Abstract: In a just workplace, one governed by rules, regulations, and laws that reflect the values of autonomy and dignity, workers have a voice in workplace decision making (have become part authors of their working lives) and are treated with dignity. These autonomous dignified workers are better able to fulfill the needs and wants of themselves and their family precisely because they work for a fair wage in a safe and just workplace. But few workplaces, even in nearly just societies, perfectly reflect these values. Given the mismatch between justice and reality, the question becomes: At what point and under what conditions is the autonomous dignified worker entitled to engage in civil disobedience or uncivil obedience (e.g., work to rule)? To answer this question, I deconstruct the normally accepted features of civil disobedience, “a public, nonviolent and conscientious yet political act contrary to law, usually done with the aim of bringing about a change in the law or policies of the government”, asking whether these features are necessary. I then ask whether there are circumstances under which the autonomous dignified worker is justified in engaging in civil disobedience including whether non-punishment or violence is ever justified.
Anne Marie Lofaso is a Professor of Law at West Virginia University College of Law, where she teaches labor and employment law, jurisprudence, and comparative labor law. She is also currently a Leadership Fellow in the Office of the Associate Vice President for Creative and Scholarly Activity, and a Research Scholar for the NYU Center for Labor and Employment. From 2011 to 2015, she served as Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development at WVU Law. She is currently a Keeley Visiting Fellow at Wadham College, University of Oxford.