Penn Law Book Symposia: Sophia Lee

Mon, 05/11/2015 - 3:15pm - 5:00pm
Faculty Lounge, Silverman 144

Please join us for a book symposium to celebrate publication of Sophia Lee’s wonderful new book, The Workplace Constitution from the New Deal to the New Right.  It will be a busy, celebratory day because our annual faculty dinner is that evening, but we’ll be done in time to permit everyone to get to the dinner on time.

The commentators will be,
Seth Kreimer
Tom Sugrue of Penn’s History Department
Steve Teles of the Political Science Department at Johns Hopkins, whose specialties based on qualitative work are, social policy, law and public policy, and political analysis
Rich Yeselson, a writer and a former strategist and researcher in the labor movement

It should be a stimulating panel and we hope to see everyone there. Wine and cheese will be served.


Today, most American workers do not have constitutional rights on the job. As The Workplace Constitution shows, this outcome was far from inevitable. Instead, American workers have a long history of fighting for such rights. Beginning in the 1930s, civil rights advocates sought constitutional protections against racial discrimination by employers and unions. At the same time, a conservative right-to-work movement argued that the Constitution protected workers from having to join or support unions. Those two movements, with their shared aim of extending constitutional protections to American workers, were a potentially powerful combination. But they sought to use those protections to quite different ends: African Americans wanted access to unions, while right-to-work litigants wanted to be free of them. Although the civil rights movement went on to dismantle Jim Crow laws, and the right-to-work movement had the support of some of the nation’s most prominent politicians and opinion makers, their conflicting purposes sapped support for the workplace Constitution and ultimately led to its collapse.

The Workplace Constitution tells for the first time the story of anti–New Deal conservatives’ legal campaigns, recovers overlooked civil rights and labor advocacy, and moves constitutional history into little-explored venues such as administrative agencies. In recounting the civil rights and right-to-work movements’ surprising successes and explaining their ultimate failure, this book provides a fresh perspective on postwar conservatism and liberalism, emphasizing how law intertwined their fates and how that entanglement in turn shaped the law. Those interested in the history of the United States’ conservative, labor, and civil rights movements; its Constitution and political institutions; and the legal rights of its workers will find much of interest here. In the twenty-first century, the workplace Constitution has all but vanished. This book illuminates what has been gained and lost in its demise, both in the workplace and beyond.

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