Industrial Terrorism and the Unmaking of New Deal Labor Law


The passage of the Wagner (National Labor Relations) Act of 1935 represented an unprecedented effort to guarantee American workers basic labor rights--the rights to organize unions, to provoke meaningful collective bargaining, and to strike. Previous attempts by workers and government administrators to realize these rights in the workplace met with extraordinary, often violent, resistance from powerful industrial employers, whose repressive measures were described by government officials as a system of industrial terrorism. Although labor scholars have acknowledged these practices and paid some attention to the way they initially frustrated labor rights and influenced the jurisprudence and politics of labor relations in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the literature has neither adequately described the extent and intensity of this phenomenon nor fully explored its effects. This Article remedies that shortcoming. Focusing on three industries where the practice of industrial terrorism was especially well developed and its influence especially pronounced, this Article shows how the practitioners of industrial terrorism and their allies in Congress were able to turn the legacy of violence and disorder, which they authored by their violent resistance to the Wagner Act, into the basis of an extraordinary counterattack on labor rights. It shows how this attack culminated in 1947 with the enactment of the profoundly reactionary Taft-Hartley Act and remade the landscape of American labor relations

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