The Changing Nature of Work / Restructuring the Employment Relationship / A Theory of Employment Systems: Micro-Foundations of Societal Diversity / Employee Representation

By Lansky, Mark | International Labour Review, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

The Changing Nature of Work / Restructuring the Employment Relationship / A Theory of Employment Systems: Micro-Foundations of Societal Diversity / Employee Representation


Lansky, Mark, International Labour Review


Ackerman, Frank; Goodwin, Neva R.; Dougherty, Laurie; Gallagher, Kevin (eds.). The changing nature of work. Frontier Issues in Economic Thought Series, Vol. 4. Washington, DC, Island Press, 1998. xxxix + 417 pp. Tables, indices. ISBN 1-55963-666-1.

Gallie, Duncan; White, Michael; Cheng, Yuan; Tomlinson, Mark. Restructuring the employment relationship. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998. xii + 354 pp. Figures, tables, appendix, bibliography, indices. ISBN 0-19-829390-9 (hardback); ISBN 0-19-829441-7 (paperback).

Marsden, David. A theory of employment systems: Micro-foundations of societal diversity. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999. xvi + 298 pp. Tables, figures, bibliography, index. ISBN 0-19-829423-9 (hardback); ISBN 0-19-829422-0 (paperback).

Estreicher, Samuel (ed.). Employee representation in the emerging workplace: Alternatives/supplements to collective bargaining. Proceedings of New York University 50th Annual Conference on Labor. Boston, MA, Kluwer Law International, 1998. xix + 734 pp. Tables, figures. ISBN 90-4110-637-5.

Verma, Anil; Chaykowski, Richard P (eds.). Contract and commitment: Employment relations in the new economy. Kingston (Ontario), IRC Press, 1999. xiii + 354 pp. Figures, tables. ISBN 0-88886-520-1.

Pfeffer, Jeffrey. The human equation: Building profits by putting people first. Boston, MA, Harvard Business School Press, 1998. Tables, figures, index. ISBN 0-87584-841-9.

Siegel, Donald S. Skill-biased technological change: Evidence from a firmlevel survey. Kalamazoo, MI, W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, 1999. viii + 139 pp. Tables, appendix, bibliography, indices. ISBN 0-88099-198-4 (hardback); ISBN 0-88099-197-h (paperback).

This review takes advantage of the recent receipt of seven books which essentially explore various aspects of the same question, namely, the nature and implications of changes in how people work in advanced industrialized countries. Given the broad consistency of their subject matter and the interconnection of their arguments, all seven of them are presented together in the following pages with a selective crosssection of their findings on the important issues of the employment relationship, management practices and labour relations and the role of technology and skills.

Technological innovation, globalization and industrial relocation are leaving only two broad types of paid work in the advanced industrialized countries: technical jobs, which centre on problem-solving, and interpersonal jobs, which require "a human touch". From this premise, Robert Reich's foreword to The changing nature of work (edited by Frank Ackerman et al.) goes on to suggest a division of the workforce into three groups. The first consists of highly skilled (and highly paid) technicians and providers of interpersonal services whose work he describes as being "symbolic or analytic" (e.g. lawyers, investment bankers, software engineers, top sellers, marketers, management consultants). For these people, recent changes in the way the economy and the labour market work have generated high demand, great flexibility and opportunities. The second group comprises the lower paid technicians - "installers, repairers, and troubleshooters of all types" - and the lower paid providers of interpersonal services, e.g. teachers, caretakers of children, the sick and the elderly, etc. For people in these occupations as well, ` jobs" are taking on more varied meanings, and the border between paid work and unpaid work is blurring because there is less and less "regular employment" in the new economy.

The third group - "the bottom third" - is made up of people who are without the education, skills or connections needed to become technicians or interpersonal workers. In the United States, their real average hourly earnings have dropped sharply over the past two decades. "What they `do' requires exceedingly long hours and, increasingly, multiple jobs:' The trade unions that once gave them bargaining power have declined because their organization had been "premised on large numbers of people working together at a single place with similar tasks and predictable routines". …

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