this book examines how several different types of labor regulations
enacted between Reconstruction and the New Deal era—laws restricting
interstate labor recruitment, occupational licensing laws, railroad labor
laws, public works labor legislation, and New Deal minimum wage and
collective bargaining laws—harmed African Americans. Labor regula-
tions were vulnerable to constitutional challenges until 1937. Court deci-
sions invalidating labor laws on constitutional grounds have traditionally
been seen as irredeemably reactionary. The judiciary is said to have been
blind to economic realities that required government to intervene to en-
sure that labor markets functioned properly, and to redress inequalities of
bargaining power.
The traditional sanguine view of the intent and effects of labor legisla-
tion neglects a very simple but powerful insight provided by modern polit-
ical and economic theory—regulatory legislation tends to benefit those
with political power, at the expense of those without such power. Many
labor laws were blatant special-interest legislation that, at best, helped
certain workers at the expense of others, while reducing market efficiency.
Even laws that were initially motivated by legitimate public health, safety,
and welfare concerns were frequently drafted and/or enforced to benefit
the politically powerful at the expense of the politically vulnerable.
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