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Workers, Collectivism and the Law

Grappling with Democracy

Laura Carlson

Workers, Collectivism and the Law offers a captivating historical account of worker democracy, from its beginnings in European guild systems to present-day labor unions, across the national legal systems of Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. Analysing these legal systems in light of a Habermasian concept of participatory democracy, Laura Carlson identifies ways to strengthen individual employee voice in claims against employers.
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Chapter 3: The rise of labor in England

Laura Carlson

Extract

The seventeenth to twentieth centuries in the United Kingdom saw the death of the guilds and the rise of journeymen’s associations to provide former guild support and mutual aid, which functions were eventually assumed by trade unions. After a century of legislative persecution of worker combinations as unlawful conspiracies, the Trade Union Act 1871 invoked the technique of immunities facilitating collective action and bargaining. A system of collective laissez-faire was established, with the state setting floors through legislation with respect to work conditions, and the social partners using collective bargaining to flesh out these rights. This non-intervention by the state was however eradicated by Conservative legislation in the period between 1979 and 1997, with ever tighter regulation of trade unions in the conscious attempt to reduce their power. The past thirty years have continued this political legislative battle, with often radical legislative changes depending on the government in power.

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