Labor law: essential background to New Deal and later

This started some time ago with me with the (on the face of it) bizarre revelation (I'm a latecomer!) that the AFL had opposed the legislation wich eventually became the FLSA.

For filling in the background to the development of the modern system of labor law, I can thoroughly recommend William Forbath's Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement (from 1991(!)).

In just 170-odd pages, it clearly traces the arc of interactions between labor and the law from the days of the Knights of Labor through to Norris-LaGuardia.

Most particularly, it explains the stance of the AFL towards labor, not only under Gompers but under William Green, too. (Green was the head honcho during the New Deal years.)

Basically, the unions had got such a battering by way of injunctions in the 1890-1910 period - they started, I learn, as an adjunct to the courts' jurisdiction over railroads in receivership - that their ideology turned to pure capitalism.

The money quote (p131 of Forbath) from Gompers (writing in 1901) (elipsis in Forbath, emphasis in original):

The whole gospel of the labor movement is summed up in one phrase...freedom of contract - organized labor not only accepts, but, insists upon, equality of rights and of freedom.

Going into the New Deal, the position of the AFL was still opposition of regulation of wages and hours, except for those of women and children (who were deemed beyond the help of the unions).

Update [2007-4-18 16:58:26 by skeptic06]:

There's a well-footnoted paper (PDF) freely available online that covers some of the same ground as the Forbath book: Parrying with the Courts: Analyzing the Lochner Era through the Eyes of Organized Labor by Allison Martens.

She argues that there are two distinct strands of activism in favor of labor law reform:

The first strand, the AFL/Gompers brand, was directed to eliminating the legal constraints (primarily the labor injunction) which hobbled labor's rights to organize and take action.

The second strand, associated notably with Frances Perkins and the textile trades unions (notably the ILGWU under David Dubinsky and the ACW under Sidney Hillman) was directed to government regulation of labor relations and imposition of minimum standards on wages, hours and similar issues.

The first strand got its legislative reward in the Wagner Act, the second in the FLSA.

(Though the Wagner Act involved just the sort of government intervention that Gompers had loathed: and, once labor relations were regulated, the rules could be skewed in business's favor (as they were with Taft-Hartley).)

Tags: ACW, AFL, David Dubinsky, Frances Perkins, ILGWU, Labor History, Labor Law, Samuel Gompers, Sidney Hillman, Wagner Act, William Green (all tags)



Re: Labor law: essential background to

Their are significant differences between the comparative labor movements in the US and Europe (it's in focus of one of my midterms, which is the reason that I've been sort of scattered lately.)  

In the US, the labor movement was predicated on the presumption that it is an economic matter, and early on the liberal economic model was accepted.  The CIO changed this somewhat in the 1930's, but there's still backlash against the presentation of labor actions as fundamentally demands for politically guaranteed rights.

In Germany, there's a discourse of industrial democracy started by Fritz Napthali, in which the political process of socialism is translated through the actions of labor as a social movement.  That's where codetermination, the mandated inclusion of elected labor representatives on corporate boards comes from.

We need more diaries on labor issues and history.

by ManfromMiddletown 2007-04-18 07:56AM | 0 recs
I agree

It's a fascinating area about which I know next to nothing worth knowing. (I'm trying to put that right!)

And it seems odd, given the importance of the organizing power of unions to future Dem electoral success, that there's relatively little in the lefty sphere on union matters. (That's my impression, anyway.)

by skeptic06 2007-04-18 12:27PM | 0 recs
Re: I agree

I really question whether adopting a platform for elected works councils within large entreprises (more than 25 full time employees) to provide representation on what used to be called shopfloor issues is a good idea for the Democratic party.

by ManfromMiddletown 2007-04-18 06:42PM | 0 recs


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