Alarmed by recent headlines regarding the demise of organized labor in the United States, I turn to the founding of the republic to show that hostility to labor unions has a long history. I rely on a foundational case from Pennsylvania, Commonwealth v. Pullis (1806), in which a shoemakers’ labor union was tried for conspiracy and crushed. Robert Cover’s seminal treatment of legal violence as an outcome at trials is central to my argument. I apply Cover’s definition of violence to the Pennsylvania case, and expand Cover's definition so that violence is not only visible in the result of the case, but also in the process driving the outcome, which includes the legislature, judge, lawyers, and the jury, and the context surrounding the trial. I argue that legal violence includes coercion; as such, violence is adaptive and insidious. It is powerful in its use of language and context. Overcoming such violence requires a redemptive act in which those disfavored by the law, like organized labor, recall their legal experience and, attracting new supporters, transform the legal landscape so that it accepts them.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Rudolph on Commonwealth v. Pullis (1806)
Duane Rudolph has posted How Violence Killed an American Labor Union. It will appear in the Rutgers Law Review 67 (2015). Here is the abstract: