The Importance of Preventing “Industrial Strife”
Today marks the one-hundred-year anniversary of the Herrin Massacre, an incredibly gruesome labor dispute where union miners murdered a supervisor and nineteen strikebreakers in the Southern Illinois town of Herrin. These killings were done in retaliation for earlier skirmishes between the strikers and armed guards protecting the mines, where three striking workers were killed. The killing spree was more than three times as lethal as the famous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago and remains Illinois’s worst mass shooting to date.
America’s labor relations are much more peaceful than they were a century ago. Labor violence was far more common and both economically and socially disruptive in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. A member of an ironworker’s union bombed the anti-union Los Angeles Times’s building in 1910, killing twenty-one and leaving dozens more injured. The United States has come very far in quelling industrial strife.
This peace is partly the result of federal legislation. Congress created a right to strike and engage in collective bargaining with the passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in 1935. One of the specific purposes of the NLRA was to prevent “industrial strife.” The law was thus an attempt to set up a peaceful mechanism for the resolution of labor disputes. The NLRA, as amended by the Taft-Hartley Act, hinged upon disincentivizing violence. In 2022, this progress is jeopardized by the Washington Supreme Court’s recent decision in Glacier Nw., Inc. v. Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters Local Union No. 174. (Landmark recently filed a brief in this case.) In this case, the state court condoned union destruction of company property through an errant reading of precedent and completely ignored the long history of industrial violence the NLRA and Taft-Hartley Act were intended to prevent. Most courts that have looked at this issue have preserved the right of property owners to make claims in state court for damages. The U.S. Supreme Court needs to take this case to protect property rights and to make sure we don’t take a step towards the labor relations of the past.
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