Examining the Law Syllabus: The Core

By P. B. H. Birks; Society of Public Teachers of Law (London, England) | Go to book overview

10. Labour Law: Introducing the Dimensions of a crisis

PAUL DAVIES & MARK FREEDLAND

SOMEWHAT to the surprise of the non-labour lawyers present, the seminar on the teaching of labour law remained good- humoured throughout and a high degree of consensus prevailed. Consensus should not, however, be confused with complacency. On the contrary, the agreement was that labour law was in crisis. In part the problem was one of overload. The older members of the seminar looked back nostalgically to the days before the Industrial Relations Act 1971, when there were few labour law cases and even fewer statutes, and respectable academics could get on with the business of defending industrial relations against the intrusion of 'the law'. Perhaps more important, labour lawyers then shared, by and large, a framework of social analysis within which to place the law, that framework being provided by the institutional analysis of industrial relations, associated first with Oxford and later with the early days of the Warwick Industrial Relations Research Unit.

Today, however, the cases shower down like confetti and the statute law in the area has been in a state of upheaval ever since the early 70s. The basis upon which to select among this material for our students has itself been undermined by the manifold challenges to collective bargaining which the last two decades have generated. So, what does one teach and what is it, fundamentally, one is trying to impart to the students?

The seminar was divided, rather artificially, into a morning session, devoted to the question of what to bring into the syllabus and what to leave out, and an afternoon session in which the focus was on the question of which other disciplines could most fruitfully be brought to bear on the teaching of labour law. Inevitably, the two issues could not be kept completely apart, but this initial division does explain the difference in the starting points of the morning papers ( Gwyneth Pitt and Keith Ewing) and of the afternoon presenters ( Sandra Fredman, Simon Deakin and Hugh Collins). The success of the venture, which depended as much on the contributions of the non-paper givers as on the structured introduction, is measured by the fact that a debate was initiated which continues to be developed in the labour law group of the SPTL.

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