1922 September 1

Sweeping Injunction Denies Railroad Workers First Amendment Rights


In one of the most important labor union cases of the 1920s, federal judge James H. Wilkerson issued a sweeping injunction on this day against railroad union members who were conducting a nationwide strike. The injunction denied workers the most basic First Amendment rights: to picket and to even discuss labor unions with fellow workers. The injunction not only ended the strike but set in motion a steep decline in union membership in the U.S.

In the 1920s, employers made frequent use of injunctions to deny workers and unions basic First Amendment rights, and courts consistently complied with their wishes. Change did not come until the Norris–LaGuardia Act (March 23, 1932), which outlawed anti-union injunctions, and the Wagner Act (July 5, 1935), which guaranteed workers the right to form unions “of their own choosing.”

Learn more about the pivotal strike and injunction: Colin J. Davis, Power at Odds: The 1922 National Railroad Shopman’s Strike (1997)

Read the classic work on labor injunctions: Felix Frankfurter and Nathan Greene, The Labor Injunction (1930)

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