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My name is Clyde Summers, and I am Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law school. I have been asked to come here today by Chairman Fawell.

My limited purpose today is to provide some background on the Labor-Management Reporting Act of 1959, more commonly known as the Landrum-Griffin Act. I want to focus particularly on the fundamental premises and purposes of the statute, for understanding those premises and purposes is essential for any constructive consideration of how to promote union democracy.


We must begin at the roots. When the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) was passed in 1935, the declared national policy was to "encourage the practice and procedure of collective bargaining." One of the basic purposes of the statute, often lost from view today, was to give workers an effective voice in determining the terms and conditions of their employment. It echoed historic declarations that political democracy should be matched by industrial democracy. Senator Wagner in explaining the undergirding philosophy of the statute, stated:


Collective bargaining, however, can serve this purpose of industrial democracy only if unions are democratic; workers gain no voice in the decisions of his working life if they have no voice in the decisions of the union which represents them.

This is the basic premise of the Landrum-Griffin Act: the ultimate goals of collective bargaining can be achieved only if union members are guaranteed their democratic rights within the union. The strongest support for the statute came from those who believed most deeply in collective bargaining and its function in enriching democracy.

The focus of Landrum-Griffin, therefore, was to protect the democratic rights of union members and the democratic process in union decision making. The Report of he Senate Committee reporting out the bill stated:

Senator McClellan, whose investigations stirred the demand for legislation, in introducing his Bill of Rights for union members as an amendment to the Committee proposal stated:

Although much of the McClellan hearings focused on union corruption, the statute focused on guaranteeing union members democratic rights. McClellan explained:

A guiding principle of the statute was to limit legal intervention in union affairs, to let unions govern themselves. This was to be done by guaranteeing the democratic process within the union. Democratic decision making would give legitimacy to union decisions and policies, reducing the need for legal regulation. Full protection of the democratic process, however ,was a prerequisite for legitimacy. As the Supreme Court observed:


The statute protects and enhances the democratic process with provisions guaranteeing five basic rights:

These four fundamental rights are all absolutely essential for promoting and protecting the democratic process in unions. The statutory provisions give explicit recognition of these rights and, as elaborated by the courts, give substantial protection. They do not give full protection; there are, in my view, troublesome gaps, but the thrust of the provisions is sound, and they have made an enormous contribution toward guaranteeing the democratic process within unions.

This is not the time for me to make specific recommendations for strengthening the statute. I would, however, identify four points for attention:

Guaranteeing union members an effective voice in the decisions of their union and the election of union officers presents a special problem which is often overlooked. Unions are political organization, and the democratic process works through their political process. Their political structure and process, however, are unlike our government political process.

The union political process is a one party process, not a two party process. The incumbent officers have predominate if not complete control over communication within the union, access to the membership and dispensing of patronage. Rarely is there a continuing opposition group with a political base or financial resources. The incumbents, with their built-in political organization and control of communications have an enormous advantage over any opposition group which may form. The tendency, particularly at the national level, is that union leadership tends to becoe a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. It is not surprising that incumbent national officers are seldom defeated in elections.

If union members are to have an effective voice and officers are to be made responsive to the members' preferences, the fact of this gross imbalance in the political process must be recognized. Union members need greater protection of freedom of speech and assembly within the union than citizens in the body politic. Election rules need to be designed to reduce the imbalance. Local autonomy needs to be protected so that opposition groups may build a political base. The advantage of incumbents can never be fully offset, but the opposition should be given a measure of hope to encourage them to make their views heard.

I want to close where I began. The demand that unions should be democratic derives from their role as collective bargaining representatives. It rests ultimately on the function of collective bargaining to give employees a voice in the decisions which affect their working lives.

The commitment to union democracy must rest ultimately on our commitment to collective bargaining as an instrument of industrial democracy. In my view, those who are not fully committed to promoting and encouraging the practices and procedures of collective bargaining have no standing to discuss, much less demand, union democracy.

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All original work Copyright 1998. All rights reserved.