Labor Law For the Rank and Filer Review

Labor Law for the Rank and Filer: Building Solidarity While Staying Clear of the Law (2nd Edition)

UE Local 170

This small but powerful volume serves two purposes, as the subtitle suggests. The most pressing and obvious need this book fulfills is as an admirably concise primer of labor law — which the publisher ensured was updated literally to the moment it went to press.

Originally published in 1978, and later revised in 1982, the new edition is easily worth the modest price, even to the most experienced shop steward, for its summary of current labor law, including the most recent interpretative rulings.

Chapter 1 provides a list of resources for legal research, including the publications of BNA, as well as materials available on the Internet such as Lexis and Westlaw. Chapter 2 presents an analysis of the legal basis for workers’ rights as found in American jurisprudence, with a summary listing of those rights (p. 20) and their statutory sources.

Chapter 2 contains discussion of specific legislation relating to workplace governance, including the Norris-LaGuardia Act, the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Taft-Hartley Act, the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Chapter 4 is comprised of an extended treatment of workers’ rights, supplemented with numerous legal citations, which is, nevertheless, clearly explained for the non-lawyer. There is a particularly useful discussion of Weingarten — the worker’s right to representation at any interview where there is a reasonable belief that disciplinary action could result. Similarly, public sector workers are treated to a concise but informative explanation of their free speech rights in light of the 2006 Supreme Court ruling known as Garcetti.

The perspective that informs and underlies the early section of Labor Law for the Rank and Filer comes to the fore in chapters 5 and 6. The working assumption throughout this book is that labor law affords limited, not to mention continually shifting, protection to the wage-earner.

The conclusion to be drawn is that workers must inevitably look elsewhere than a strict reliance on legal and judicial remedies to combat injustice on the shopfloor. Far more gains can be realized by concerted direct action as a unified and determined rank and file.

The extended discussion of ‘solidarity unionism’ in the book’s concluding chapter is an articulate critique of the business unionism that has put workers at the mercy of legislative and procedural means that are invariably dominated by the interests of management.

As a result, the enduring value of Labor Law for the Rank and Filer is not so much the analysis of current trends in labor law, valuable as that is. The practical usefulness of this book owes more to its unrelentingly critical take on American labor law itself.

In this respect, the book echoes some of the best of recent historical scholarship, such as James Gray Pope’s research proving that rank and file activism — rather than the efforts of politicians, judges or even union officials — had more to do with concrete gains in workers’ rights and power in the early days of the New Deal NLRA. Pope was, appropriately enough, an advisory reader for the authors’ manuscript of this book.

This slim volume draws on such a recognition in order to put into our hands a do-it-yourself manual for everyday struggles over working conditions. As such, it confirms the fundamental insight that has been the guiding principle that distinguishes UE from those unions that deviate from rank and file control.

Lynd and Gross are to be commended for developing a useful resource not just for shop stewards, but for every wage-earner engaged in the struggle to improve the condition of working people.

Back to Staughton Lynd’s Author Page | Back to Daniel Gross’s Author Page