It is my great pleasure to say some words on Professor Mark Freedland’s contribution to the discipline of labour law. On any view, Mark’s scholarly achievements have been remarkable. A graduate of University College London, in 1966, Mark went on to Oxford to undertake graduate studies in labour law. As a doctoral student of Otto Kahn-Freund, Professor Freedland produced his first monograph, The Contract of Employment, in 1976. As the first systematic treatise on the common law contract of employment, crafted in the genre of worker-protective labour law, it was a remarkable and original point of departure for a young scholar.
At that time, few UK labour lawyers would have troubled to the explore the dismal swamp of the English common law. In the mid-1970s, the intellectual focus was to be found in collective bargaining, inflation policies, and the reform of strike law. This was the very highpoint of collective laissez-faire, and little had been written on the ‘individual’ elements of the subject. That Mark Freedland did so with such flair, producing a debut work of such enduring significance, is testament to his position as one of our most visionary thinkers. This marked a lifelong engagement with the law relating to the contract of employment, leading to three further treatises examining personal work relations in all its manifold complexity. His most recent work has been both collaborative and comparative in scope, developing analytical perspectives on personal work relations rooted in both Civilian and common law traditions. While his criticism of the judges has been astute and withering where this was deserved, it is the mark of the man that even his most acerbic criticism manages to be generous and gracious –a rare gift indeed and one that he has never lost even in the heat of the disputation. The two of us participated in a bruising encounter on Friday at UCL with a Justice of the UK Supreme Court on a discussion panel, and he retained his equanimity much better than I did.
This extensive body of work on personal work relations would have been achievement enough. Across his long and distinguished career, however, he has engaged in many productive collaborations with other scholars, and in recent times with younger scholars. In the UK, he is perhaps best known as one half of the famous double act, ‘Davies and Freedland’. Not a music hall duo – but two of the most influential scholars of UK labour law in the modern era. Between them, these two scholars made Oxford a powerhouse of labour law for many decades, producing a succession of imaginative books on the evolving structure of UK labour law, particularly through the lens of governmental and legislative activity. Of course, the powerhouse mantle is now held by Bristol, but it is testament to the man that Mark harbours no ill-will about this.
Nor has Mark’s retirement from his teaching post at Oxford muted his intense intellectual curiosity and imagination. On the contrary, he has continued to push himself – and the intellectual frontiers of the discipline – always beyond the comfort zone and into new and uncharted territories. Recent years have seen seminal work on Migrants at Work and Criminality at Work. These collaborative edited works are at the cutting edge of contemporary labour law scholarship. Both books have been prescient in identifying migration regimes and criminal justice practices as new sites of regulatory activity in labour market governance, and Mark is leading the way in providing intellectual mapping of this uncharted territory.
He has also been involved in work on the rise of populism as a labour law phenomenon, and the future of the UK constitutional order strained under the tectonic pressures of Brexit. While these recent developments have been a source of great sadness to Mark, the recognition of the gravity of our times has never diminished his dignity in the fray of sometimes difficult public debates on the rise of right-wing populism. His commitment to decent work and decent politics at a time of rising intolerance, nationalism, and authoritarianism is a reminder to all of us that this is no time to withdraw from the fray. Neutrality may have its place in public life, but sometimes we have to choose sides. It is also a reminder of what is now at stake in many places across the world, and that the fate of freedom in work and freedom in politics cannot be disaggregated.
This is Mark the scholar. Then there is Mark the friend, mentor, teacher, doctoral supervisor. He has mentored many generations of younger labour lawyers with great kindness, warmth, humility, and generosity of spirit. These qualities have permeated his scholarship and his way of being in the world. His work has been animated by a passionate concern for the vulnerable, the marginalised, and the oppressed. And the constructive role of law in protecting the vulnerable, providing for decency and freedom in working life. Indeed, these things may be taken to be the enduring values of labour law itself. As such, there can be no more fitting opening to our 2019 Labour Law Research Network than the award of this Bob Hepple Lifetime Achievement award to Professor Mark Freedland.
Alan Bogg (University of Bristol)