Government Regulation of Labor Relations

Government Regulation of Labor Relations

Traditionally the function of government in labor relations has been that of umpire, empowered in a vague way to see that the general social rules were observed by employer and employee alike. Since most of our laws, particularly common law, arose when individual employers dealt with individual employees, it is no easy task to adjust them to the problems of organized employers and organized workers. Until 1842 in the United States labor unions could be declared illegal by law. In that year a Massachusetts court declared trade unions legal. Ever since that time courts and laws have been trying to determine which actions of trade unions are legal and which are illegal, and what re­sponsibility an employer has toward a trade union.

The first law dealing directly with this issue was the Clayton Act of 1914. Specifically designed to strengthen existing legisla­tion regarding trusts, the Act included several notations of im­portance to labor. One declared that labor was not a commod­ity, therefore trade unions should be exempt under the anti-trust laws. Another stated that injunctions should not prohibit strikes, boycotts, or picketing. And it also stated that trade unions should not be restrained in pursuing legitimate objectives. Subsequent court action failed to justify the belief that the Clayton Act was Labor's Magna Charta. A series of damaging injunctions against trade unions in the 1920-30 decade forced labor to seek new safeguards.

In 1932 the attitude of the government toward labor changed sharply from mere toleration to one of positive encouragement. Evidence of the change appeared first in the Norris-LaGuardia Act. This Act made two important improvements in labor's posi­tion. The injunction procedure was restricted by the introduction of a number of safeguards such as requiring both parties affected by an injunction to appear in court to testify before the injunction is issued; and requiring violations of the injunction (contempt proceedings) to be tried before a different judge and a jury if the defending party desired. The other improvement was that contracts signed by the. employee stating that so long as he worked for this employer he would not join a union or engage in trade union activities were outlawed. The fact that this Act as federal legislation applied only to interstate commerce was a momentary drawback; but since then most industrialized states have passed similar laws.

The next bit of evidence indicating the government's policy of encouragement was Section 7 a of the National Industrial Re­covery Act. By this section employers were required to recognize trade union organizations and to bargain collectively with them, and they were prohibited from engaging in any practice which would obstruct collective bargaining and prevent the organization and growth of the union, such as dismissal for union activity and blacklisting.

When the National Industrial Recovery Act was declared un­constitutional by the United States Supreme Court, Section 7a was incorporated into the National Labor Relations Act which became law in 1936. The N.L.R.A. advocated trade union or­ganization and collective bargaining as essential to economic stability and recovery. The Act provides that employees shall have the right to organize into unions and to bargain collectively with the employer through representatives of their own choosing. Em­ployers are forbidden to interfere with the organization of a trade union or to' seek to dominate it once it has been formed. They must not discriminate among employees because of union ac­tivity. To see that these provisions are carried out the National Labor Relations Board was established with full powers of in­vestigation and decision. Their decisions, however, are subject to review by the Circuit Court of Appeals of the United States.

It is often asked, "But how does the employer figure in these laws?" Many people feel that the employee gets everything, the employer nothing. By common law and statute the employer has until recently been absolute dictator of his own business and his right to carry on business has been protected by the courts. Until recently he opened and closed when he wished, started or stopped his business when he chose, hired and. dismissed freely, secured his material, and sold his goods subject only to economic competi­tion. The organization of a trade union is a distinct encroachment on these rights. When the government says to the employer you must discuss conditions of employment with the union, and you cannot dismiss a man for trade union activity, the government is definitely protecting the workman by removing certain rights from the employer. The answer to the original question is that the employer already has the protection he needs except at those points where the government has consciously granted rights to employees and taken them from the employer to equalize the bar­gaining position of labor and management.

This process is economic planning, for it substitutes the con­scious power of the government for economic forces in order to achieve an accepted goal. In England the right of workers to or­ganize and bargain collectively was established by tradition dec­ades ago. Unions are a recognized part of English economy. In Fascist countries membership in trade unions was more numer­ous than in either England or America because such membership was well-nigh compulsory. A union in Germany and Italy was a semi-public body acting as a complement to an organized group of employers in the same industry.
At this point we shall summarize the economic aspects of Fascist doctrine in order to show how these applied in Italy and Germany.

The basis of economic life under Fascism is syndicalism, but it is syndicalism subordinated to the needs of the nation. A. Pen-nachio, in his book The Corporative State, has described clearly this aspect of Fascism. He states that whenever a person opposes his own individual interest to that of the nation, he is exhibiting a narrow, selfish, immediate, and material attitude—an attitude contrary to the principles of Fascism. He proceeds to point out that Fascism denies that the workers can usurp the place of the entrepreneur or the well-trained administrator. Each must per­form, the function for which he is best fitted; therefore a division of labor must be preserved and the interests of the resulting classes harmonized, none favored at the expense of the others. To bring about collaboration and to subordinate rival interests, Fascism organizes both employers and employees in the samemanner and puts them on an equal footing in a given industry. Harmony is secured by an agency of the state which stands above and supervises the organization of employers and employees. These ideas were first formulated in the Labor Charter promul­gated by the Italian government in April of 1927.

The planning unit under Italian Fascism is the National Council of Corporations. With its almost unlimited powers of intervention, reorganization, and control the national council has complete authority over economic activity. Mussolini has acted from time to time as Minister of Corporations, dictating general economic policy. To provide for carrying out the details of any plan which might be developed, the government has fostered the growth of corporations. Composed of representatives of em­ployees and employers in a given industry, the corporation is responsible for the overall management of the industry. In order to integrate the econ omic life of the nation more closely with political life, it was decreed that the lower house of the Italian Parliament was to be elected directly by the corporations and federations rather than by geographical areas.