Protection by Law, Repression by Law: Bringing Labor Back Into Law and Social Movement Studies
91 Pages Posted: 24 Mar 2020 Last revised: 15 Oct 2020
Date Written: March 3, 2020
Within the rich, interdisciplinary literature on law and social movements, scholarly attention has often focused on how the civil rights movement, and other movements that share a resemblance to it, have mobilized law; less attention has been paid to the labor movement’s experience of being regulated by law. In this Article, we ask how refocusing on the experiences of labor unions regulated by law complicates understandings of how movements shape law, and law shapes movements, in turn.
To explore the relationship between labor and law at a critical historical juncture, we delve into the largely unexplored legal history of the first major damages judgment against a labor union under the Taft-Hartley amendments to the National Labor Relations Act. Decided as the New Deal era gave way to the “rights revolution” of the 1950s and 1960s, this case dramatizes the costs of the labor movement’s distinct regulatory framework. Law helped institutionalize unions—to give them autonomy, power, and legitimacy. At the same time, it subjected them to an increasingly restrictive regulatory scheme that made it harder for them to act—or to be seen—as a social movement.
Refocusing on labor re-centers the role of law in constructing the jurisprudential boundaries which channeled social movement activity throughout the twentieth century. As social movements today challenge these boundaries in order to assert more intersectional grievances, interrogating taken-for-granted notions about law and movements could not be more important.
Keywords: Labor, Social Movements, Employment, Protest
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