The Myth of Labor Union Victimhood

The Myth of Labor Union Victimhood

In a prior essay I endeavored to dispel the widely-held myth of “government by injunction”—the notion that state and federal courts routinely (and improperly) favored employers in labor disputes. The actual facts strongly suggest otherwise. As written by progressive academics, the history of labor unions in America is as full of fiction as Aesop's Fables or the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales. Another labor law myth is that brutal employers, often with the assistance of private militias in the form of Pinkertons or other detective agencies, commonly suppressed peaceful concerted action by employees through unprovoked violence.

While it is true that many labor conflicts were violent—especially during the tumultuous late 1800s and early 1900s, at the peak of the so-called Gilded Age—labor unions were responsible for most of the violence. Violent conflict was most common when replacement workers (or “scabs”) tried to cross union picket lines—as they had a legal right to. The very term “scab” expresses the extraordinary contempt that union sympathizers had for workers who did not share their collective goals—that is, who were willing to work on terms that the union refused. The vilification of “scabs,” including the incitement of violence against them, is an essential element of unionist lore.

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