Labor and Trade Unionism: An Interdisciplinary Reader

Labor and Trade Unionism: An Interdisciplinary Reader

Labor and Trade Unionism: An Interdisciplinary Reader

Labor and Trade Unionism: An Interdisciplinary Reader

Excerpt

The theory of the firm is one of the best developed portions of economic theory. It is true that the received doctrine, with its emphasis upon profit maximization, is receiving increasingly sceptical treatment by the "organization" theorists. Yet every student must master the maxims of microeconomics before he can consider himself qualified.

By contrast, the theory of the trade union is in a singularly underdeveloped state, despite the fact that trade unions play a crucial role in our society. There is no agreement on the goals of unionism, on the factors that trade union leaders take into account in formulating their decisions, or on the manner in which decisions are translated into policy. The question is not whether maximization is the aim of unions, but rather, what, if anything, there is to maximize in the union scheme of things.

As Professor Reder points out, there have been two principal strains of thought in approaches to the theory of union behavior: the "economic" approach of Dunlop and the "political" approach of Ross. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but nevertheless they can be clearly differentiated. Are wage and other labor market phenomena paramount in the determination of union policy, or must these yield to internal organizational factors, in the final analysis? Economists tend to support the former position, sociologists the latter. The article by E. H. Phelps-Brown provides a brief example of the rather uncompromising attitude of the economic theorist.

It is probably fair to say that little progress toward a resolution of the differences, and the evolution of a satisfactory theory of the union, are likely through further a priori argumentation. The more promising avenue of inquiry is through intensive studies of the trade unions themselves, rather than of the institutions of bargaining. These studies, to be fruitful, will have to be historical, and must include sociological and . . .

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