Book Review: Labor Law in America–Historical and Critical Essays


As the hardships of the past have re-emerged, the study of labor history has taken on added significance. More than simply an academic exercise, the study of the past holds the promise of explaining how the current plight of American workers developed. Since labor law in particular helped cause that plight,” the study of labor law’s past has become a central focus of labor history. It is unsurprising then that the editors of this volume announce the study of labor law history to be a “burgeoning” field. Labor Law In America, composed of eleven new essays by historians, legal scholars, and political scientists, purports to offer the state-of-the-art in the field. Together, the essays cover almost the whole of American labor history, from the colonies to the Bush presidency. They also cover a broad range of methodologies, from doctrinal analysis to the analysis of economic structures, from a case study of one lawsuit to a sweeping overview of the entire nineteenth century. Though uneven in quality, the essays as a whole offer a variety of ways to think about how law has shaped and limited the lives of workers, how labor’s past led to labor’s present, and by implication, how things might have been different.

Suggested Reading

Michael M. Oswalt∞ Organizing is risky. Some workers join in and get fired, others face intimidation and drop out, while most—sensing the tension between legal rights and remedial realities—simply opt out. And more and more, the campaigns—and the campaigners—are getting

From the 2016 Symposium: Dishwashers, Domestic Workers, and Day Laborers: Can Alternative Organizing Revive the Labor Movement? Panel II: Friend or Foe: Labor Law and Non-Union Workers March 25, 2016 Wilma B. Liebman[1]             Is the Depression-era National Labor Relations