| Labor Law in America: Historical and Critical Essays

For the purposes of this campaign, the corporate community created the National Action Committee on Labor Law Reform, with a vice president for industrial relations from Bethlehem Steel directing the lobbying team. The Council On A Union-Free Environment, founded in 1977 by the NAM in anticipation of the effort by unions to reform labor legislation, aided the effort. Although the bill covered only 20% of American businesses, the corporate campaign stressed the dangers of the legislation for small businesses (Akard 1992, p. 605). Due to this emphasis on the plight of small business, social scientists later paid a great deal of attention to the efforts of the National Federation of Independent Business, the organization that they mistakenly see as the representative of the smallest of small businesses (Hacker and Pierson 2010, p. 119; Vogel 1989, p. 199)

Labor Law in America: Historical and Critical Essays

Labor Law in America: Historical and Critical Essays

Labor Law In America Historical And Critical Essays

An emphasis on a general loss of power by the corporate community is contradicted by the way in which the same Senate and House that passed the National Labor Relations Act treated other liberal legislation, namely, public utility regulation and changes in the Federal Reserve System. First, business was successful in removing the most stringent forms of utilities regulation (e.g., Parrish 1970). One historian concludes that the House was rebuking Roosevelt in this vote because a majority of its members were "annoyed at what they considered Roosevelt's undue hostility to free enterprise" (Patterson 1967, p. 56). Second, the proposed reforms in the Federal Reserve Act were changed so that New York bankers retained some of their traditional power through the Open Market Committee and the act ended up acceptable to the American Banking Association (Schlesinger 1960, pp. 300-301). It therefore seems that the National Labor Relations Act was a unique piece of legislation even for a liberal Congress, which means it is not possible to explain its passage with generalities such as "loss of business power."

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The National Labor Relations Act also passed handily because it was acceptable to the centrists and liberals who controlled the executive branch on this issue, meaning Roosevelt, Perkins, and the corporate lawyers and law professors who worked for the National Labor Relations Board. These were people who believed through long experience that unions were a safe and sensible method for dealing with workers. And from the point of view of moderate and liberal corporate lawyers, the act had a very respectable regulatory pedigree that had worked well for the corporate community in the past, including the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Railroad Labor Board. From an historical perspective, the New Deal's collective bargaining legislation "gathered up the historical threads and wove them into law" (Bernstein 1950, p. 18).

and KingAndrew J., eds., Labor Law in America: Historical and Critical Essays
Labor Law in America: Historical and Critical Essays. Edited by Christopher L. Tomlins and Andrew J. King. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

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Until the late 1880s and early 1890s, however, industrial companies were not part of this gradual corporatization. Instead, they were organized as partnerships among a few men or families. They tended to stand apart from the financial institutions and the stock market. Detailed historical and sociological studies of their shift to the corporate form reveal no economic efficiencies that might explain the relatively sudden incorporation of industrial companies. Instead, it is more likely that industrial companies adopted the corporate form of organization for a combination of economic, legal, and sociological reasons. The most important of these reasons were a need to (1) regulate the competition among industrial companies that was driving down profits, and (2) gain better legal protection against the middle-class reformers, populist farmers, and socialists who had mounted an unrelenting critique of "the trusts," meaning agreements among industrialists to fix prices, divide up markets, and/or share profits (Roy 1997). There were further pressures on industrialists due to a new depression in the early 1890s, which led to another round of wage cuts and then strikes by angry workers. Furthermore, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 had outlawed their resort to trust arrangements to manage the vicious price competition among them that was bringing them to potential collective ruin. This combination of events set the stage for industrialists to take advantage of the increasing number of rights and privileges that legislatures and courts were gradually granting to the legal entity called a "corporation."

Judith A. Baer; Labor Law in America: Historical and Critical Essays. Ed. by Christopher L. Tomlins and Andrew J. King. (Baltimore and Which Side Are You On? T

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In summary, then, the National Labor Relations Act passed for a confluence of reasons, starting with the fact that the Great Depression led to both social upheaval and a united working class, which in turn led corporate moderates to suggest a new government institution that soon took on a life of its own -- in the sense that liberals, a handful of corporate lawyers serving in government, and labor leaders refashioned it to their own liking. The union leaders who spoke for the working class found allies in the liberal Democrats they had helped to elect to Congress and in the pragmatic patrician liberal they helped elect to the presidency. It was possible for the liberals and Roosevelt to work with labor on this issue because the plantation owners and large-scale farmers outside the South had been satisfied by the removal of their workforce from the purview of the legislation. Although the election of moderate-to-liberal Northern Democrats to Congress and the militancy of a united working class were necessary conditions, Southern Democrats had the final say on this critical piece of legislation.

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Secondly, the growing divisions between liberals and labor over how to react to the civil rights movement's demands for integration of neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces made the union movement vulnerable to a renewed corporate attack. As the disruption generated by activists in the black community (and then the anti-war movement) continued to escalate after 1965, it soon became apparent that the liberal trade unions could not organize a large voting coalition in favor of the government programs they favored. Even in the case of the most progressive industrial union, the UAW, its leaders' hopes for an enlarged welfare state on the basis of a black-white worker's coalition in both the North and the South, with the segregationist Southern Democrats finally displaced, were "little more than ashes" by 1968. The UAW simply did not have the ability "to maintain a cross-class, biracial coalition committed to continued reform." Instead, it lost the support of its major allies and the confidence of many of its white members: "For very different reasons, African-Americans, white workers, liberals, and the New Left all came to see the UAW, as they saw the Johnson Administration, as a prop for the status quo," historian Kevin Boyle concludes in a concise summary of his study of the UAW between 1945 and 1968. Far from any notion that labor had sold out or betrayed its promise, its story was one "of struggles fought -- and lost" (Boyle 1998, pp. 230-231 for the information and quotations in this paragraph).