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Darren O’Grady is a tutor at the Trade Union Studies Centre of South Thames College. He has been an active trade unionist all his working life, in the construction, film and now education industries. He is also a lay representative of the University Colleges Union (UCU) and Secretary of Waltham Forest Trades Council in East London. Here he reviews:
Transformation of Labour Law : A Comparative Study of 15 Countries 1945-2004
- ed. Hepple & Veneziani, (Hart) 2009.
This volume is a companion to the earlier comparative study of the development of labour law up to 1945, which examined developments in the nine members of the EEC in 1979. The current book takes up the story and expands the remit to the fifteen members of the EU prior to the expansion in 2004. One of the key developments identified since 1980 has been the decline of collectivism. Accompanying this has been a shift from collective to individual rights, with the enforcement of these rights typically through the individual pursuit of a judicial route. Labour relations have become highly juridified in contemporary Europe, to a degree that would have been unimaginable in the earlier period studied.
The great strength of the collection is the focus on context, with chapters looking at developments in labour market trends and structures of worker representation. This latter chapter illustrates that whilst differences persist within national labour law systems, there has been a great tendency towards convergence over the period. However there is nothing mechanical about this convergence, with many forces involved in a complex interaction. Perhaps the key chapter of the book is that which looks at the relationship between current economic orthodoxies and legal systems. The book identifies five key phases of developments, the latest being that from 1990 and the impact of globalisation. The ascendancy of neo liberalism in mainstream political and economic circles has been accompanied by a distinct shift in judicial attitudes at both domestic and EU level. The overt sympathy for free market principles at the expense of those emphasising collectivity for example in the ECJ decisions of Viking et al, has been well noted by many trade unionists, This tendency is explored and set in a wider context that is very illuminating.Whilst probably not a book for a general readership, this is by no means an exclusively academic text. There is much of interest for active trade unionists and those with an interest in pan-European developments affecting workers.