GOVERNMENT CONTROL OF LABOR RELATIONS: The Development of Union Rights
A SYSTEM of laws and rules, backed by the ultimate power of the state, defines the rights, duties, and liberties of workers, unions, and employers. This system not only establishes the broad framework of the social, economic, and political environment within which unions function, but also directly affects the substance of their actions. This chapter will review the development of law in the United States up to World War II, especially at the level of the federal government, in its relationship to unions, agreements, and collective bargaining procedures.
Whether an economic system provides for slavery, for a free labor market with free contracts, or for some other procedure for the allocation of labor and resources, it sets the rules, establishes the procedures to be followed in settlement of disputes over legal interpretations, and defines the penalties for infractions.
A free wage-earner is a worker who may of his own volition sell labor services to a buyer upon conditions acceptable to him and to the buyer, and who may terminate such sale--that is, resign--at his own volition. The conditions of the sale may be limited by governmental restrictions as to hours, conditions of work, and wages, but the essence of the free contract is the freedom to work and to quit. Even if a worker who has resigned owes money to his employer, the debt can be collected as "damages," but the worker cannot be forced by law to pay for it with his labor. The im-