Back to the Future: Rediscovering the Non-Economic Role, Value and Scope of Labour Law and Collective Labour Institutions in a Changing World

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In a world economy that is simultaneously post-fordist and increasingly deregulated for the sake of flexibility, in developed economies, while mirroring the appalling conditions of early Fordist industrialised production, in developing markets, it is becoming increasingly apparent that traditional conceptions of Labour Law and its mechanisms are inadequate to provide a coherent framework for labour protection. Regulatory concepts and institutional structures, embedded in post WWII western social regulation, reflecting not merely bygone production models but also the balance of political and market forces’ power in a fixed point in time, should therefore be re-examined, to correspond to the needs of 21st century economy labour.
This paper proposes going back to the conceptual roots of the idea of labour protection, to rediscover the value and substance of the concept of labour itself, and the objective of the mechanisms to ensure its protection from coercion and abuse of power. Drawing upon philosophical analyses, founded on both the Marxist and Liberal traditions, the paper will attempt to reconnect the concept of ‘labour’, the fundamental core of the protective nexus of Labour Law, to its normative content, as an element of identity and social recognition and a precondition of individual liberty. Consequently, it will be suggested that ‘labour’ as a value, goes beyond the scope of the contract-based ‘employee’/’worker’ paradigm.
Moreover, by examining the political history and the theoretical basis of the emergence of collective labour institutions, the paper will discuss the role of collective labour organisation and action as an inherent catalyst for market democratisation, and, therefore, as a prerequisite for a functional liberal democracy. By looking into the historical roots of labour law, collective autonomy and self-determination, as opposed to top-down regulation, will be shown to be the foundations of fundamental Labour Law concepts, and the ensuing rights. Furthermore, building upon ideas expressed by Pollanyi and Sinzheimer, among others, solidaristic structures of collective expression of voice, will be shown to be integral in embedding the economy in its socio-political context, inducing structural systemic democratisation, and promoting an ethos of participation.
Subsequently, with reference to institutional law and economics, it will be argued that redefined fundamental concepts and institutions, that correspond to the needs of those seeking protection of their labour, will ultimately mould the particular version of a market economy operating in a certain historical, political, economic and social context.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTheorising Labour Law in a Changing World
Subtitle of host publicationTowards Inclusive Labour Law
EditorsAlysia Blackham, Miriam Kullmann, Ania Zbyszewska
PublisherHart Publishing
Number of pages240
ISBN (Electronic)9781509921584
ISBN (Print)9781509921553
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2019


  • Labour law
  • Labour History
  • Collective labour law
  • Collective action
  • market democratisation
  • democratisation

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities


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