|Disappointment in the Law: Fighting Legal and Judicial Barriers to Working-Class Organization, 1914-1932|
|This essay examines the response of working-class, labor, and radical organizations to the legal and judicial obstacles to organization in the World War I era. Despite the triumphal passage of the Clayton Act (1914), state courts in the 1910s and 1920s continued to issue labor injunctions at an alarming pace; states enacted criminal syndicalism laws to restrict labor organization, and Congress and state legislatures issued wartime measures to restrict freedom of speech and limit political dissent. Throughout the United States, the labor movement and its political allies were faced with retrenchment and repression, as massive strikes and political campaigns battled employers, political opponents, local police and state National Guard units. The labor movement saw a spectacular increase in membership and participation and a slow and certain fall in its numbers as the laws that were to create “industrial democracy” came up short or were overturned in the courts.
The disappointment of labor was not only for the lost possibilities of the Progressive movement but also in the limitations of labor law and political democracy. Tactics that had worked in the early twentieth century, such as targeting conservative judges with electoral opposition and recall campaigns, organizing labor defense efforts, supporting pro-labor political candidates, challenging labor injunctions, and seeking to reform injunction law ran into significant obstacles. The state and federal judiciary was intransigent on issues of property law and failed to endorse or defend individual civil rights. Where could labor organizations turn when the court system undermined every effort to level the playing field between organized employers and organized labor?
The paper explores the responses of labor, working-class, and radical organizations to these problems during the era before, during, and after World War I. The labor movement of these decades experienced considerable victories (the creation of a federal mediation service, the integration of organized labor into the war effort, the passage of the Clayton Act and other pro-labor legislation) and devastating defeats (the repression of strikes by federal and state government from 1918 to 1922, the passage of criminal syndicalism laws and their use by local, state and federal governments to intimidate and restrict labor organization, and the decision in Duplex Printing Press Co v Deering (1921), which effectively destroyed key provisions of the Clayton Act that limited labor injunctions). Its ability to survive became dependent upon rebuilding the institutional structure but also reinvigorating grassroots activism.
Focusing on a few key national battles and the local terrain of Detroit and the state of Michigan, we will look for patterns of working-class organization and resistance. Disappointment in labor law reform made necessary the employment of new strategies, tactics, and organization among workers and their allies. Using the backdrop of World War I and the Red Scare that followed, we consider how necessity became the mother of organizational invention and, effectively, revitalized the labor left in the United States.|