Unions More Guilty of Libel Than Those Who Criticize Them

Westbrook Pegler

Knoxville News-Sentinel/April 22, 1942

NEW YORK, April 22—The so-called labor press of the country, consisting of many small and generally scurrilous publications, most of them conducted for the financial and political profit of the union bosses, has greeted with jubilation a decision by the New York Court of Appeals that unions may sue for libel. Up to now, however, I have seen no similar rejoicing in any of these sheets over another decision, by a state court in California, that unions and obviously also their publications may in turn be sued for libel by those whom they delight to defame. I venture to believe that this one will be stoutly resented as another low blow at labor’s rights.

The New York decision was no surprise to me because I had always assumed that a union had personality, so to speak, and could punish and obtain redress from anyone who slandered its fair name. That is why I have always been very careful to stay within the bounds of provable fact in my discussion of unions and those vicious personalities engaged in the union racket who exploit, persecute and rob the common American worker with the connivance of the national government

Businessman Was Libeled

I WEIGHED my facts well before I declared that the American Federation of Labor had among the roster of union officials in its component groups the nucleus of a first class rogues’ gallery and that it had become a front for thieves and underworld gangsters. For I was’ ready to prove that such crooks as Umbrella Mike Boyle of the Chicago Electricians, Browne Bioff and Scalise and the degenerate Brother Jones of Akron O., among many others, were members of the official family and powers in the organization; that Brother Will Green had publicly and officially defended Browne after this character had become notorious throughout the country and’ that he had vouched for Brother Scalise, a Capone gangster of the most obvious sort, knowing that Brother Scalise had done time for seducing and exploiting a young girl as her bargaining agent.

I have always held that responsibility accompanies the privilege of a free press and just naturally assumed that anyone who bore false witness against a union must be liable to punishment. Similarly I entertained a conviction or superstition that a union or its official publication should be held responsible for false and defamatory representations against innocent individuals but realized that, because the right to sue was never invoked, there must be some artificial verboten. In the California case an indignant businessman brought suit against a local union for falsely declaring that his place of business was unfair to labor and recovered $100, a nominal but significant victory.

Supreme Court and Unions

STILL I would not be confident that this decision would be sustained in the United States Supreme Court for I have just refreshed my memory on the famous Frankfurter decision in the so-called Carpenters’ Case and find no encouragement for victims of wanton injury at the hands of liars on the union side.

In that case as Justice Frankfurter blandly conceded the carpenters and machinists both reached an agreement with Anheuser-Busch of St Louis over the division of certain jobs among their respective memberships, promising to submit all disputes to arbitration. The carpenters, however, repudiated their treaty after the manner of aggressor nations, and when Anheuser-Busch, in turn, refused to repudiate its agreement with the machinists the carpenters not only struck but, by circulars and through their official journal, started an injurious boycott on the false representation that the company was unfair.

According to Justice Frankfurter’s own statement of the case, it was the Carpenters’ Union which plainly was unfair and the company is plainly acquitted of unfairness. Nevertheless Justice Frankfurter held that the picketing of Anheuser-Busch with signs to indicate that Anheuser-Busch was unfair to “organized labor” was a “familiar practice in these situations” and that “the facts here charged constitute lawful conduct under the Clayton Act.” In other, but not substantially different words, the highest court in the United States here pointedly refrains from condemning an injurious slander of an innocent victim by a union and holds that, in the Clayton Act at least, the United States Congress consciously intended to place in the hands of unions the weapon of defamation with which to beat into submission persons with whom they have already, and admittedly, broken faith

The Public Suffers

UNIONS and their publications are incomparably more guilty of vicious slanders and libel than their critics, while those who criticize unions generally may be said to err, when they do, only from lack of skill and caution in the presentation of facts It is the general public, candidates for political office and honest critics of criminality in unions who suffer by far the most from false witness in this equation but it is the purveyors of this abuse who claim protection and disclaim legal responsibility.

Possibly your congressman and senators would like to correct Mr. Frankfurter’s impression that it ever was the intention of Congress to legalize defamation of whomsoever by a special group.

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