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Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement

Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement

William E. Forbath

ISBN 9780674037083

Publication date: 07/01/2009

Why did American workers, unlike their European counterparts, fail to forge a class-based movement to pursue broad social reform? Was it simply that they lacked class consciousness and were more interested in personal mobility? In a richly detailed survey of labor law and labor history, William Forbath challenges this notion of American “individualism.” In fact, he argues, the nineteenth-century American labor movement was much like Europe’s labor movements in its social and political outlook, but in the decades around the turn of the century, the prevailing attitude of American trade unionists changed. Forbath shows that, over time, struggles with the courts and the legal order were crucial to reshaping labor’s outlook, driving the labor movement to temper its radical goals.


  • A very distinguished work… Forbath derives bold and original conclusions…and is sensitive to the political and social context in which law functions… His book is right and relevant today.

    —Lance Liebman, Harvard Law School


  • William E. Forbath holds the Lloyd M. Bentsen Chair in Law and is Associate Dean for Research at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press