Ending a Century of Violent Labor Conflict: A New Perspective on Unionization and the National Labor Relations Act

56 Pages Posted: 17 May 2015 Last revised: 30 Jul 2015

See all articles by Margaret Levi

Margaret Levi

Stanford University - Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences

Tania Melo

University of Washington

Barry R. Weingast

Stanford University, Department of Political Science

Frances Zlotnick

Stanford University, Dept. of Political Science

Date Written: May 14, 2015

Abstract

Open access to labor organizations lagged nearly a century behind open access to business organizations, arising as part of the New Deal in the mid-1930s. During the century previous to the New Deal, firms and governments actively suppressed labor organization, frequently resorting to violence. Conflict and violence ended with the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935.

Why did the violence associated with labor last for a century? What did the NLRA do to solve this problem, and why couldn’t Congress have done so earlier? In this paper, we develop a new perspective on labor organization and violence that addresses these questions. We argue that the century-long violence surrounding labor resulted from an inability to solve a series of commitment problems. All three parties to the violence – labor, business, and government – faced commitment problems. We show that the NLRA succeeded because it finally solved the commitment problems underlying the century of labor violence.

Keywords: Labor, Violence, Open Access, Unionization, National Labor Relations Act, NLRA, NLRB

JEL Classification: H11, J52, J53, J58, L52, N32

Suggested Citation

Levi, Margaret and Melo, Tania and Weingast, Barry R. and Zlotnick, Frances, Ending a Century of Violent Labor Conflict: A New Perspective on Unionization and the National Labor Relations Act (May 14, 2015). Stanford Law and Economics Olin Working Paper No. 481. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2606660 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2606660

Margaret Levi

Stanford University - Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences ( email )

75 Alta Rd
Stanford, CA 94305
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.casbs.org

Tania Melo

University of Washington ( email )

Seattle, WA
United States

Barry R. Weingast (Contact Author)

Stanford University, Department of Political Science ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305-6010
United States
650-723-0497 (Phone)
650-723-1808 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.stanford.edu/group/mcnollgast/cgi-bin/wordpress/

Frances Zlotnick

Stanford University, Dept. of Political Science ( email )

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