I've got a new piece just up at City Journal on last week's occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago, led by a union on the left fringe of the American labor movement. The action ended after six days with the capitulation of Bank of America and Chase under intense political pressure. Earlier coverage here. A few points:
- You'd have had trouble guessing from a lot of the coverage, but it's far from clear that the window factory owners owed any severance at all under the terms of the federal WARN (plant-closings) act. And it's abundantly clear that the actual targets of the protest, the two banks, owed nothing.
- The whole point of this sort of illegal action is to resolve by force a dispute that would otherwise be consigned to the ordinary processes of law -- put differently, to make sure the action's targets never get their right to a day in court to put forth their (quite possibly meritorious) defense. When Chicago and Illinois officials jumped in to arm-twist the targets into settling, they endorsed this way of resolving disputes. That may come as little surprise given the reputation of Chicago governance. But why should anyone feel secure in locating a politically sensitive business in that city (or state) from now on?
- Among those who either cheered the illegality or viewed it with complacency are not only high public officials but law professors, commentators and leaders of the legal profession. Indeed, President-elect (and former law professor) Barack Obama vocally backed the union's cause at a press conference while pointedly saying not a word about its unlawfulness of its actions. Should we ever again take seriously the rumblings of any of these parties about the all-importance of the rule of law?
- Some in the media, like Boston Globe columnist James Carroll, applauded the illegal action and left-leaning Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson called for more of the same: "Barack Obama means to build a more equitable nation, but it would help him in that task if more workers sat down". Does Obama agree?