Date(s) - 28 May
All Day


BUIRA History of Industrial Relations Study Group

Tuesday 28 May 2024 (18.00-19.45)

This webinar examines the enduring question in international labour regulation: how best to represent workers’ interests and enforce their rights at regional and global levels. We shall discuss two presentations, one focusing on the European Trade Union Confederation and the other on the International Labour Organisation.

Please register through Eventbrite:


For further information, please e-mail Michael Gold (m.gold@rhul.ac.uk) or Linda Clarke (clarkel@wmin.ac.uk).


18.00-18.10: Welcome Michael Gold and Linda Clarke

18.10-18.40: Richard Hyman and Rebecca Gumbrell-McCormick

Towards a European system of industrial relations? The European Trade Union Confederation in the twenty-first century
Our presentation will discuss our book, just published, on the recent history of the ETUC, for which we received its official support (a link to the book is provided below). Our study mainly covers, but also reaches beyond, the period of 2003-2015, corresponding to the mandates of General Secretaries John Monks and Bernadette Ségol. We examine the continuous formation of an international organisation out of its national affiliates – rich in their diversity but thus also diverse in their structures, traditions and strategies. We trace the major political debates within the ETUC: the revision of the European treaties, enlargement to include the countries of central and eastern Europe, and the economic governance of the EU. We examine issues linked to the core business of European trade unionism: social policy, employment, social dialogue, environmental challenges and the international dimension. We do not offer clear-cut ‘conclusions’ but address some of the alternative historical readings that are possible.

18.40-19.10: Yvonne Oldfield

A century of standard setting and ‘technical assistance’: the history and impact of transnational labour law

Labour law history sits at the intersection of legal history and labour history. As a study in the history of ideas, it examines how labour law systems have evolved, and shows that none of them is the ‘sole or inevitable response’ to the historical context out of which they arose.
During the twentieth century, transnational labour law was part of the context in which national labour law systems emerged. The ILO used international labour standards, soft law tools and ‘technical assistance’ to develop and promote a model based on the standard employment relationship and the Fordist workplace. Member states responded by adopting labour law systems based on that model. Decades later, however, many of the world’s workers remain outside the scope of protective labour laws. My presentation takes a legal history approach to examining how this happened and asks whether the prevailing model for regulating work is the ‘sole or inevitable’ way to advance the ILO’s social justice goals.

19.10-19.45: General discussion

19.45: Close