East River, and Canal Street and Houston Street. Traditionally an immigrant, working class neighborhood, it began rapid gentrification in the mid-2000s, prompting the National Trust for Historic Preservation to place the neighborhood on their list of America's Most Endangered Places.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2018 population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 19,979,477 people in its 2018 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 22,679,948 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

New York University private research university in New York, NY, United States

New York University (NYU) is a private research university originally founded in New York City but now with campuses and locations throughout the world. Founded in 1831, NYU's historical campus is in Greenwich Village, New York City. As a global university, students can graduate from its degree-granting campuses in NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai, as well as study at its 12 academic centers in Accra, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Florence, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Paris, Prague, Sydney, Tel Aviv, and Washington, D.C.

Angered by what he perceived as the judicial mistreatment and illegal execution of the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927, he drove a taxi cab for two years to earn money for law school. [3] [5] He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1932, [1] [3] specializing in labor law. [1] He attended Harvard shortly after Alger Hiss had left the school, and he was a friend of Donald Hiss, a Harvard Law classmate and Alger Hiss's younger brother. [2]

Sacco and Vanzetti Italian American anarchist duo executed by Massachusetts

Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian-born American anarchists who were controversially convicted of murdering a guard and a paymaster during the April 15, 1920 armed robbery of the Slater and Morrill Shoe Company in Braintree, Massachusetts. Seven years later, they were electrocuted in the electric chair at Charlestown State Prison. Both men adhered to an anarchist movement.

Harvard Law School law school in Cambridge

Harvard Law School is one of the professional graduate schools of Harvard University located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1817, it is the oldest continuously operating law school in the United States and one of the most prestigious in the world. It is ranked first in the world by the QS World University Rankings and the ARWU Shanghai Ranking.

United States labor law Labor law in the USA

United States labor law sets the rights and duties for employees, labor unions, and employers in the United States. Labor law's basic aim is to remedy the "inequality of bargaining power" between employees and employers, especially employers "organized in the corporate or other forms of ownership association". Over the 20th century, federal law created minimum social and economic rights, and encouraged state laws to go beyond the minimum to favor employees. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 requires a federal minimum wage, currently $7.25 but higher in 28 states, and discourages working weeks over 40 hours through time-and-a-half overtime pay. There are no federal or state laws requiring paid holidays or paid family leave: the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 creates a limited right to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in larger employers. There is no automatic right to an occupational pension beyond federally guaranteed social security, but the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 requires standards of prudent management and good governance if employers agree to provide pensions, health plans or other benefits. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires employees have a safe system of work.

Government career

Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA)

Witt joined the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) in July 1933. [2] [6] His friend, Lee Pressman, recommended him for the job. [3] [7] [8] According to accusers Whittaker Chambers, Lee Pressman, and Elizabeth Bentley, Witt—along with John Abt, Charles Kramer, Alger Hiss, and Nathaniel Weyl, among others—were part of the so-called "Ware group," a clandestine Communist Party USA group formed by AAA economist Harold Ware. [9] [10] Chambers also alleged that Witt became leader of the group after Ware died in an automobile accident in August 1935. [9] [11] Pressman said the men merely met to study and discuss left-wing political theory, but Chambers described it as a Soviet-controlled cell dedicated to committing espionage. [9] Historian David M. Kennedy, assessing a half-century's evidence about the case, concurred with Pressman's assessment in 2001. [12]

Lee Pressman American spy

Lee Pressman was a labor attorney and earlier a US government functionary, publicly exposed in 1948 as a spy for Soviet intelligence during the mid-1930s, following his recent departure from Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) as a result of its purge of Communist Party members and fellow travelers. From 1936 to 1948, he represented the CIO and member unions in landmark collective bargaining deals with major corporations including General Motors and U.S. Steel. According to journalist Murray Kempton, anti-communists referred to him as "Comrade Big."

Whittaker Chambers Defected Communist spy

Whittaker Chambers, born Jay Vivian Chambers, was an American writer-editor and former Communist spy who in 1948 testified about Communist espionage, thereafter earning respect from the American Conservative movement. After early years as a Communist Party member (1925) and Soviet spy (1932–1938), he defected from the Soviet underground (1938) and joined Time magazine (1939–1948). Under subpoena in 1948, he testified about the Ware group in what became the Hiss case for perjury (1949–1950), all described in his 1952 memoir Witness. Afterwards, he worked briefly as a senior editor at National Review (1957–1959). President Ronald Reagan awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 1984.

Elizabeth Bentley spy

Elizabeth Terrill Bentley was an American spy and member of the Communist Party USA who served the Soviet Union from 1938 until 1945. In 1945, she defected from the Communist Party and Soviet intelligence by contacting the FBI and reporting on her activities.

There is widespread disagreement as to whether Witt was actually a Communist Party member or not. Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. observed that Chambers never provided evidence of Witt's party membership, just uncorroborated accusation. [13] Labor historian Leon Fink agrees. [14] Labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein, however, concluded that Witt "probably" was both a member of the Communist Party and held communist ideals, [15] but historian Ronald Schatz has asserted that Witt's communist sympathies did "not necessarily" mean Party membership. [16]

Nelson Lichtenstein is a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy. He is labor historian who has written also about 20th-century American political economy, including the automotive industry and Wal-Mart.

Witt never hid his communism and made it well-known to others from his earliest days in the government. [13] Chambers told Adolf A. Berle, then Assistant Secretary of State, about Witt's involvement in the "Ware group" in 1939. [8] Berle later said that "to be blunt about it, Mr. Witt's statements and sympathies were so well known that what Mr. Chambers had said added nothing to anything that wasn't public knowledge at the time." [8] William S. Leiserson, an NLRB Board member, knew Witt held communist beliefs almost from the first days after Leiserson joined the Board. [17] There is general agreement among professional historians that Witt's communist views did not affect his work and did not change the outcome of any policy choices made by government agencies. [13] [18]

Adolf A. Berle American diplomat

Adolf Augustus Berle Jr. was a lawyer, educator, author, and U.S. diplomat. He was the author of The Modern Corporation and Private Property, a groundbreaking work on corporate governance, and an important member of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt's "Brain Trust".

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)

Witt joined the legal staff of the "first" National Labor Relations Board in February 1934. [19] The National Labor Relations Act became law in June 1935, creating the "second" (permanent) NLRB. Witt was named the NLRB's assistant chief counsel in December 1935. [20] He exerted a great deal of influence in the Review Section, [21] the division of the NLRB which reviewed transcripts of NLRB hearings in labor disputes, revised transcripts to emphasize points of law, reviewed draft decisions of examiners for adherence to NLRB policy and law, and made oral reports to the three members of the Board. He chose (with the approval of the Board) the attorneys who staffed the Review Section, assigned cases to attorneys, and checked the drafts of Board decisions for technical accuracy. [21] Witt recommended Pressman for a job as a trial examiner at the NLRB in 1936. [19]

He was named Secretary (the highest nonappointed bureaucratic office at the NLRB) of the Board in October 1937. [21] The enormous workload and tremendous expansion in the number of personnel at the NLRB made Witt the agency's most powerful individual. [21] He attended Board meetings, took Board minutes, prepared and served Board decisions ordering union organizing elections, granted and denied requests for oral testimony from employers, oversaw each Board member's appointments and administered the office and oversaw the staff of 250. [21] He was the Board's chief liaison to Congress and oversaw preparation and submission of the Board's budget. [21] He was the sole supervisor of the Board's 22 regional offices, overseeing the roughly 225 personnel in the field. [22] He alone exercised the authority to authorize a hearing in the case of unfair labor practice (ULP) or election cases, and he alone reported on these cases (in oral, not written) fashion to the Board. [22] Almost all correspondence, telephone contact, and telegraph contact between the regional offices and the Board passed through his office first, and his office collected nearly all the information coming in from the field regarding elections, ULPs, settlements, strikes, enforcement issues, informational inquiries, and the development of new policies. [23]

Witt's communism was the cause of much dispute within the NLRB and eventually led to his resignation as Board Secretary. The NLRB was under intense legal, media, congressional, and public criticism in 1938 and 1939 for what many people saw as overreaching. [24] In July 1939, the House of Representatives created the Special Committee to Investigate the National Labor Relations Board (popularly known as the "Smith Committee" after its chairman, conservative Democratic Rep. Howard W. Smith) to investigate the NLRB. [25] The Smith Committee received testimony from hundreds of witnesses, conducted a nationwide survey regarding the impact of the NLRB, and questioned NLRB officials at length about the agency's alleged anti-business and anti-American Federation of Labor/pro-Congress of Industrial Organizations biases. [25] In December 1939, Board Member Leiserson testified that he believed Witt held too much power at the NLRB, that Witt had influenced the NLRB's decisions in favor of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and that Witt's far-left views were unacceptable. [26] Leiserson testified that he had repeatedly voiced his concerns to Board Chairman J. Warren Madden, but that Madden and Board member Edwin S. Smith had allied to prevent any attempt to rein in or fire Witt. [26] Later testimony revealed that an internal NLRB study had backed Leiseron and that Madden and Smith had suppressed it, [27] and that Witt had assisted Madden in secretly building public and expert support for the NLRB (expending federal funds in lobbying against Congress). [28] Madden attempted to defend Witt. [29] By September 1940, the Smith Committee was accusing other NLRB employees, such as chief economist David J. Saposs, of harboring communist ideas. [30] It was clear that neither Madden nor Witt could continue at the NLRB much longer. President Franklin D. Roosevelt named University of Chicago economics professor Harry A. Millis to be the new chairman of the NLRB in November 1940 after Madden's term on the Board expired in August. [31] Witt resigned from the NLRB on November 18, 1940, although his resignation was not accepted until after Millis was sworn in on November 27. [32] He ended his work at the Board on December 10. [33] Later that month, Witt joined Board member Edwin S. Smith, former Board associate general counsel Thomas I. Emerson, and four other NLRB attorneys in denying Smith Committee testimony that they were members of the Communist Party or had followed the CPUSA line in their work. [34]

Private sector career

After leaving the NLRB, Witt joined with Harold I. Cammer (founder of the National Lawyers Guild) to form the law partnership of Witt & Cammer. Later joined by Lee Pressman to become Pressman, Witt & Cammer, the firm became one of the most prominent left-wing labor law firms in the country. [35] He briefly represented the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (which would later become the United Steel Workers of America) in 1941. [36] Bella Abzug started her career at Pressman, Witt & Cammer.

In early 1948, Witt's clients included the Greater New York CIO Council. As their counsel, he spoke to the press over allegations that FBI investigators were intimidating local CIO offices. "There could not possibly be any technical violation in 1948 except for the Isacson election and the FBI agents made clear they were not investigating that." [37]

In 1950, Witt and partner Cammer defended the New York City Teachers Union (their client) against accusations from William Jansen, superintendent of New York City schools. [38]

In 1955, he left the firm to become legal counsel to the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. [39] When the union merged with and became a division of the United Steel Workers in the 1960s, Witt was retained as associate counsel for the new division. [39]

Witt was involved in numerous labor union disputes and labor-related free speech cases in the 1940s and 1950s. He represented members of the College Teachers Union (a predecessor to the modern Professional Staff Congress union at the City College of New York) when they were accused in 1941 of being communists by the Rapp-Coudert Committee. [40] He briefly served as legal counsel to the International Fur & Leather Workers Union in 1944 in a major due process case. [41] He was the lead attorney for the Seamen's Joint Action Committee, a CIO-backed insurgent group which allied with three CIO longshoremen's unions to challenge International Longshoremen's Association president Joseph Ryan. [42] He also represented several members of the Teachers Union accused of being communists in 1950 and 1952. [43] (At the time, the Teachers Union was a local union representing New York City public schools teachers. It had been ejected by the American Federation of Teachers for being communist-controlled, and in the 1950s, it was part of the United Public Workers of America. It would later rejoin the American Federation of Teachers in the early 1960s and merge with another local to become the United Federation of Teachers.)

According to David A. Morse (1907–199) during a 1977 interview, in 1949, who had lately been general counsel of the NLRB and was then U.S. delegate to the International Labor Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO), said:

At about that time, I think there were all these questions being raised about certain people in the Labor Board; not so much about their qualifications as their political orientation and what Paul Herzog wrote there may have been as a result of that. I remember there was this chap, Nat Witt, who had been head of the unit at the NLRB, that was responsible for the examiners. I recall that he had been accused from time to time by outside groups for being much tied in with Lee Pressman and the two of them were very much tied in with the Communist Party. [44]

In 1950, the U.S. State Department revoked singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson's passport as a means of preventing him from traveling overseas and continuing his left-wing political work. Witt was Robeson's first attorney and initiated Robeson's eight-year battle to regain his passport. [45]

Allegations as communist

On August 3, 1948, in testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Whittaker Chambers named Witt as a member of the "Ware Group." [46] When called before a one-man subcommittee of HUAC (whose sole member was Representative Richard Nixon) on August 20, Witt denied knowing "J. Peters" (ostensibly the head of the Soviet Union's political operations in the United States), Chambers, or Alger Hiss. [47] Along with Abt and Pressman, Witt invoked First, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights when refusing to answer HUAC questions. [47] Lee Pressman, also testifying that day, forced the subcommittee to admit that it was not accusing the men of espionage but rather being communists seeking to infiltrate the government (which was not a crime). [47] A few weeks later, former Daily Worker editor turned anti-communist Louis F. Budenz testified that the CPUSA considered Witt a member. [48] Federal law enforcement officials debated prosecuting Witt in late 1948—not for being a communist, a spy, or for committing espionage, but under a contempt of Congress charge for asserting his Fifth Amendment rights before the committee and refusing to answer its questions. [49] No prosecution was ever made. Witt later testified in February 1949 before a federal grand jury investigating illegal CPUSA activities in the United States. [50]

Testifying again before HUAC in 1950, Lee Pressman named Witt as a member of the CPUSA and the "Ware group." [51] Speaking before a HUAC subcommittee on September 1, Witt once more denied that he had engaged in espionage, again invoked his Fifth Amendment privileges when asked about his CPUSA and "Ware group" membership, and refused to say whether he knew Chambers, Bentley, or scores of others. [52]

In February 1952, writer Nathaniel Weyl named Witt as a "Ware group" member before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security. [53]

Witt's last appearance before Congress came in 1955. Harvey Matusow, former CPUSA member, had previously testified before Congress against his former comrades. However, in 1954, Matusow published a book, False Witness, in which he recanted his anti-communist testimony. In April 1955, the Subcommittee on Internal Security learned that Witt had obtained a cash donation from the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union to help Matusow get his book published. [54] Witt was called before the Subcommittee on Internal Security on April 18 to testify about his involvement in the Matusow affair. Witt freely admitted his legal role in obtaining the publication fee. [54]

Senator James O. Eastland, subcommittee chair, then implied there was something suspicious about Witt's real name being Wittowsky. [54] Witt engaged in a shouting match with Eastland, accusing the senator of antisemitism. [54] Witt denied he had anything to hide. Eastland demanded to know about his membership in the CPUSA and the "Ware group," and Witt invoked his Fifth Amendment rights again. [54] When a subcommittee member asked Witt if he had sent white lilies to Chambers (implying that this constituted a death threat), Witt categorically denied doing so. [54]

Personal life

Nathan Witt married Anna Laura Phillips on June 19, 1930. They had two children, Hal born about 1937 and Leda born in 1939.

Later life

He retired as associate counsel for the miners' division of the United Steel Workers in 1975. [39]

Witt died on February 16, 1982, at Rockefeller University Hospital in Manhattan in New York City. [39]

See also

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  42. Horne, "CIO Backs Rebels," New York Times, October 14, 1945; Resner, "Owners Are Silent," New York Times, October 15, 1945; Horne, "Warren Is Beaten in Longshore Feud," New York Times, October 20, 1945; "Deadlock on Pier Contract Seen," New York Times, October 24, 1945; "Pier Insurgents Win Court Order Blocking Ryan on New Contract," New York Times, October 26, 1945; "Demand for 3-Man Arbitration Panel Snarls Efforts to Settle Longshoremen's Dispute," New York Times, November 3, 1945; "Dock Workers Win 20% Pay Increase," New York Times, January 1, 1946.
  43. "Jansen Questions 6 More Teachers," New York Times, April 25, 1950; "Board in a Tumult Over School Cases," New York Times, May 10, 1950; Illson, "Board in Tumult Over 8 Teachers," New York Times, February 8, 1952; "8 Teachers Deny Board's Charges," New York Times, February 21, 1952.
  44. Morse, David A.; Fuchs, James R. (30 July 1977). "Oral Interview with David A. Morse (2)". Harry S. Truman Library & Museum. p. 100. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  45. "Robeson Asks Court to Lift Passport Ban," United Press International, December 20, 1950.
  46. "Two Hiss Brothers Deny Red Charges," New York Times, August 4, 1948.
  47. 1 2 3 Trussell, C. P. (21 August 1948). "Pressman, Abt, Witt Refuse to Answer Spy Ring Questions". New York Times.
  48. Morris, "Communists Held Hiss to Be Member, Budenz Testifies," New York Times, August 27, 1948.
  49. Phillips, "Washington Debating Value of 'Spy Trials'," New York Times, September 12, 1948; "Prosecution Aimed at 5 in Red Inquiry," United Press International, October 3, 1948.
  50. "Nathan Witt Is Heard," New York Times, February 24, 1949.
  51. Trussell, "Pressman Names Three in New Deal As Reds With Him," New York Times, August 29, 1950.
  52. Trussell, "Abt, Witt, Kramer Defy House Group," New York Times, September 2, 1950.
  53. "Writer Calls Hiss Red Cell Member," New York Times, February 20, 1952.
  54. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Baker, "Aid for Matusow on Book Depicted," New York Times, April 19, 1955.

Bibliography

Further Reading