The Labor Myth of Government by Injunction

The Labor Myth of Government by Injunction

The subject of labor law, which I practiced for 30 years, has spawned many myths, none more widely embraced than the canard that, prior to passage of the Norris-LaGuardia Act in 1932, federal courts routinely issued injunctions to restrain peaceful labor disputes between employees and their employer. According to 20th century trade unionists, “labor injunctions,” the focus of then-professor Felix Frankfurter's fabled 1930 book, were a tool of capitalist oppression and industrial tyranny. In New Deal mythology, the Norris-LaGuardia Act, which withdrew jurisdiction from federal courts to issue injunctions in most labor disputes, represents—along with the 1935 Wagner Act—the “Magna Carta” of organized labor.

Proponents of the Norris-LaGuardia Act claim that it was necessary to prevent the issuance of abusive injunctions restricting peaceful union activities. Critics view the law differently—the first step down the road to granting legal privileges to unions and abrogating employers' longstanding legal rights. The notion that federal courts were one-sided in issuing injunctions—and that peaceful picketing was routinely enjoined–has been accepted as gospel.  But was the epoch of “government by injunction” myth or fact?

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