Between 1936 and 1939, American workers staged some 583 sit-down strikes of at least one day's duration. In the latter year, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in NLRB v. Fansteel Metallurgical Corporation, resolving the official legal status of the tactic. Fansteel made it clear not only that a state could punish sit-downers for violating trespass laws, but also that an employer could lawfully discharge them—even if that employer had itself provoked the sit-down by committing unfair labor practices in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.
Jim Pope is Professor of Law and Sidney Reitman Scholar at the Rutgers University School of Law, Newark, New Jersey <email@example.com>. Funding for this essay was provided by the Rutgers Law School Dean's Research Fund. The author wishes to thank Jim Atleson, Dan Ernst, Jennifer Hochschild, Peter Kellman, Nelson Lichtenstein, Dan Rodgers, Keith Whittington, and—especially—Law and History Review's anonymous referees for their criticisms and suggestions. Heartfelt gratitude also goes to the dedicated and knowledgeable archivists of the Wayne State University Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs and the Tamiment Institute at New York University.