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Copyright (c) 1993 Minnesota Law Review
Minnesota Law Review

ARTICLE: Democracy in the Workplace: Union Representation Elections and Federal Labor Law.

February, 1993

77 Minn. L. Rev. 495


Craig Becker *



On May 15, 1935, as nearly a year of congressional dispute over the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA or Wagner Act) drew to a close, Senator Robert F. Wagner invoked the most hallowed of American political ideals in its defense. "[T]he national labor relations bill does not break with our traditions," Wagner affirmed of the law that would bear his name. "It is the next step in the logical unfolding of man's eternal quest for freedom. . . . Only 150 years ago did this country cast off the shackles of political despotism. And today, with economic problems occupying the center of the stage, we strive to liberate the common man. . . ." 1 For Wagner, the right of workers to organize and engage in collective bargaining that was guaranteed by the NLRA constituted nothing less than a fulfillment of the nation's dedication to free institutions.

Yet the Wagner Act, of course, did break radically with certain of the nation's most entrenched traditions. It controverted the codes of the common law and of classical liberalism, both of which defined trade unions as the very antithesis of individual freedom as embodied in the rule of liberty of contract. 2 To confer legitimacy on the new legislation, therefore, its proponents located it within a different, yet even more deeply ingrained, American tradition: democratic government. "That is just the very purpose of this legislation, to provide industrial democracy," Wagner declared. 3 The cornerstone of the Wagner Act, as ...
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