ANY discussion of a multi-disciplinary approach to labour law must begin with Kahn-Freund. It was Kahn-Freund who, through his insights into the essential links between labour law and social forces, breathed new life into labour law. Most importantly, this multifaceted approach enabled him to highlight the central role played by 'non-law' in industrial relations.
After nearly 13 years of rule by the Conservative government, the picture has changed dramatically. There is now so much law in labour law, that technical legal details threaten to submerge the syllabus. As a result, students rarely have the opportunity of reading the political theory and sociology which previously attracted them to labour law as a welcome break from their core subjects. Instead, labour law has the image of a heavy and difficult black letter law subject, and students flock to other options like Criminal Justice and Penology.
I would like to argue for a reinstatement of the multi-disciplinary approach to labour law. There are three reasons for this. The first is practical: a detailed technical knowledge of labour law is likely to be obsolete by the time the students come to use it in practice. It is clearly necessary to have a good grasp of the framework of the law, and of the detail in a few select areas, so that the student is able to assimilate and assess future reform. But this could be done within the contours of a thematic and contextual approach. The second reason for a multi-disciplinary approach is one of survival: to restore labour law as a subject students choose to study. The last and most important reason is intellectual. It remains as true as ever that labour law is centrally concerned with social power and the impact of law on power. It should therefore be studied within at least two dimensions: firstly, the relevant social forces and secondly, the efficacy of law as a means of addressing these.
This approach can be illustrated by considering one of the core topics in labour law: anti-discrimination law. I hope to use this topic to demonstrate that the multi-disciplinary approach is both viable and intellectually essential. As in other fields of labour law, anti-discrimination law includes a complex legislative framework and a vast body of case-law, diligently reported in the Industrial Relations Law Reports. It is further complicated by the central role of EC law. Yet it is also a paradigm example of law addressing social issues. Thus we need to include in the syllabus, not only the legal materials, but also readings enabling students to address the social issues, and the appropriateness of law as an instrument of change.
The first dimension, namely the social forces at play, may be introduced by considering labour market statistics and analyses thereof. In particular, continuing pay disparities, job segregation, and underrepresentation in positions of power and status, demonstrate the continuing nature of sexual and racial disadvantage. These statistics are readily accessible, although more so for sex than for race discrimination. For the former, the Equal Opportunities Commission regularly produces its Women and Men in Britain which contains up-to-date statistics and brief analyses. The Employment Gazette periodically provides statistics on racial discrimination.1 There are several analyses of these statistics: one good example is Rubery edited collection, Women and Recession.2
The second question, the appropriateness of law as an instrument of social change, is addressed most directly in feminist literature. Students could be given a selection of short readings to give them the flavour of the debate. This literature, while pessimistic of the utility of law, also introduces students to new perspectives and ways of thinking about law in general. The following are four examples of easily accessible readings. Firstly, it is worth giving students a taste of Catharine MacKinnon, who argues in her inimitable way that concepts of equality merely conceal women's continuing subordination.3 Secondly, Deborah Rhode Justice and Gender is an informative and fluent book which takes up the debate about equality and difference, as well as giving a flavour of the American legal approach.4 Thirdly, Carol Smart in Feminism and the Power of Law5 has a more pervasive scepticism about law than the American authors, arguing that the rhetoric of rights has been exhausted and that legal language____________________