“Critics usually point to federal bureaucrats and judges as the architects of affirmative action,” writes Paul Moreno in the Wall Street Journal. “They ought to remember the unions who provided the materials.” Moreno lays out labor leaders’ (un)impressive history in contributing to laws dealing with discrimination — mainly because they were so good at discriminating against minorities. He writes:
In places where unions could not exclude blacks, they adopted racial quotas to limit their number or share of work. These were common in Gulf Coast port cities, and were used by railroad unions into the 20th century.
Black workers often had to fight past white picketers who threatened them with violence or death. And not only picketers. Gov. John R. Tanner of Illinois, a Republican, pledged to stop black replacement workers from breaking a mine workers’ strike in 1898, saying he would “shoot to pieces with gatling guns” any train that transported them. An Illinois militia commander swore, “If any Negroes are brought while I am in charge, and they refuse to retreat when ordered to do so, I will order my men to fire.”
Progressives also used federal legislation to enable private unions to maintain racial monopolies or even drive black workers out of their jobs. The La Follette Seamen’s Act of 1915 sought to sweep Asians out of the merchant ship service. As Gompers told another leading Progressive, Sen. Robert La Follette, the unregulated labor market was “driving not only the American but all white men from the sea.”
Then there’s that little law that keeps popping up all over the place: Davis-Bacon. Moreno explains:
From prevailing discrimination to costly prevailing “wages,” Davis-Bacon keeps on giving. Just another reminder to say Thanks Union Bosses!