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Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal

Volume 15 2011 Number 2

Of Courage, Tumult, and the Smash Mouth Truth: A Union Side Apologia


Michael C. Duff

Labor law is a strange business.  Purported “labor” policy is often debated without ever once talking to workers.  Of course, whether workers are the intended beneficiaries of labor law is open to serious question.  When I studied labor law a few years after having been involved as an employee-organizer in tumultuous union organizing drives, I was surprised to hear the claim that the labor movement was an anachronism.   Like the protagonists of Julius Getman’s, Restoring the Power of Unions, I was too busy doing "labor" to think about grand issues for long.  After a decade of labor law practice, and five years teaching the subject, I now, finally, have the luxury to reflect, and do so here. 

My grandfather was a Harlan County, Kentucky coal miner in the 1930s.  As a member of the United Mine Workers, he was frequently shot at by company operatives as he attempted to make his way to his mining camp.  In the end, he, and his union brothers and sisters, won the right to union representation at tremendous cost.  I agree entirely with Professor Getman’s conclusion that the labor movement’s future is in the hands of workers, not law.  The law’s primary role is to remain authentically neutral.  This essay discusses how workers can revive the labor movement as they always have ­– through courage, and the fearsome urgency of tumult.  This is the smash mouth truth.



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