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In the last few years, workers have engaged in organizing and strike activity at levels not seen in decades; state and local legislators have enacted innovative workplace and social welfare legislation; and the National Labor Relations Board has advanced ambitious new interpretations of its governing statute. Viewed collectively, these efforts — “labor’s” efforts for short — seek not only to redefine the contours of labor law. They also present an incipient challenge to our constitutional order. If realized, labor’s vision would extend democratic values, including freedom of speech and association, into the putatively private domain of the workplace. It would also support the Constitution’s promise of free labor; guarantee social and economic rights to workers; expand who qualifies as an equal member of the demos; and forge a more democratic governance structure, with less power for the judiciary and more democratic control over the political economy. The potential threat has not escaped the notice of capital. Business is responding with reinvigorated arguments about the First Amendment, the Takings Clause, due process, equal protection, nondelegation, and the Dormant Commerce Clause, as well as appeals to common law concepts of managerial control and property rights.

By examining labor’s efforts and business’s response, this Article shows that contemporary fights about labor are also inherently fights about constitutional law — about the rights to which citizens and residents are entitled, about governmental powers and structure, and ultimately about how we constitute ourselves as a nation. The Article also offers lessons for how to engage in nonjuriscentric constitutionalism; highlights the importance of advancing an affirmative constitutional agenda; and, from the range of labor’s efforts, outlines a coherent substantive alternative to both business’s constitution and the post-New Deal constitutional compromise that has, in many ways, failed to guarantee a democratic and egalitarian political economy.


Constitutional Law | Labor and Employment Law | Law