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Labor Unions and an American Law of Membership

Labor Unions and an American Law of Membership

(p.195) Seven Labor Unions and an American Law of Membership
The Making of Tocqueville'S America
Kevin Butterfield
University of Chicago Press

Between the late eighteenth century and the seminal year of 1842, when for the first time a court ruled that labor unions had a legitimate place in the American social landscape, post-Revolutionary Americans’ experiences with voluntary membership in organizations of the most ordinary kind—fraternal clubs, reform societies, profit-seeking businesses, and the like—gave them a vocabulary and an intellectual framework by which they would come to understand the labor union. In 1842, in Commonwealth v. Hunt, Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw of Massachusetts would finally rule that labor unions were not a criminal conspiracy punishable under the common law. He did so by comparing the union to joint-stock companies and temperance societies and declaring that they were all equally legal, just, and beneficial in American society.

Keywords:   labor unions, criminal conspiracy, Commonwealth, Hunt, Lemuel Shaw, Pullis

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