Food for Thought: Class Interests and the Law

We continued our discussion of Critical Legal Studies this week, looking at two studies on class interests and the law – Eric Tucker’s (2006) “Locating Labour Law: The Regulation of Occupational Health and Safety” and Mosher’s (2006) “The Construction of ‘Welfare Fraud’ and the Wielding of the State’s Iron Fist”.

As with last week, I have two food for thought questions for you to dig into.

1. Regarding Labour Law

Tucker (2006) applies unitarian, liberal pluralist, and Marxist theoretical frameworks to make sense of the law (and politics) surrounding the regulation of occupational health and safety. As we discussed in class, occupational health and safety law is one of many legal regimes that apply to labour. Others include legal regulations around collective bargaining, equality of treatment, the length of the work week – and the minimum wage, which is the focus of this food for thought question.

First, please read this article – To Protect The Defenseless, We Must Abolish The Minimum Wage, by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins, from Forbes Magazine.

Then write a food for thought post that does the following:

  1. Briefly explain the origins of the ‘minimum wage’, how this concept has been enshrined in law, and the purpose of the minimum wage.
  2. Briefly summarize Brook and Watkins’ argument against the minimum wage.
  3. Drawing on Tucker (2006) (and other sources if you wish), locate Brook and Watkins’ argument in relation to the three major schools of thought that have shaped the study of labour law. Which school of thought does their argument fit into? Which school of thought would provide a counter-argument?
  4. Conclude by presenting your own response to Brook and Watkins’ position.

2. Regarding the Construction of Welfare Fraud

One of our research teams prepared and delivered a teach-in on the construction of ‘welfare fraud’, drawing on the work of Janet E. Mosher (2006). Their teach-in incorporated a number of statements from people directly involved in and impacted by welfare law, including a single mother on welfare (let’s call her A). This exchange really stood out to me:

[Researcher] Do you think welfare fraud is intentional or accidental?

[A] The system is set up for dependency and fear. When you’re tying to feed your kids and pay rent and utilities and whatnot on the minimal funds they give you , any excess cash or income you make you don’t want to report because it comes off your check and then your kids can’t eat next month. I think that the government has given the welfare agencies the ability and encouraged them to make ‘monsters’ of the people relying on welfare benefits. They are forcing parents to do illegal things, like not report income, just to survive and try and give their kids a better life than what they have. You can’t save any money on welfare because welfare just takes it out of your check”.

Mosher’s analysis of the social construction of welfare fraud is informed by Wacquant’s (2001) observation that “The ‘invisible hand’ of the casualised labour market finds its institutional complement and counterpart in the ‘iron fist’ of the state which is being redeployed so as to check the disorders generated by the diffusion of social insecurity”.

Food for thought:

Respond to A’s remarks. Does this interpretation of the nature and function of the welfare system reflect Mosher’s (2006) analysis?  [You could also choose to relate it to Wacquant’s analysis]. If A’s interpretation of the system is correct, what can we (drawing on Critical Legal Studies) say about the role of welfare law in neoliberal societies?

Posts should be submitted before our next class. 

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