Can labor law actually limit exploitation ? The French case

Alexis Cukier


Should a serious marxist theoretically and practically engage in the defense of the kind of labour law the french labor movement has begun, in march 2016, to struggle for ? The question can be formulated by referring to the interpretation and reactualization one should propose in the contemporary french context to the assertion in the « Inaugural Adress of the International Working Men’s Association » (1864) according to which « the Ten Hours’ Bill was not only a great practical success; it was the victory of a principle; it was the first time that in broad daylight the political economy of the middle class succumbed to the political economy of the working class ». To answer this question, this paper examins the relevancy of the three main positions marxism has elaborated concerning labor law : by applying the criticism of the formal rationality of bourgeois legality, asserting they in any case actually back exploitation ; analyzing how they provisionnaly limit the salary relation and exploitation ; supporting they constitute the juridical principle of a post-capitalist or mode of production in which workers would not be exploited any more.
Ths paper first proposes to reconstruct these three general positions (by referring to the classical analysis of Marx and Engels, Korsch (1922), Pasukanis (1924), Poulantzas (1965), etc), and then to confront them to recent analysis – notably in the fields of critical legal sciences and sociology, including non marxist authors (notably Alain Supiot, 1994, Gérard Lyon-Caen, 1997, Friot, 2012, Claude Didry, 2016) – of the relations between juridical subordination and economical exploitation in the french Labor Code, and of labor law and social and public service legislation. Finally, I will try to answer the question by discussing the relevancy of these three options in the broader context of the neoliberal project of dismantling labor laws (particularly engineered in Europe by the institutions of the European Union) on the one hand and the evolutions of economical and salarial practices of exploitation (examining specifically the case of the « online market place for work » of the website Amazon Mechanical Turk) on the other hand. In this respect, I will argue the french labor law but also the main demands of the french trade unions must be quite radically transformed if the labor movement is seriously to assume labor law can actually limit exploitation and, a fortiori, eventually favour workers democracy.

/// Alexis Cukier :
Post-doctoral reseacher in philosophy at the Universy of Strasbourg (France), as part of the ANR Project PhiCenTrav (« Philosophical approaches to the centrality of work »), associated member of Sophiapol (Paris Ouest University), author notably of (with Vincent Chanson and Frederic Monferrand, dir), La réification. Histoire et actualité d’un concept critique (La Dispute, 2015).

labor law - exploitation - french - trade union