Criminalizing the Rights of Labors

Criminalizing the Rights of Labors

There was a time when trade unionists despaired of finding justice in the American courts. Consider the landmark cases: In re Debs (1894), handing federal judges unlimited power to restrain labor activity by means of injunctions; Loewe v. Lawlor (1908), exposing trade unions to crippling antitrust suits; Hitchman v. Mitchell (1917), prohibiting them from organizing workers who had signed contracts (the so-called yellow dog contract) waiving their right to join unions as a con employment; American Steel Foundries v. Tri-City (1921), declaring picketing to be inherently violent and subjecting it to draconian court regulation. In fact, the United States had very little labor law as such; what it had was judgemade law applying mostly common-law doctrine to the relations between employers and workers. The result was a deep, almost systemic insult to the concept of justice for workers, so much so as to make defiance of the courts a tenet of American trade unionism. If judges acted unfairly, declared Samuel Gompers, “contempt of court” was “obedience to law.”

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Duggan | University of California Press Gardels