Civic Republican political theory and labour law

David Cabrelli, Rebecca Zahn

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


A number of justifications are cited in the academic literature in favour of common law and statutory intervention in the field of labour law. First, there is the traditional ‘inequality of bargaining power’ rationale. This justification shares some commonalities with the second rationale, namely that labour laws are an integral part of the package that must be put in place to prevent the commodification of labour and achieve social justice and a more egalitarian society, in terms of the appropriate distribution of resources and opportunities. Finally, in recent times, the ‘law of the labour market’ school of thought has sought to conceptualise labour law as a discipline in more economic terms, in the sense that it promotes, and ought to promote, a well-functioning labour market. However, these justifications have been criticised for ignoring the realities of the contemporary labour market where increasing numbers of people work outside the confines of standard employment contracts. One must therefore ask to what extent traditional justifications for the legal regulation of the employment relationship have become frayed at the edges as a result of changes in underlying political, social, economic and industrial conditions over the past half century. For example, to what extent do such developments render the orthodox rationales outmoded or redundant? In response to this question, a strand of academic literature has emerged which offers alternative theoretical support for the regulation of the work relationship.

This chapter seeks to contribute to this debate by demonstrating how an account of justice based on ‘non-domination’ grounded in contemporary civic republican political theory and associated with scholars such as Philip Pettit and Frank Lovett can prove helpful in furnishing a postmodern justification for labour law intervention in the 21st century. In order to do so, this chapter first summarises the traditional justifications for common law and statutory intervention in labour law and probes the accompanying objections. A second section pinpoints the position of civic republicanism and non-domination theory in political philosophy and sets out some of the advantages of adopting it as a justification for labour laws. Against this background, the chapter then goes on to consider the extent to which non-domination theory presents an accurate descriptive account of the design and objectives of, and the range of individuals and policy areas falling, and contained within, the sweep of, labour laws. The discussion moves on to provide a brief sketch of the potential benefits of non-domination theory in terms of its ability to chart a normative programme for the reform of labour law and the final section concludes.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhilosophical Foundations of Labour Law
EditorsHugh Collins, Gillian Lester, Virginia Mantouvalou
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9780198825272
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2018
EventPhilosophical Foundations of Labour Law - University College, London - Senate House, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 16 Jun 201617 Jun 2016

Publication series

NamePhilosophical Foundations of Law series
PublisherOxford University Press


ConferencePhilosophical Foundations of Labour Law
CountryUnited Kingdom


  • Labour Law
  • Employment Law
  • philosophy
  • political philosophy
  • civic republican political theory

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