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New Left Review 39, May-June 2006

Behind the struggles over employment laws in France and Germany, Alain Supiot describes a deeper battle over legal systems. Are national legislative models—now benchmarked for investment efficiency by the international institutions—becoming rival products in a world market of norms?



A World Market of Norms?

The struggles over employment laws that have rocked France and Germany over the past year have been largely defensive. Yet labour-law reform, in a positive sense, is an important issue which deserves to be addressed on its own terms: how might the law best adapt to objective changes in work practices brought about by new techniques? The model of wage labour that held sway during the industrial era—in which a worker abdicates a degree of freedom in exchange for a certain amount of security—is no longer generally applicable today. Much recent scholarship has concurred that the question involves not simply the codification of the individual worker’s rights but rather the creation of professional conditions for people such that, over the long term, their capabilities and economic needs are sufficiently assured to allow them to take initiatives and shoulder responsibilities. [1] See Alain Supiot, ed., Au-delà de l’emploi. Transformations du travail et devenir du droit du travail en Europe, Paris 1999; Bruno Trentin, La libertà viene prima. La libertà come posta in gioco nel conflitto sociale, Rome 2004; Simon Deakin and Frank Wilkinson, The Law of the Labour Market: Industrialization, Employment and Legal Evolution, Oxford 2005; Mark Freedland, The Personal Employment Contract, Oxford 2003; Hartmut Kaelble and Günter Schmid, eds, Das europäische Sozial Modell. Auf dem Weg zum transnationalen Sozialstaat, Berlin 2004; Philip Alston, ed., Labour Rights as Human Rights, Oxford 2005. The key terms within this perspective are not jobs, subordination and social security, but work (understood in all its forms, not just as wage labour), professional skills and economic security.

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Alain Supiot, ‘Law and Labour’, NLR 39: £3

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