Republicans, Democrats, and Labor Law in the United States
Unions Involved in Political Parties and the Resulting Legislation
Image: Unknown Artist
August 24, 2011
August 24, 2011
The Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932
"Man can have all the glories of the earth, but he must not become conscious of himself. The State, society, and moral laws all sing the same refrain: Man can have all the glories of the earth, but he must not become conscious of himself."
"Anarchism: What It Really Stands For"
In the United States, all major labor laws have been sponsored by the members of the Republican Party. This includes acts that have been passed in favor of protecting the worker's rights, as well as those that constrict the activity of unions. This has been the basic history for the past century in the United States, beginning with the Norris-LaGuardia passed in 1932 and ending with the Taft-Hartley Act passed in 1947. The Democratic Party has only created laws that clarified Republican legislation, such as the National Labor Relations Board Act of 1935. These three laws make up the substance upon which all US labor law is based.
The Norris-LaGuardia act protects workers' right to strike, to form unions, to pool funds in a union for strike benefits, assisting those involved in strikes, and speaking out publicly about the conditions of work or the strike. [*1] Its most useful feature is the prohibition of courts from ordering workers back to strike by use of police, violence, and military force. [*2] [*3] Before this law, it was commonplace for the troops to be rolled out during any major labor dispute, whether the Pullman Strike of 1892 to the Seattle General Strike of 1919.
This law, which intended to protect the union worker from government and capitalist brutality, was sponsored by two Republicans: Senator George W. Norris and Representative Fiorello H. La Guardia. When it was passed, the House of Representatives had two more Republicans than the Democrats, and the Senate had exactly one more Republican than the Democrats. [*4] The president, Herbert Hoover, was also a member of the Republican Party.
The National Labor Relations Act of 1935
"The nature of State power is everywhere identical: it tends to annihilate the freedom of the individual, turning him, spiritually, into a slave, and physically into a lackey, before putting him to use for the filthiest tasks. There is no such thing as harmless power."
--Nestor Makhno, 1931
"The ABC of the Revolutionary Anarchist"
In 1935, the congress and the house of representatives took a sharp turn. Franklin Roosevelt, the Democratic Party member, was elected president to the United States in 1933. The Democrats numbered 313 in the House of Representatives to 117 Republicans, and they numbered 59 to 39 Republican counterparts in the Senate. In one single election term, it went from a mild grasp of the government by the Republicans, to complete domination of all branches of government by members of the Democratic Party. [*5]
In order to gain the vote of organized labor, the Democratic Party passed a bill in favor of organized labor. It provided absolutely no rights that differed in any meaningful way from the Norris-LaGuardia Act, while at the same time providing some restrictions to the labor movement. This was the National Labor Relations Act (NLR) of 1935, sometimes called the Wagner Act, after its sponsor, a Democratic Party member. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was the dominant organization of unions at the time, and it had been supporting presidential candidates of the Democratic Party as early as 1912. [*6]
The NLR Act created a very destructive device: the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The Norris-LaGuardia Act prohibited courts from ordering workers back to labor when they wanted to quit. But the NLRB was created to replace the courts, and it was given the power to order courts to order workers not to strike. Not only that, but as time went on, the NLRB has grown conservative. There is no public election in terms of who serves on the board, or any restrictions on who performs such duties. And it has increasingly shown signs of conservatism and anti-unionism.
Workers who are fired from their jobs for voting for the union, for instance, are often still disqualified from voting according to the NLRB, even though they're protected in law by this. [*7] In a careful study of NLRB decisions over several decades, researcher Michael Goldfield discovered that the NLRB almost always favors the employer. The NLRB doesn't enforce the law; in practice, it authorizes violations of union law and then collects fines. Even economics textbooks issued to universities have given an fairly honest representation of the position of the National Labor Relations Board...
"Gradually after 1952, the Board came to be staffed with Eisenhower appointees, who were noticeably more conservative as to political philosophy. It is probable, however, that the labor or employer groups respectively, influence the tenor of such administrative agencies largely through their ability to influence the choice of the man (President) who appoints the members of such agencies, rather than through their ability to influence the appointments directly." [*8]
The 1932 Norris-LaGuardia Act passed by the a Republican-dominated legislature protected workers; the 1935 NLRB Act passed by a Democrat-dominated legislature protected capitalists. Both of them are worded the same and offer the same guarantees to the workers. But the NLRB creates an essentially new and autocratic branch of the government that is certainly not representative of the people in any legal sense, yet it rules over them. The Labor Relations Board is a theoretical defense of the workers, but like the state-run unions of the Soviet Union and China, its practice is actually the oppression of the workers.
One other difference should be noted between the Norris-LaGuardia Act and the NLRB. The Norris-LaGuardia Act applies to all workers, everywhere, under any jurisdiction, for whatever purposes. The NLRB divided and sub-divided the working-class into different components, excluding some and accepting others. The agricultural workers were excluded, for instance. The primary supporter of the bill among labor was the American Federation of Labor, and since this union refuses to deal with "industrial workers" and "unskilled manual labor," there was no need to cover agricultural workers. Servants were also excluded. Other groups were excluded, as well...
"...[this law] shall not include any individual employed as an agricultural laborer, or in the domestic service of any family or person at his home, or any individual employed by his parent or spouse, or any individual having the status of an independent contractor, or any individual employed as a supervisor, or any individual employed by an employer subject to the Railway Labor Act [45 U.S.C. 151 et seq.], as amended from time to time, or by any other person who is not an employer as herein defined." [*9]
The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947
"In the awakening resistance to both [Capitalism and Sovietism], the workers are beginning to perceive that they can fight successfully only by adhering to and proclaiming the exactly opposite principle--the principle of devoted collaboration of free and equal personalities. Theirs is the task of finding out the way in which the principle can be carried out in their practical action."
--Anton Pannekoek, 1946
"The Failure of the Working Class"
Another decade would pass before the final piece of significant, labor legislation would be enacted in the United States. This would be the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, or sometimes called the Labor Management Relations Act. The effects of the bill were widespread and numerous. Sympathy strikes, or the act of our union striking with another union to help them, are prohibited. To quote labor economist Chester A. Morgan...
"Another form of secondary boycott is associated with the term hot cargo. This refers to the refusal of a group of workers to handle or work on materials which have been shipped from a 'struck' plant [where union-members have been replaced by scabs]. Finally, the secondary boycott may consist of a refusal by workers to work on materials which have been previously processed or semiprocessed by nonunion labor.... while it is lawful for an employer to enlist aid from fellow employers, the union is denied by law the right to seek aid from other unions via the secondary boycott." [*10]
A prohibition against "secondary boycotts," or sympathy strikes, necessarily means the prohibition of the General Strike or any type of mass, anti-Capitalist strike among organized labor. Other types of strikes have been forbidden, such as a strike for a closed shop, or requiring an employer to hire only union members, [*11] as well as "wildcat strikes," or strikes against the rule of pro-business unions like the AFL. [*12] Of course, the American Federation of Labor was a big, long-time supporter of the Democratic Party. Their ideal was "craft unionism," or unions only for highly skilled workers, [*13] [*14] and therefore, tactics like sympathy strikes have never been used by them, since there would never be enough skilled workers to be involved.
Congress at this time, however, was showing a majority of Republicans: 246 against 188 Democrats in the House, and 51 against 45 Democrats in the Senate. The Democrats did have one advantage: the presidency of Harry Truman. When the Taft-Hartley Bill passed, Truman vetoed it. [*15] It would therefore require a two-thirds majority to override the veto, which it was able to obtain. Showing his true spirit, Truman used the law more than twelve times to repress unions during his presidency, crushing one of the most significant steel strikes in the country. [*16] This was the president supported by the American Federation of Labor. But the steel strike was a strike by industrial workers, not craft workers, so the AFL had no problem in watching it be choked to death by the state.
Besides, how could the Republican Party be expected to oppose a bill limiting organized labour? To quote Richard M. Ebeling, "Since 1990, labor unions have contributed over $667 million in election campaigns in the United States, of which $614 million or 92 percent went to support Democratic candidates." [*17] If organized labour is insistent on paying union dues to support a political party that never looked after their interests anyway, why should the Republican Party be any different?
After all, organized labour poured its money into the bank accounts of the enemy, the Democratic Party. What kind of reciprocal behavior should they expect when the party they support, the Democrats, have done little or nothing to advance labor-organizing rights? The Republicans, in supporting a bill limiting worker's rights, were doing only what every Democratic candidate had done in the past, but with union funding. Any other possible reaction would have been out of the scope of the game of politics -- which is the game the biggest unions were playing.
Multiple provisions of the Taft-Hartley Bill have since been repealed, but the law itself still applies and it has even been used by president George W. Bush in 2002 to order workers back to their plants when they refused to work. [*18] Naturally, the law is simply called "the slave-labor bill" in union circles, due to the lack of choice it grants workers who would like to quit. [*19]
Since its passage, the AFL has constantly supported Democratic candidates upon the false promises of repealing the Taft-Hartley Act. [*20] After pouring more than a million dollars into the coffers of the Democratic Party, the Democrats came back with a majority the very next election in 1949, with a significant majority. 263 Democratic Representatives to 171 Republican Representatives and 54 Democratic Senators to 42 Republican Senators. [*21] Even with this significant majority, Congress ignored the pleas of the unions who paid for their campaign funds, and the issue has been forever side-stepped by the Democratic Party, to this very day.
The Republican and Democratic Parties Today
"Are the self-owned or unique perchance a party? How could they be self-owned if they were such as belonged to a party?
"Or is one to hold with no party? In the very act of joining them and entering their circle one forms a union with them that lasts as long as party and I pursue one and the same goal. But today I still share the party's tendency, as by tomorrow I can do so no longer and I become 'untrue' to it. The party has nothing binding for me, and I do not have respect for it; if it no longer pleases me, I become its foe."
--Max Stirner, 1845
"The Ego and Its Own," Part 2, Chapter II, Section 2
These are three acts are the most significant in American Labor Law: the Norris-LaGuardia Act, the NLRB Act, and the Taft-Hartley Act. There have been other insignificant laws passed, and their role has generally been to clarify, reinforce, or amend sections of these other three laws.
Today, the general opinion is that the Democratic Party is friendly toward labor and that the Republican Party is unfriendly toward labor. [*22] [*23] Today, for instance, the Democratic Party is considered the protector of the unions in Wisconsin, where Republican Party members were trying to remove protections of collective bargaining for state employees. [*24] The Left-leaning Christian Science Monitor wrote, "Wisconsin state Senate Republicans took the extraordinary -- and possibly illegal -- step of rushing a vote that stripped unions of collective bargaining power." [*25]
And wait -- Why not make a general strike against the conditions that would strip unions of their rights? Well, the Democratic Party technically made that illegal, by overriding Truman's veto in 1947. What about a boycott of the goods from those who state industries that are using scab labor? That, too, was also made illegal by laws passed by the Democratic Party. Secondary picketing, strikes against union bosses, strikes against company-sponsored unions, all of these have been prohibited by the Democratic Party. Yet, today, every single news agency is painting them up as a defender of labor.
The most important legal rights workers have today in the United States were granted to us from a Republican-dominated Congress. The worst restrictions imposed upon us were passed by a Democratic-minority against a presidential veto. In fact, the unions wouldn't have to resort to asking their legislatures for this right or that right, if they had the power themselves to resist the state's unlawful aggressions. If sympathy strikes and hot cargo agreements were not outlawed, the union could do for itself what the Democratic Party would never dream of doing for it.
As far as the jockying around of "bargaining rights" for "state-workers only," it is like the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 -- the Democrats aren't guaranteeing rights for every worker, but just those workers whose unions happen to donate to the party! Are the Democrats of Wisconsin fighting for the right of sympathy strikes among agricultural workers, an absolute essential to getting unions into this otherwise non-union group? No, they're not. Are they fighting for workers who are exploited into state minimum wage rates as low as $2.33? [*26] No, they're fighting for useless professors and bigoted teachers whose salaries are at least ten times that, and only for those middle-class workers.
At best, the Democratic Party was fighting over a few measly crumbs, symbolic enough to make them look like a pro-labor party. Yet, they only have a history of passing the most anti-union legislation in the country.
The history of American Labor Law demonstrates how governments everywhere are easily corrupted, controlled, and dominated by Capitalist interests. It shows how party politics, like any other form of coercion and violence, is based on exclusion and force -- it establishes itself on deceit and grows through oppression. But like any problem, it leads us to solutions. Labor organizers, those who genuinely want to create a solidarity throughout the entire working class, must know that their enemy is the political party, in whatever form it may take. Political parties that appear to support the worker are only good at appearances.
"The masses must awaken to the fact that if they would be free they must seize upon the means of education and use them to light up the dark places in which they grope like cavemen, and march out into the great free world which awaits them."
--Eugene V. Debs, 1915
"The School for the Masses"
*1. "The Basic Labor Laws (United States of America)," by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Mon, 05/09/2005, IWW.org.
*2. "§101. Issuance of restraining orders and injunctions; limitation; public policy," US Law, United States Code, 2009 Edition, Title 29 - LABOR, Mar. 23, 1932, ch. 90, §1, 47 Stat. 70., GPO.gov . Quote: "No court of the United States, as defined in this chapter, shall have jurisdiction to issue any restraining order or temporary or permanent injunction in a case involving or growing out of a labor dispute, except in a strict conformity with the provisions of this chapter; nor shall any such restraining order or temporary or permanent injunction be issued contrary to the public policy declared in this chapter."
*3. "Chapter 6—jurisdiction Of Courts In Matters Affecting Employer And Employee," US Law, published by the Legal Information Institute (LII) at Cornell University Law School, Law.Cornell.edu.
*4. "Political Divisions of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, On Opening Day, 34th-106th Congresses, 1855-Present," by Robert Griffith, published by the American University of Washington, D.C., American.edu.
*5. "Political Divisions of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, On Opening Day, 34th-106th Congresses, 1855-Present," by Robert Griffith, published by the American University of Washington, D.C., American.edu.
*6. "Labor Economics," by Chester A. Morgan, Third Edition, published by Dorsey Press and Business Publications, Inc, Austin, Texas, USA, 1970, page 510, chapter 17: "External Activities of Bargaining Agents," Section: "Political Activities," Sub-Section: "Political Activities of Unions: Historical Note." Quote: "As a matter of fact, the political activities of the AFL were greatly stimulated in 1906, when it received no satisfaction from Congress relative to the "Bill of Grievances" which the organization had presented to Congress in that year. Among other things, this bill protested the failure of Congress to enact an 8-hour day law, the abuse of the injunction in labor disputes, and the alleged perversion of antitrust laws. As a result of its rebuff by Congress, the AFL campaigned vigorously in the elections of 1906, 1908, and 1910 before publicly supporting Woodrow Wilson in 1912."
*7. "The Decline of Organized Labor in the United States," by Michael Goldfield, 1975, published by the University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London, ISBN: 0-226-30102-8, page 107, chapter 6: "Possible Explanations for the Decline." Quote:
The net effect of these legal barriers to union organizing has, according to some, been significant. Freeman, for example, sees the legal situation as a prime factor in holding back union growth in the private sector in this country (1980, p. 369). By the way of comparison, he notes the positive growth in union density in Canada during the same period it was declining in the United States; the Canadian private sector has many of the same unions and firms confronting each other as in this country. [USA]
During the 1970s, there has been an increase in the use of what some would consider loopholes in labor relations laws. These include, not only the aforementioned increased employer campaigning, but extreme legal maneuvering solely for the purpose of delay and a greater willingness of employers to accept negligible penalties for large-scale violations of the law. The 1978 Labor Law Reform Act, as initially drafted, was to increase the penalties on employers for violations and to eliminate most of the delays in the holding of certification elections. Its failure to pass was in part a green light to those who would continue to use the various loopholes.
*8. "Labor Economics," by Chester A. Morgan, Third Edition, published by Dorsey Press and Business Publications, Inc, Austin, Texas, USA, 1970, page 522, chapter 17: "External Activities of Bargaining Agents," Section: "Legislative Activities," Sub-Section: "Analysis of Legislative Activities: Basic Goals."
*9. "Title 29: Chapter 7: Subchapter I: § 152," US Law, published by the Cornell University Law School, Law.Cornell.edu.
*10. "Labor Economics," by Chester A. Morgan, Third Edition, published by Dorsey Press and Business Publications, Inc, Austin, Texas, USA, 1970, pages 456-457, Chapter 15: "Internal Activities of Bargaining Agents," Section: "Secondary Internal Activities," Sub-Section: "Secondary Activities of Labor Unions: The Boycott."
*11. "Labor Economics," by Chester A. Morgan, Third Edition, published by Dorsey Press and Business Publications, Inc, Austin, Texas, USA, 1970, page 488, Chapter 16: "Industrial Government and Institutional Security," Section: "Formal Union Security Devices," Sub-Section: "The Closed Shop."
*12. "How Taft Hartley Restricts Labor Rights," by Dr. Stuart Jeanne Bramhall, July 13, 2011, published by The Most Revolutionary Act: Diverse Ramblings of an American Refugee, made available by Open.Salon.Com, Open.Salon.com.
*13. "Industrial Unionism," by Eugene V. Debs, Delivered: at Grand Central Palace, New York, Sunday, December 10, 1905; First Published: 1905; Source: Industrial Unionism, CHARLES H. KERR & COMPANY Co-operative. Marxists.org. Quote:
The machinists were recently on strike in Chicago. They went out in a body under the direction of their craft union. Their fellow unionists all remained at work until the machinists were completely defeated and now their organization in that city is on the verge of collapse.
There has been a ceaseless repetition of this form of scabbing of one craft union upon another until the working man, if his eyes are open, is bound to see that this kind of unionism is a curse and not a benefit to the working class.
The American Federation of Labor does not learn by experience. They recently held their annual convention, and they passed the same old stereotyped resolutions; they are going to petition Congress to restrict the power of the courts; that is to say, they are going to once more petition a capitalist Congress to restrict the power of capitalist courts. That is as if a flock of sheep were to petition a lot of wolves to extract their own fangs. They have passed these resolutions over and over again. They have been totally fruitless and will continue to be.
*14. "Industrial Unionism: the Road to Freedom," by Joseph J. Ettor, 1913, published by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Marxists.org. Quote:
Because they may have some skill and look upon it as so much property, some workers in the past have organized into trade unions; that is, a union for each separate trade. This system of unionism is typified by the American Federation of Labor. It is an organization of one separate union for each trade, although trades may be employed in the same factory or industry.
It is a 'unionism' that may have been good enough in its day, when learning a trade was necessary and the vast majority of the workers were required to be crafts-men. The trade unions were useful in their day, same as the ox cart was useful and most essential; yes, of utmost utility in transportation, but it had to make way for something more efficient.
*15. "Harry S. Truman: Veto of the Taft-Hartley Labor Bill," by Harry S. Truman, June 20, 1947, Presidency.UCSB.edu. Quote:
"Our basic national policy has always been to establish by law standards of fair dealing and then to leave the working of the economic system to the free choice of individuals. Under that policy of economic freedom we have built our nation's productive strength. Our people have deep faith in industrial self-government with freedom of contract and free collective bargaining.
"I find that this bill is completely contrary to that national policy of economic freedom. It would require the Government, in effect, to become an unwanted participant at every bargaining table. It would establish by law limitations on the terms of every bargaining agreement, and nullify thousands of agreements mutually arrived at and satisfactory to the parties. It would inject the Government deeply into the process by which employers and workers reach agreement. It would superimpose bureaucratic procedures on the free decisions of local employers and employees."
*16. Raskin, "Steel Strike Move Put Up To Truman As Mediation Fails," New York Times, December 22, 1951; "Truman Ready to Use Taft Law," New York Times, December 25, 1951.
*17. "American Institute for Economic Research (AIER)," Richard M. Ebeling, 08 June 2009, Original Link: AIER.org (deleted), Saved Link: AIER.org. Quote: "Since 1990, labor unions have contributed over $667 million in election campaigns in the United States, of which $614 million or 92 percent went to support Democratic candidates. In 2008, unions spent $74.5 million in campaign contributions, with $68.3 million going to the Democratic Party. Already, unions have contributed $6.5 million to the 2010 elections, and $6 million has gone to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C."
*18. "Bush invokes anti-union Taft-Hartley law against West Coast longshoremen," by Rafael Azul, 10 October 2002, published by the World Socialist Web Site, published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), WSWS.org . Quote: "On Tuesday a federal judge in San Francisco granted the Bush administration’s request for a temporary injunction lifting a ten-day lockout and sending West Coast longshoremen back to work. The court order was a prelude to the declaration of an 80-day 'cooling off' period under the provisions of the anti-union Taft-Hartley law."
*19. "National Affairs: Barrel No. 2," author unknown, published by Time Magazine, Monday, June 23, 1947, Time.com. Quote: "Labor worked out a catchy name for it —the "slave labor" bill—and launched its campaign. To beat the bill, the A.F.L. alone poured $1,000,000 into newspaper ads, radio programs and mass meetings, all adding up to a demand that the President veto it. In Pennsylvania and Indiana, 17,000 of Jonn Lewis' mine workers walked out in protest strikes. From California, A.F.L. and C.I.O. delegates moved on Washington in a 'veto caravan' of 100 autos; they hoped to stage an eleventh-hour demonstration at the White House."
*20. "AFL-CIO Threatens To Reduce Support For Democrats," by Sam Hananel,
*21. "Political Divisions of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, On Opening Day, 34th-106th Congresses, 1855-Present," by Robert Griffith, published by the American University of Washington, D.C., American.edu.
*22. "The Decline of Organized Labor in the United States," by Michael Goldfield, 1975, published by the University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London, ISBN: 0-226-30102-8, page 103, chapter 6: "Possible Explanations for the Decline." Quote: "Quite symply, Republicans are supposedly more anti-union than Democrats. While Republican domination in Congress may affect public policy related to labor unions, it is the dominance in the White House that effects the functioning of the NLRB."
*23. "AFL-CIO Threatens To Reduce Support For Democrats," by Sam Hananel, 05/20/11, published by the Huffington Post, HuffingtonPost.com. Quote: "WASHINGTON -- Prominent labor leaders, frustrated that Democrats in Washington aren't aggressively pursuing the union agenda, are threatening to limit their campaign support for Democrats, an act that would hamper the party's bid to regain control of the House next year and keep a majority in the Senate."
*24. "Republicans take 4 of 6 in recall elections, hold Senate," by Tom Tolan and Patrick Marley, Aug. 10, 2011, published by the Milkwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, JSOnline.com.
*25. "Wisconsin union fight: Did Democrats get their just deserts?" by Peter Grier, March 10, 2011, published by the Christian Science Monitor (CSM), CSMonitor.com.
*26. "Wisconsin Minimum Wage Exemptions," by Federal & State Minimum Wage Rates, Laws, and Resources, Minimum-Wage.org, Quote: "In addition to any Wisconsin-specific minimum wage exemptions described above, the Federal Fair Labor Standards act defines special minimum wage rates applicable to certain types of workers. You may be paid under the Wisconsin minimum wage if you fit into one of the following categories: Wisconsin Tipped Minimum Wage - $2.33 - Employees who earn a certain amount of tips every month may be paid a special cash minimum wage, but must earn at least $7.25 including tips every hour. For more details, read about the Wisconsin tipped wage."