On October 15, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signs the Clayton Antitrust Act establishing that unions are not “conspiracies” under the law. It for the first time freed unions to legally strike, picket and boycott employers. In the years that followed, however, numerous state measures and negative court interpretations weakened the law.
The Clayton Act is a civil statute (carrying no criminal penalties) that prohibits mergers or acquisitions that are likely to lessen competition. Under this Act, the Government challenges those mergers that are likely to increase prices to consumers. All persons considering a merger or acquisition above a certain size must notify both the Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission. The Act also prohibits other business practices that may harm competition under certain circumstances.
An important difference between the Clayton Act and its 1890 predecessor, the Sherman Act, is that the Clayton Act contained safe harbors for union activities. Section 6 of the Act (codified at 15 U.S.C. § 17) exempts labor unions and agricultural organizations, saying “the labor of a human being is not a commodity or article of commerce, and permit[ting] labor organizations to carry out their legitimate objective.” Therefore, boycotts, peaceful strikes, peaceful picketing, and collective bargaining are not regulated by this statute.
Photo: St. Louis, fast food workers, July 31. People’s World