Individual Autonomy and Collective Empowerment in Labor Law

74 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2020

See all articles by David Abraham

David Abraham

University of Miami - School of Law

Date Written: April 27, 1988


This paper examines the tensions between individual rights and theories of collective action in the context of union membership. Using the examples of resignations and strikebreaking, the paper argues that the neo-liberal disempowerment of working-class Americans operated, in part, through judicial preferences for individual worker autonomy over collective union action.

The article first explores the philosophical and historical-sociological roots of labor and labor-capital relations,focusing on the meaning of employment and the history of collective action.

Next, the essay examines the social and legal origins of the 1980s program to increase union members' resignation and strikebreaking rights at the expense of union solidarity and strength.

The essay concludes that in the American system of voluntary unionism,courts must uphold labor solidarity rights in order to permit labor law to function at all and to afford vastly less powerful workers the possibility of developing as the truly autonomous individuals the judiciary claims to favor. In retrospect, these decisions helped lay the legal groundwork for creating disempowered workers for today's fissured workplace and atomized workforce.

Keywords: labor, capital, strikes, collective action, unions

JEL Classification: J50, J51, J52, J53, J58

Suggested Citation

Abraham, David, Individual Autonomy and Collective Empowerment in Labor Law (April 27, 1988). 63 NYU Law Review 1268 (1988), New York University Law Review, Vol. 63, No. 4, 1988, Available at SSRN:

David Abraham (Contact Author)

University of Miami - School of Law ( email )

1311 Miller Dr
Coral Gables, FL 33146
United States
305-284-5535 (Phone)
305-284-1588 (Fax)

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