Starting in the early 1900s, many thousands of native Filipinos were conscripted as laborers in American West Coast agricultural fields and Alaska salmon canneries. There, they found themselves confined to exploitative low-wage jobs in racially segregated workplaces as well as subjected to vigilante violence and other forms of ethnic persecution. In time, though, Filipino workers formed political organizations and affiliated with labor unions to represent their interests and to advance their struggles for class, race, and gender-based social justice. Union by Law analyzes the broader social and legal history of Filipino American workers' rights-based struggles, culminating in the devastating landmark Supreme Court ruling, Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Atonio (1989). Organized chronologically, the book begins with the US invasion of the Philippines and the imposition of colonial rule at the dawn of the twentieth century. The narrative then follows the migration of Filipino workers to the United States, where they mobilized for many decades within and against the injustices of American racial capitalist empire that the Wards Cove majority willfully ignored in rejecting their longstanding claims. This racial innocence in turn rationalized judicial reconstruction of official civil rights law in ways that significantly increased the obstacles for all workers seeking remedies for institutionalized racism and sexism. A reclamation of a long legacy of racial capitalist domination over Filipinos and other low-wage or unpaid migrant workers, Union by Law also tells a story of noble aspirational struggles for human rights over several generations and of the many ways that law was mobilized both to enforce and to challenge race, class, and gender hierarchy at work.
This is a powerful book, covering a long history of labor mobilization in the face of a racialized labor regime and a frequently exclusionary and hostile legal system. It clearly shows the power of the law to support the claims of less powerful groups from time to time as it is mobilized by social justice advocates, as well as the inevitable slippage and failure of the law to accomplish these ends at other times. It expresses both despair and a resurgent hope that the institutions of American law and politics might live up to their ideals. --Sally Engle Merry, New York University Union by Law offers a magisterial and inspiring history of inter-generational and transnational struggle by Filipino migrants conscripted to work in the Alaska salmon canning industry. With rigor and care, the book examines the brutality of racial subordination, its iron-clad linkage with worker exploitation, and the extent both rely on legalized forms of oppression. But from the margins, workers find the courage to reclaim power and rewrite the legal meaning of discrimination in a system of racial capitalism. That the system ultimately stymies the workers' boldest claims only underscores the necessity of their struggle. In this sense, it is a history that speaks with particular force to our current times. --Scott Cummings, UCLA School of Law Union by Law is a tour de force, a product of an immense amount of research and knowledge. It carefully and artfully follows the political and legal experience of Filipino Americans from initial US Colonization to union mobilization to Cold War-era violent struggle to the Wards Cove decision at the end of the 1980s. Throughout an illuminating and beautifully written historical narrative, the authors carefully delineate the ways in which law enveloped the lives of these immigrant laborers, both in confining and offering certain momentary opportunities. It is another terrific addition to the canon of these two leading scholars of the field. --Paul Frymer, Princeton University