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Workers, Collectivism and the Law

Grappling with Democracy

Laura Carlson

Workers, Collectivism and the Law offers a captivating historical account of worker democracy, from its beginnings in European guild systems to present-day labor unions, across the national legal systems of Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. Analysing these legal systems in light of a Habermasian concept of participatory democracy, Laura Carlson identifies ways to strengthen individual employee voice in claims against employers.
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Chapter 6: Labor in the United States: the Court is king

Laura Carlson


The labor movement in the United States was faced a different set of challenges than Europe. Immigration and race very quickly became issues even for the colonialists. The journeymen structures were quickly embedded in the colonies, and by the 1833, the first trade union was founded. Depressions after the Civil War led to class strife, with the military often called in and the outcomes in lost lives high. American courts were highly active in industrial action, repressing union activity through injunctions. State action, discrimination, violence, and corruption also significantly mark the history of the union movement, leading the American legislature to focus on issues different from those considered by its European counterparts. The duty of fair representation was judicially created as a counterpoint to racial discrimination within unions, creating a right to worker voice and accountability by unions as early as the 1940s.

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