Trade Unions As “Contested” Legal Intermediaries ? Reflection on British Unions' Legal Mobilisation for Equal Pay Since 1970

Friday, July 18, 2014: 6:15 PM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Cécile GUILLAUME , Université de Lille 1, Villeneuve d'Asq, France

Since 1970, British trade unions have been involved in the obtaining of a national equal pay legislation, in the pursuing of significant claims and in the implementation of the law through collective bargaining and job evaluation schemes. This legal mobilization did not developed in a consistent manner over time and across unions though. In the 2000’s, unions have been heavily criticized for having consistently colluded with the employers to minimize the effects of equal pay legislation, while being forced to support massive litigation on behalf of their low-paid female members. To understand this contrasted story, I will use a conceptual framework that defines trade unions as “contested organisations” which highlights the disputes both between and within unions as to what constitutes the central trade unions “project”. To understand why union legal mobilization for equal pay has been very controversial within the trade union movement and challenged by lawyers, I will argue that trade unions can be characterized as “contested legal intermediaries”. Drawing on a multi-methods approach combining 34 interviews with trade unionists, legal practitioners and experts, union archives analysis and legal case study data, I will argue that union legal mobilization needs to be understood in the context of the contentious (and gendered) relations existing between members with different interests, the competing relations between union officials and their base, and the often adverse relations between trade unions and employers. I will also claim that litigation strategies need to be apprehended in their complex and sometimes constrained relationships with other types of legal mobilizations, such as collective bargaining. Finally I will reflect on the effects and limits of massive litigation on union agenda and practices, pointing out the potential risk of marginalization and de-politicization of pay inequalities issues.