1936 June 6

Senate Launches Investigation of Violations of Free Speech and Rights of Labor


The Senate on this day approved what became famous as the La Follette Committee, which investigated violations of the civil liberties of workers and labor unions by employers. The official name of the committee was the Subcommittee Investigating Violations of Free Speech and the Rights of Labor, of the Senate Committee on Education and Labor. The Committee conducted hearings from 1936 to 1941, and was named after its chair, Senator Robert M. La Follette, Jr., son of former Senator Robert M. (“Fighting Bob”) La Follette, Sr. In particular, the committee investigation exposed the use of private detective agencies, such as the Pinkerton Agency, who employed spies to fight workers attempting to organize unions.

Throughout the 1920s, employers relied on judicially enforced injunctions to deny workers basic free speech rights (September 1, 1922). Labor gained their First Amendment rights with the Norris-LaGuardia Act (March 23, 1932), which outlawed injunctions, and the Wagner Act, which guaranteed them their fight to form unions of their own choosing (July 5, 1935).

Robert La Follette, Sr. was a strong defender of civil liberties, and on October 6, 1917 gave a speech in Congress on “Free Speech in Wartime,” criticizing the suppression of dissent during World War I.

Learn more: Jerold Auerbach, Labor and Liberty: The La Follette Committee and the New Deal (1966)

Watch a video on strike breaking in the 1930s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57ga2As5An8

Hear Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers sing Solidarity Forever: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuQxyhx3W60

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