Unions before the Bar: Historic Trials Showing the Evolution of Labor Rights in the United States

By Elias Lieberman | Go to book overview

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The Compulsory Arbitration Cure (1920-1925)

CHARLES WOLFF PACKING COMPANY V. COURT OF INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS OF THE STATE OF KANSAS

I

The first year after World War I, the year 1919, saw a great deal of industrial unrest in the United States. About 4,154,420 workers were involved in various strikes. That year also saw the dramatic struggle for unionization in the steel industry. During two years previous to that, the state of Kansas had experienced $364 stoppages in its coal fields.

Governor Henry J. Allen of the state of Kansas thought he had found a cure for all industrial strife. He called the Kansas legislature into special session and prepared the cure -- compulsory arbitration. Both organized labor and employers opposed the measure, but in spite of this joint opposition, the governor succeeded in having the legislature enact the Kansas Industrial Relations Act of 1920.

This act aimed to prevent interruption of production in the food, clothing, and fuel industries. It provided that workers in these industries could not strike and that employers could not lock out workers or stop production. All industrial disputes in these three industries, if not settled between the employers and labor, should be submitted for adjudication to the newly established tribunal, the Kansas Court of Industrial Relations. This Industrial Court consisted of three judges appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. The law had teeth in it and provided that anyone who violated it or the orders of this Industrial Court might be fined $1,000 or imprisoned for a year, or both. The penalty was greater against

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