Dr Zoe Adams, King’s College, University of Cambridge

In this talk, Zoe Adams builds on the structural approach to labour law she has developed in previous works, with a view to exploring its strategic implications for legal and social actors, with a particular focus on trade unionism. In so doing, she will distinguish between the necessary and contingent dimensions of the law’s role in constituting capitalist social relations, and demonstrate how this can help us better understand the limits, and potential, to law as a means through which to further struggles for social change. The talk will begin with some observations about the contradictory role of trade unions in capitalism, and relates this with the contradictory relationship between capitalism, and law. It will then go on to explain how, and why, trade unions’ reliance on law, and legal strategies, might be problematic from the perspective of their capacity to further, rather than undermine, struggles for structural change, and will attempt to illustrate this through a critique of some of the legal mobilisations deployed by so-called ‘new style’ trade unions, such as the Independent Workers of Great Britain Union, in recent years. The talk will then conclude with some observations about how a structural understanding of the relationship between law and capitalism, on the one hand, and trade unions and capitalism, on the other, can help social actors, including trade union members and leaders, to critically re-assess whether, and if so, how, they engage with, and mobilise the law, so as to better align their strategies with a commitment to structural, rather than merely surface-level, change.

Biography: Dr Zoe Adams is Admissions Tutor and Law Fellow at King’s College, University of Cambridge, and an Affiliated Lecturer in Law at the University of Cambridge. Her specialisms lie in Marxian approaches to law; social ontology; legal methodology; the theory and method of labour law, as well as in Tort Law, and Law and Economics. Zoe obtained a BA in Law from Pembroke College, Cambridge, an LLM from the EUI in Florence, and a PhD from Pembroke College Cambridge. She completed a Junior Research Fellowship at King’s College, before becoming Admissions tutor there. She has been also been teaching labour law, advanced labour law, and tort law, at Cambridge since 2018. Her first book, based on her PhD thesis, was published by Oxford University Press in 2020, and was entitled ‘Labour and the Wage: A Critical Perspective’. Her second monograph, also published by Oxford University Press, was published in 2022, and is called The Legal Concept of Work. Zoe also has multiple publications in a vast array of peer-reviewed journals, and is co-author of textbooks in tort law, and in labour law. Her current research focuses on questions of strategy in labour law, and as with all her recent work, is focused on developing a structural approach to labour law that builds on Marxian approaches to the legal form, with a view to illustrating the practical implications of this understanding for struggles for radical social change.

Please see the following publications as background:

Adams Z, Labour and the Wage: A Critical Perspective (Oxford University Press 2020)

Adams Z A Structural Approach to Labour Law’ (2022) 46 Cambridge Journal of Economics 447

Adams, Z The Legal Concept of Work (Oxford University Press 2022)

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