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What Should Labor Law Do?



Today is the 80th anniversary of the National Labor Relations Act.

Of course, the NLRA is hardly working for workers these days, with regulatory capture and unfriendly court decisions creating a regime that keeps all the restrictions on workers and eliminates all the benefits. The extent to which labor should hope to keep using the old legal regime is a big debate within labor circles. Lane Windham weighs in, going over the basics and concluding:

The best way to fix the Wagner Act and to restore workers’ freedom to form union is to lighten the work we expect this 80-year-old law to do. All workers need a guaranteed basic annual income, all workers need full access to health care, and all workers deserve to retire with guaranteed dignity—whether they have a union or not. Once our nation guarantees universal social wage benefits for our workers, employers will have less incentive to wage war on unionizing efforts, and the Wagner Act may once again be a potent tool for bringing democracy and worker empowerment to the nation’s rapidly changing workplaces.

OK, but can I have a pony too? I mean, sure, it’d be great to have universal basic income, Swedish-style health care, and great retirement benefits. But to say that we should quit worrying about labor law until we get these things means that we will never worry about labor law again because these goals will probably never happen in American society. Or it will take decades if we are being optimistic. A scenario of New Deal-esque social legislation before getting to these other issues is, to say the least, not a realistic one. At the very least, Windham should have laid out some framework for when this was going to happen and I’m surprised the editors of the piece didn’t push her on this.

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