This article explores the ways in which the rationality of labour law can be maintained at the national (local) level, at a time when the global level seems to impose its own techniques and therefore disorient national legal strategies. Both individual and collective labour law are under pressure, when it comes to conforming to supranational standards. The enforcement of EU law, also through such non-binding regulatory techniques as the open method of co-ordination of employment and social inclusion policies, is taken into account. The European legal order constitutes a significant example of a regional system of rules able to counterbalance the weaknesses of the global system. The latter is still uncertain on its feet with regard to establishing the basic principles of labour law. The ILO 1998 Declaration of Fundamental Principles is discussed, as are such recent ILO programmes as the one on ‘decent work’. The article shows how the circulation of labour standards is beneficial to the enrichment of international sources. It also underlines the need to defend the rationality of labour law by enhancing national institutions including organisations that represent social dialogue partners and by doing so with complete awareness of the appearance on the scene of new global organisations, such as the ones which started being active in Seattle in 1999.