Rethinking Industrial Relations: Mobilization, Collectivism, and Long Waves

Rethinking Industrial Relations: Mobilization, Collectivism, and Long Waves

Rethinking Industrial Relations: Mobilization, Collectivism, and Long Waves

Rethinking Industrial Relations: Mobilization, Collectivism, and Long Waves

Synopsis

This book is a wide-ranging, radical and highly innovative critique of the prevailing orthodoxies within industrial relations and human resource management. It contains a detailed examination of the evolution of industrial relations, arguing that the area is often under-theorized and influenced by the policy agenda of the state or employers.

Excerpt

In 1954 Britain’s 700,000 coal miners accounted for approximately three-quarters of all recorded strikes. In 1974 a national strike by the Coal Board’s 300,000 miners helped to bring down a government. By 1994 the coal mining industry had been reduced to a rump of sixteen pits and about 10,000 miners. According to some commentators, the late twentieth-century workforce is in the throes of a dramatic transformation, from the traditional, class-conscious collectivism of the industrial manual worker to the self-interested individualism of the skilled, mobile and career-centred white-collar worker (Bassett and Cave 1993; Brown 1990). Consequently they argue that trade unions must abandon traditional collectivist principles and practices if they are to have any future. Others take the view that unions and collective bargaining can survive only if these institutions adapt themselves to product market pressures and contribute to the competitive success of firms (e.g. Kochan and Osterman 1994). The adversarial collective bargaining of the past must give way to a more cooperative, ‘social partnership’ between labour and capital. In the fashionable jargon of management, unions must justify their existence by showing they can ‘add value’ to the corporation. Common to both these viewpoints is the idea that late twentieth-century industrial relations are passing through an historic transition in which new values, practices and institutions will steadily and surely displace the old (Brown 1990; Lash and Urry 1987).

The principal aim of this book is to show that these fashionable and beguiling notions are seriously flawed and deeply misleading. I do this first of all by setting out a theoretical framework—mobilization theory—that allows us to analyse the processes by which workers acquire a collective definition of their interests in response to employer-generated injustice. It is then possible to show that worker collectivism is an effective and situationally specific response to injustice, not an irrelevant anachronism. By drawing on long wave theory it can be shown that the fluctuating fortunes of national labour movements follow predictable patterns that are closely synchronized with the rhythms of the capitalist economy. Contrary to postmodernist claims that the classical labour movement is in terminal decline, long wave theory suggests that it is more likely to be on the threshold of resurgence.

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