The Institute of Employment Rights, respectfully known as the “Institute” to its many friends in and beyond the labour movement, was born at a challenging time.
It was conceived in 1989, following a tranche of anti union laws, introduced by three successive, Thatcher led Tory governments.
It was also a time when it was becoming evident that the official labour movement was experiencing a serious crisis of confidence and seemed no longer clear about the sort of labour law framework it wanted to protect and advance workers’ interests in a modern globalising economy.
Labour was therefore unable to adequately respond to the Thatcherite challenge.
In the face of this Tory assault and Labour uncertainties, a group of progressive labour lawyers and trade union leaders came together to set up the Institute, with the active support of leading progressive economists such as Frank Wilkinson and Labour Peers such as Lord Wedderburn.
It set itself the task of consulting widely in order to draw up, for discussion, a framework of progressive labour law to advance working peoples’ interests by challenging the unequal nature of existing workplace relations with employers.
The Institute also determined to invite experts in particular fields to indicate ways in which aspects of employment law could be reformed in a progressive direction.
From the beginning, the Institute’s Executive Committee drew widely on well established international Conventions to which the British government was a signatory but which were routinely flouted in British employment law and practice.
In practical terms this ambitious strategy required the Institute to develop a critique of how the Tory laws undermined democratic rights and international law in order to weaken trade union power and collective bargaining institutions. The result of such attacks, as highlighted in successive IER publications, was that on almost every established measure of workplace rights, social provision and employment security, British workers lagged behind those in other advanced industrial countries – particularly its main European counterparts.
The Institute also set itself the task of providing an educational service. It began a publishing programme centred on relatively short, accessible pamphlets which nevertheless took in the complexities involved in determining progressive labour law principles and in overcoming the obstacles presented by judge made common law.
The publishing programme was vital in quickly establishing the Institute’s reputation as an entirely reliable and always progressive think tank, doing important work with and for the labour movement. In doing so it provided an arena for discussion and an opportunity for progressive lawyers, both academic and employment law practitioners, to develop new ideas and thinking, often drawing on international experience, and to have these published and widely distributed.
The Institute celebrated its 20th anniversary on 27th February of 2009 with a reception at Congress House, kindly hosted by the TUC and sponsored by UNITE, POA and Thompsons Solicitors.
To help us celebrate our achievements, we produced a 20th Anniversary Report highlighting the origins and work of the Institute.
On Wednesday 06 February 2019, IER celebrated its 30th anniversary at NEU’s Mander Hall with speakers including Professor Keith Ewing, Lord John Hendy QC and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.
The below is a video made to celebrate the anniversary.