East West Trade Boycotts: A Study in Private, Labor Union, State, and Local Interference with Foreign Policy

100 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2010

See all articles by Richard Bilder

Richard Bilder

University of Wisconsin Law School

Date Written: May 1, 1970


During the decade 1958-69, the Executive Branch of the U.S. government moved gradually in the direction of liberalizing East-West trade. This shift in policy encountered considerable resistance from Congress. But, in addition, private groups organized boycotts of Communist goods and of business engaged in East-West trade; maritime unions sporadically refused to load or unload goods destined for or coming from Eastern Europe; and a number of municipalities enacted ordinances intended to discourage local merchants from selling goods of Eastern European origin. These “East-West Trade Boycotts” illustrate a continuing problem in American foreign policy – the extent to which Presidential foreign policies, and Congressional policies as well, may be undermined by state or local government action, or by private groups or labor unions disagreeing with the policies or otherwise unwilling to conduct themselves as those policies require. This article describes these East-West trade boycotts and explores the legal and practical problems associated with attempts to restrain such foreign policy interferences. Among the questions discussed are: (1) To what extent are state and local governments barred from actively interfering with foreign policy, and how can any restraints be enforced? (2) Under what circumstances can the national government control purely private or labor union conduct relating to foreign policy, and what issues does such regulation raise? (3) Are legal remedies presently available to private parties adversely affected by private interference with foreign policy? (4) Does it make a difference whether the foreign policy involved is one established by the President along or also by Congress through legislation? (5) How important is it that our foreign policy not be “embarrassed” and what price are we prepared to pay to prevent such interference? The article concludes by noting that foreign policy interferences – by private groups, labor unions, and state and local governments will likely continue to be a recurrent feature of American political life. While significant state and local government interference in foreign policy clearly implicates constitutional principles of federal supremacy over foreign relations, interference by private groups or labor unions raises complex and difficult issues of balancing basic social values – the right to dissent versus the need for national unity in the conduct of our nation’s foreign policy. Thus far, our nation has been reluctant, in the name of foreign policy, to attempt to control private or labor union conduct associated with dissent. On balance the nation seems best served by maintaining this tradition.

Keywords: trade boycotts, U.S. Foreign Relations, Interference with U.S. Foreign Policy, Private Interference with U.S. Foreign Policy, Labor, Union Interference with U.S. Foreign Policy, state and local Interference with U.S. Foreign Policy

JEL Classification: K33, K40, K42

Suggested Citation

Bilder, Richard, East West Trade Boycotts: A Study in Private, Labor Union, State, and Local Interference with Foreign Policy (May 1, 1970). University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 118, No. 6, pp. 841-938, 1970, Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper Archival Collection, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1623884

Richard Bilder (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States

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