Commonwealth Vs. Hunt


Commonwealth vs. Hunt was the Supreme Court case, in 1842, that legalized nonviolent labor unions. Criminal charges were brought upon Jeremiah Home, a member of the Boston Society of Journeymen Boot makers, after he refused to pay a fine for violating the group's rules and was fired. Several leaders of the union were arrested and tried for "unlawfully...designing and intending to continue, keep, form, and unite themselves into a club..., and make unlawful by-laws, rules and orders among themselves and other workmen." It was argued that the union was a conspiracy, as their by-laws were used against them, even though there were no accusations of violence or malicious intent against the business. They were found guilty in a municipal court and were then tried at the Massachusetts Supreme court. There, the court decided in favor of the Union, claiming that even though the group had the ability to diminish a business' profits, they are not considered a conspirator unless they used methods that were illegal or violent to achieve their ends.

While this is one simple court case, in the grand scheme of things, this case was symbolic and marked a change in the public's mind. Unions were no seen as conspiracy organizations and were instead viewed as "a necessary offshoot of capitalism". In addition, unions could require closed shops (they could require that individuals who work for a particular business were part of their union). This not only made it clear that strikes were accepted, but ensured that they would be done
in a legal and peaceful way
.
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