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One of the happier ironies of recent labor history can be found in the impetus given union democracy by the Landrum- Griffin Act. At the time the Act was passed, the thinking of disinterested observers had not yet crystallized on the merits of running a union's affairs democratically. It is probably fair to say that the main push in Congress for Landrum-Griffin and, particularly, its Title, "Bill of Rights" came from a conservative coalition which was less concerned with promoting the individual rights of working people than with blunting the effectiveness of labor organizations. There is hardly anything unique in such a situation; the purification of any well-established institution is likely to require a sizable (if unwitting) contribution by its enemies. Yet I suspect that today most commentators would agree the foes of unionism in the 1959 Congress performed their role in especially commendable style. By and large, the provisions of the Landrum-Griffin Act dealing with internal union affairs have significantly advanced the cause of union democracy while doing little if any damage to the structure of organized labor.

Having sketched this rather idyllic picture, I almost hesitate to inject the serpent into the scene by stirring up old questions about the function of law in securing democratic procedures within labor unions. But I feel I must. For I believe that in the laudable pursuit of individual membership rights, the Labor Department and the courts have occasionally trampled upon other democratic values of an even higher order. And, if some academic critics had their way the process would be carried still further.

The past year has not been rich in landmark decisions on Landrum-Griffin. This, then, would seem an opportune time to pause for a brief reexamination of a few basic premises of national policy regarding internal union affairs. Such a reexamination should also serve to add perspective to my subsequent discussion of the major developments under Landrum-Griffin during the last twelve months.


Reproduced with permission. Bloomberg Law, Copyright 2022 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033)