Blue-Collar Crime: Conspiracy, Organized Labor, and the Anti-Union Civil RICO Claim

Article excerpt

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  I. INTRODUCTION

 II. WHY TELL THIS KIND OF HISTORY AND WHY TELL THIS
     PARTICULAR HISTORY?
     A. Critical Legal (Cultural) History
     B. Why RICO: Why Now?

III. COMMON LAW CONSPIRACY AND THE NINETEENTH
     CENTURY UNION

 IV. A MORE PERFECT UNION: THE NLRA, THE "CULTURAL
     FRONT," AND THE NEW ERA OF LABOR'S LEGITIMACY
     A. Legislating a New Deal for Labor: The Wagnor Act's
        Doctrinal Shift
     B. Labor's Acculturation: Ideology, Representation, and
        Remaking an "American" Union
  V. DISORGANIZING LABOR: RICO's RISE, THE CRISIS IN
     COMTEMPORARY LABOR LAW, AND THE STRUGGLE TO
     DEFINE THE SOCIOLEGAL STATUS OF THE MODERN UNION
     A. Labor's Legislative Losses: Setting the Doctrinal
        Framework for Modern Labor Law
     B. The Anti- Union RICO Suits and Their Place in the
        Landscape of Modern Law
        1. RICO's Criminal Roots
        2. Civil RICO's Rise
     C. Corruption, Cartels, and Coercion: The Ideological
        Significance of the New Assault on Organized Labor..
        1. The Union in the Contemporary Cultural
           Imagination
        2. The Place of the Civil RICO Suit in the
           Contemporary Cultural Climate

VI. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

Gone are the employer's goon squads and the billyclubs; today's union-busters wear business suits and carry attache cases. Sharp lawyers and Madison Avenue propagandists have replaced the straight-forward coercion of brass knuckles with carefully calculated devices designed to destroy, without leaving any visible bruises, the desire of workers to organize.... There is no excuse for a continuation of the present situation. There are no complex legal mysteries to be solved. (1)

On May 4, 1886, Chicago's Haymarket Square was host to a rally in support of a national strike by workers seeking a standardized, eight-hour workday. (2) Despite derision and hostility from the government and the press, the strike succeeded in hobbling many industries, particularly those that had previously benefited from a national building boom. (3) The Chicago rally, like others across the country, was intended to be a peaceful show of solidarity and to provide a forum for explaining the importance of the eight-hour day. (4) With Chicago police looking on, labor leaders and leftist political activists spoke to the crowd from a speakers' wagon throughout the day without incident; suddenly, for no apparent reason, the police marched on the square and ordered the workers to disperse. (5)

Exactly what happened next is unclear, but it is uncontested that someone hurled a pipe bomb that killed one of the police officers moments later. (6) What had been by all accounts a peaceful rally deteriorated into a chaotic battle during which many were wounded and seven officers and four workers were killed. (7) In the wake of the Haymarket Affair, the speakers and organizers of the rally, as well as members of the immigrant and anarchist communities, were investigated and prosecuted in connection with the pipe bomb death. (8) During the trial, the prosecution failed to offer substantial evidence linking any of the defendants to the actual bombing; instead, the prosecution argued that the "general principles" of the organizers made them conspirators who were legally guilty of the murder. (9) Ultimately, a jury convicted eight of the defendants of murder, and seven were sentenced to death. (10)

On March 5, 2008, nearly a century and a quarter after the Haymarket Affair, Cintas Corporation, the largest manufacturer of business uniforms in the United States, filed suit in federal court in the Southern District of New York, (11) claiming that worker-organizing campaigns by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, UNITE HERE, Change to Win, and numerous other named and unnamed defendants had violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"). …