Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1971

Abstract

The ethos of the labor movement cuts against the American grain at several points. Our national instinct, reflected in many statutes and much judge-made law, is to exalt the rugged individualist over the anonymous group, to favor wide-open competition rather than a controlled market, and to prize the right of each person to remain aloof from the quarrels and concerns of his neighbors. It is not for nothing that our most universal folk hero is the frontiersman, who proudly stands alone and self-sufficient. Yet the ordinary workingman does not have the capacity to assume that heroic stance. For him strength comes only through combination with his fellows, through concerted rather than solitary action. His instinct is to shun solo combat in the market place and to seek by alliances with other workers to reduce if not eliminate the hazards of competing for jobs and job benefits. Almost inevitably such attitudes, as embodied in the tactics of American labor organizations, have led to conflict with the law as fashioned by the larger society. Over the years, the union boycott, and in particular the so-called "secondary boycott," has proved especially offensive, perhaps because it encompasses several different features that run counter to traditional socio-economic values in this country. Consider some typical situations: Union A is trying to organize, or secure a contract from, the Ace Manufacturing Company, which makes widgets. If the union calls a strike against Ace, and the employees respond by quitting work, that will be called a "primary" strike, since it is directed only against Ace itself, the primary or principal party to the dispute with Union A. This, obviously, is the most basic of all union economic pressure tactics. It does involve a refusal by workers to deal with their employer on an individual basis, and it does lead to some decrease in competition in the widget market. But unless all concerted union activity is to be forbidden, it is hard to regard the conventional union primary strike as improper. Suppose, however, the strike does not gain adherents, or strikebreakers are brought in, and the widget production continues. Faced with the failure of its primary activity, Union A now goes to Black Distributors, which handles Ace widgets, and asks Black's employees to go on strike until Black stops dealing in Ace products. What we have at this point is a classic example of the "secondary boycott". The struggle is no longer confined to the primary combatants. The law has traditionally looked upon Black as a neutral or "secondary" party. The theory is that Black has no interest in the outcome of the battle between Ace and Union A; he is an innocent bystander who has been dragged unwillingly into the melee. I shall first discuss briefly the status of secondary boycotts under the antitrust laws, and then examine a bit more extensively their regulation under the Taft-Hartley Act.

Comments

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