Antilabor Laws

Antilabor Laws


in the broad sense of the term, the complex of legislative and other legal measures which give juridical form to the political coercion of toilers and the economic compulsion of labor; in the narrow sense, the totality of legal provisions contained in various enactments of bourgeois states which aim directly at worsening the economic situation of toilers and suppressing the class struggle of the working class.

The antilabor law is one of the basic means employed by capital in its struggle against the workers’ movement. It is intimately bound up with other forms of struggle against the working class. In his work “Discord in the European Workers’ Movement” (1910), V. I. Lenin pointed out that “... in all countries, the bourgeoisie inevitably develops two systems of rule, two methods of struggling for its interests and defending its dominance; sometimes these two methods are employed successively, other times they are used together in different combinations. The first method is that of force, the method of rejecting all concessions to the workers’ movement and supporting all the old and obsolete institutions, the method of uncompromising rejection of reforms. . . . The second method is that of ’liberalism,’ steps in the direction of developing political rights, implementing reforms, granting concessions, and so forth” (Poln. sobr. soch.,5th ed., vol. 20, p. 67).

Antilabor legislation is characteristic of the capitalist organization of labor, one of the fundamental tendencies of bourgeois labor law and social policy in capitalist states; its development reflects the decline of bourgeois democracy and the fragility and instability of even those social reforms which the bourgeois state is compelled to implement to improve the situation of the toilers.

The birth of antilabor laws was connected with the development of class struggle and with the striving of the bourgeoisie to prevent the growth and strengthening of workers’ organizations. The Le Chapelier Law forbidding strikes and trade unions was adopted in France as early as 1791. The same goals were served by the application of an 1825 law in England, an 1845 industrial statute in Germany, the antitrust legislation of 1890 and 1912 in the USA, and others. Antilabor laws began to develop in Russia at the end of the 19th century.

Antilabor legislation developed considerably in imperialist countries after World War II (1939–45) in the context of the “cold war” and anticommunism. Thus, the McCarran Act, the McCarran-Walter Immigration Act, and the Communist Control Act (in Russian, the Brownell-Butler Act), directed against the Communist Party of the USA and progressive trade unions and democratic elements, were adopted in 1950, 1952, and 1954, respectively. The Taft-Hartley Act and the Landrum-Griffin Act, adopted in 1947 and 1959, established state control over trade unions and limited the right to strike. An emergency law against strikes was adopted in France in 1947, and in 1959 the law “On Involving or Interesting the Workers in the Enterprises” was adopted. This law represented an attempt to replace trade unions by corporative organizations; it was opposed by the French Communist and Socialist parties, trade unions, and a host of other organizations. Although the law was not formally rescinded, it was not applied in practice. The Works Councils Act of 1952 in the Federal Republic of Germany severely restricted the right of toilers to participate in the management of enterprises. The Communist Party was banned in 1956; subsequently there were emergency antilabor laws and decisions of labor courts. A series of anti-trade union and antistrike laws was adopted. In Italy the constitutional court made political strikes illegal in 1963; in Australia the 1965 Stevedoring Industry Act (in Russian, the McMahon Law) restricted the right of the Waterside Workers’ Federation to defend the labor interests of workers; in Canada railroad strikes were prohibited in 1966; in the USA in 1967 strikes against the railroad and aviation industries were prohibited; in Greece after the fascist monarchical coup of 1967 the activity of progressive trade unions was prohibited; similar laws were adopted in other countries. Compulsory arbitration is a specific form of antilabor legislation.

The forms of antilabor law are determined by the political regime of any given country. In countries with fascist dictatorships, such as Spain or Portugal, antilabor laws display undisguised force against the toilers. In bourgeois-democratic countries, the antiworker essence of these laws is masked by the inclusion of certain insignificant progressive features. Frequently antilabor legislation is adopted in the form of amendments to existing laws which consolidate concessions exacted by workers from capital as a result of protracted class struggle. An example of such an amendment is the American Taft-Hartley Act with relation to the Wagner Act of 1935, which contains a number of concessions to toilers. Antilabor provisions are often included in acts which as a whole constitute an achievement for the working people. The increased stringency of antilabor legislation is characteristic of the current stage of the general crisis of capitalism. Rivalry between two different socioeconomic systems forces the monopolies to carry out certain social reforms, but at the same time they attempt to nullify the concessions they make to the toilers.

Antilabor laws aim to undermine the organization of the workers’ movement and to weaken the influence of communist parties among the working class. Toward these ends changes are effected in the legal system; state control over the activity of trade unions has been introduced in the USA and in countries of Latin America, political strikes and strikes of solidarity have been declared illegal in the USA, Canada, Venezuela, and in other countries, and bans have been imposed on communist participation in trade union organs in Spain, Portugal, and elsewhere. Supported by antilabor laws, the bourgeois state interferes in the internal affairs of trade unions—for example, by establishing accountability. Numerous provisions restrict the right of toilers to strike and conclude collective contracts. Laws raising taxes and encouraging price increases on essential goods are also antilabor in nature. Antilabor laws are extensively employed in the current stage; they secure the implementation of certain “income policies,” “freezing” of wages, and so forth and hamper the struggle of working people for higher wages; examples of this area British law on prices and incomes in 1966 and the Industrial Relations Act of 1972. The increased stringency of antilabor laws is generally accompanied by the growth of antidemocratic legislation; it is evidence of the fact that monopoly capital, while proclaiming “class peace,” in fact constantly attacks the social rights and vital interests of the toiling masses. The struggle to abolish antilabor laws is an important part of the class struggle of the working class in the current stage.


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