Respondent, a manufacturer engaged in interstate commerce and whose employees were entitled to the protection of the National Labor Relations Act, operated a branch plant in an essentially rural community of about 4,000 inhabitants. The plant had about 100 employees, none of whom were members of a labor union but many of whom had signed applications to join a union. Apparently in an effort to compel respondent to recognize the union as the bargaining agent of the employees, some of the employees struck and picketed the plant. The picketing was accompanied by massed name-calling, threats, and other conduct calculated to intimidate the officers, agents and nonstriking employees of the plant. A state court enjoined not only the threatening, intimidating or coercing of employees of the plant but also all "picketing or patrolling" of the plant premises. Held:
William J. Isaacson argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the brief were Sidney S. McMath, Leland F. Leatherman and Henry Woods.
J. L. Shaver, Sr. argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent.
MR. JUSTICE BURTON delivered the opinion of the Court.
The issues here are whether, under the circumstances of this case, a state court may enjoin strikers and union representatives from (1) "threatening, intimidating or coercing any of the officers, agents or employees of [the employer] at any place," and also "from obstructing, or attempting to obstruct the free use of the streets adjacent to [the employer's] place of business, and the free ingress and egress to and from [the employer's property," and (2) all "picketing or patrolling" of the employer's premises. For reasons hereafter stated, we conclude that the state court may lawfully enjoin conduct of substantially the first category but not of the second.
Most of the material facts are uncontroverted. In 1955, respondent, Rainfair, Inc., was a Wisconsin corporation with headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin. It owned and operated a plant in Wynne, Arkansas, an essentially rural community of about 4,000 inhabitants. About 100 women and seven men were there employed in the manufacture of men's slacks which were shipped in interstate commerce. None of the employees were members of a labor union but many had signed applications to join the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, CIO, which is one of the petitioners.
Apparently in an effort to compel the employer to recognize the union as the bargaining agent of the employees, 29 of the employees did not report for work on May 2, 1955. A picket line was established on the street in front of the plant. Strike headquarters were [355 U.S. 131, 133] maintained across the street from the plant entrance. Nearly all of the strikers were women. Their number varied from eight to 37. All was not quiet, however. On one occasion nails were strewn over the company's parking lot and, about a week later, the whole lot was "seeded" with roofing tacks. Tacks were also scattered in the driveway of the plant manager's home and on the driveways of 12 of the nonstriking women employees. One of the pickets told the plant manager that she would "wipe the sidewalk" with him and send him back to Wisconsin because he "was nothing but trash." The plant manager was followed by the strikers each time he left the plant; he also was harassed at night by occasional shouting at his home and by numerous anonymous telephone calls.
Immediately after the strike was called, respondent, by registered mail, informed each of the strikers that, if they did not return to work within a few days, the company would assume that those not returning had quit their jobs. Only three returned. Thirteen new employees were hired. The strike ended on May 19, the pickets were withdrawn and the strikers applied for reinstatement. Respondent, however, declined to arrange for immediate reinstatement. On June 17, the strikers voted to re-establish the picket line on Monday, June 20. 1 The purpose was to protest against respondent's failure to recognize the union and its refusal to reinstate the employees who had applied for reinstatement in May. [355 U.S. 131, 134]
Shortly after midnight, on the morning of June 20, two women strikers deliberately drove a sharp instrument into two tires of a car owned by the daughter of one of the nonstriking women employees. 2 At about 5:15 a. m. the police were summoned to the plant where they found a five-foot black snake inside the plant beneath a broken window. At about 6 a. m. picketing was resumed. 3 Although the union posted notices warning the strikers against committing acts of violence, a union representative later was sufficiently concerned to ask the police to have someone regularly on duty at the entrance to the plant. The evidence shows that the tension was in large part caused by the enormous amount of abusive language hurled by the strikers at the company employees. The Supreme Court of Arkansas later summarized this as follows:
The applicable principles of law are substantially agreed upon. Respondent concedes that it is engaged in interstate commerce and that its employees are entitled to the protection of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended, 61 Stat. 136, 29 U.S.C. 151. Respondent does not contend that the state court had power to enjoin peaceful organized activity, recognizing that generally the [355 U.S. 131, 138] National Labor Relations Board has exclusive jurisdiction of such matters. Weber v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 348 U.S. 468 . Petitioners concede that the state court had the power to enjoin violence. Auto Workers v. Wisconsin Board, 351 U.S. 266 ; Allen-Bradley Local v. Wisconsin Board, 315 U.S. 740 . Respondent contends that the record here shows a pattern of violence so enmeshed in the picketing that, to restore order, it was necessary to enjoin all organized conduct. Petitioners, on the other hand, urge that there was no violence here and no threat of it and, accordingly, that there was no factual warrant for the injunction which issued.
The issue here is whether or not the conduct and language of the strikers were likely to cause physical violence. Petitioners urge that all of this abusive language was protected and that they could not, therefore, be enjoined from using it. We cannot agree. Words can readily be so coupled with conduct as to provoke violence. See Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 571 -572. Petitioners contend that the words used, principally "scab" and variations thereon, are within a protected terminology. But if a sufficient number yell any word sufficiently loudly showing an intent to ridicule, insult or annoy, no matter how innocuous the dictionary definition of that word, the effect may cease to be persuasion and become intimidation and incitement to violence. 5 Wynne is not an industrial metropolis. When, in a small community, more than 30 people get together and act as they did here, and heap abuse on their neighbors and [355 U.S. 131, 139] former friends, a court is justified in finding that violence is imminent. Recognizing that the trial court was in a better position than we can be to assess the local situation, we think the evidence supports its conclusion, affirmed by the State Supreme Court, that the conduct and massed name-calling by petitioners were calculated to provoke violence and were likely to do so unless promptly restrained.
Though the state court was within its discretionary power in enjoining future acts of violence, intimidation and threats of violence by the strikers and the union, yet it is equally clear that such court entered the pre-empted domain of the National Labor Relations Board insofar as it enjoined peaceful picketing by petitioners. The picketing proper, as contrasted with the activities around the headquarters, was peaceful. There was little, if any, conduct designed to exclude those who desired to return to work. Nor can we say that a pattern of violence was established which would inevitably reappear in the event picketing were later resumed. Cf. Milk Wagon Drivers Union v. Meadowmoor Dairies, Inc., 312 U.S. 287 . What violence there was was scattered in time and much of it was unconnected with the picketing. There is nothing in the record to indicate that an injunction against such conduct would be ineffective if picketing were resumed.
Accordingly, insofar as the injunction before us prohibits petitioners and others cooperating with them from threatening violence against, or provoking violence on the part of, any of the officers, agents or employees of respondent and prohibits them from obstructing or attempting to obstruct the free use of the streets adjacent to respondent's place of business, and the free ingress and egress to and from that property, it is affirmed. On the other hand, to the extent the injunction prohibits all other picketing and patrolling of respondent's premises and in [355 U.S. 131, 140] particular prohibits peaceful picketing, it is set aside. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Arkansas is vacated and the case is remanded to it for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
[ Footnote 2 ] They later were convicted of this misdemeanor.
[ Footnote 3 ] The placards were inscribed, "Rainfair Workers on Strike, Rainfair is unfair to its employees, Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, CIO."
[ Footnote 4 ] "It is, therefore, considered and decreed by this court that the defendants James E. Youngdahl . . . and each of them, and their agents and employees, and each and every one of the officers and [355 U.S. 131, 137] members of Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, CIO, and all other persons in sympathy, or acting in concert with them, be, and they are hereby permanently enjoined while on, adjacent to, or near plaintiff's premises located on Martin Drive and Rowena Street, in Wynne, Arkansas, from interfering with plaintiff's business, its customers and employees, and from picketing or patrolling, or causing to be picketed or patrolled the plaintiff's premises, and the sidewalks, streets, or other property adjacent to plaintiff's premises, with placards or banners designating said place of business as unfair to organized labor, or with placards otherwise so worded as to give said place of business such designation; that the defendants, and each of them, their agents and employees, and the officers and members of the above-mentioned union, and all sympathizers, and all other persons acting in concert with them, be, and they are hereby restrained and enjoined from accosting and detaining, or causing to be accosted or to be detained on the sidewalks or streets adjacent to or on plaintiff's premises, any person or persons seeking to enter or depart from said place of business for the purpose of dissuading them from patronizing, or working for plaintiff, or from calling attention to any alleged unfairness of plaintiff, or its place of business, to organized labor; from threatening, intimidating or coercing any of the officers, agents or employees of plaintiff at any place; from loitering and congregating around and under the tent and upon the property that is used as the union's headquarters, located directly across Rowena Street in front of plaintiff's premises; and from obstructing, or attempting to obstruct the free use of the streets adjacent to plaintiff's place of business, and the free ingress and egress to and from plaintiff's property."
[ Footnote 5 ] In Arkansas there was then in effect a statute of long standing which expressly made it a crime for any person to "make use of any profane, violent, vulgar, abusive or insulting language toward or about any other person in his presence or hearing, which language in its common acceptation is calculated to arouse to anger the person about or to whom it is spoken or addressed, or to cause a breach of the peace or an assault . . . ." Ark. Stat., 1947, 41-1412. [355 U.S. 131, 141]