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What Greaves and others overlooked (and continue to overlook), however, is that much of the business elite had long pushed for Wagner-style labor laws for the sake of industrial peace. The last thing they wanted was laissez-faire for labor organizers. The New Deal, rather than being anti-business and pro-labor, actually tamed labor by bringing “responsible” union leaders to the conference table as junior partners. The Wagner-Taft-Hartley regime imposed restrictions on labor activity and required labor leaders to police their members’ compliance with union contracts. The final Wagner Act had elements that big business disliked, but it was the business elite nonetheless that laid the groundwork for federal management of labor relations.
Radical labor activists, such as those in the Industrial Workers of the World, the Wobblies, wanted no part of labor law because it imposed rules on what they could do to get a better deal from employers. Older tactics, such as wildcat strikes, secondary boycotts, and sympathy strikes along the supply chain, were outlawed in the new labor regime. Cooling-off periods, compulsory arbitration, and other constraints were imposed. It’s enough to make one wonder if employers would really want Wagner repealed.
Greaves was right when he said that the target of free-market advocates should be all laws that interfere with free association—including Wagner, Taft-Hartley, and right-to-work. As Hirschel Kasper wrote, “The argument here is not one of whether union security provisions are good or bad; the argument is whether there should be legislation which prohibits them.” The nonaggression principle says no.
The article originally appeared at The Future of Freedom Foundation.