Academic journal article Management International Review

Worker-Participation and Multi-National Companies

Academic journal article Management International Review

Worker-Participation and Multi-National Companies

Article excerpt

Introduction

The various attempts made by trade unions in recent years to develop new forms of international cooperation and organisation in response to the threats posed by the growth of multi-national corporations (hitherto to be referred to as MNCs), have already been discussed by a number of writers, (see for example Warner & Turner, 1972; Gunter, 1974). The topics of worker participation and industrial democracy have also been considered in the context of multi-national business (see Levinson, 1972: 203 ff.) A great deal has also been written about the impact of multi- firms on employment levels, wages, the structure of the labour force and related questions. By contrast, relatively little research has been done on the structure of decision-making in multi-national companies with particular reference to industrial relations. This paper will concentrate on this relatively neglected area of inquiry.

There is a vast body of literature dealing either directly or indirectly with the question of the of power and authority in organisations, including multi-national corporations. There are few studies, however, dealing specifically with the type of questions with which we are concerne in this paper. What little evidence is available suggests that the handling of industrial relations matters (see Gennard & Steuer, 1971; Kujawa, 1971; Blake, 1973; Roberts & May, 1974) in multi-national firms is "apparently" far less centralised than is often claimed or feared. On the whole, labour-management relations "appear" to be the responsibility of subsidiary management, with industrial relations issues usually not being decided at corporate headquarters. Blake, for example, found that a majority of the 78 American companies studied rarely if ever become involved in industrial relations matters affecting their subsidiaries. (Blake, 1973). The decentralisation of industrial relations decisions is even more pronounced in the case of British multi-national companies. Thus, Roberts and May (1974) found that "In general British companies believe that there should be minimum of interference from headquarters". (1974: 406). Only a small minority of the firms which cooperated in their survey "indicated that they followed the same degree of headquarters' involvement in industrial relations as did the majority of US corporations". (1974: 407).

Even though there does not seem to be a very high degree of headquarters involvement in labour-management relations at the local level, both these studies indicate that the extent of invol varies depending on the issues and on the international spread of the company. In this respect, however, the behaviour of British companies appears to be the opposite of that of their (*) This research was financed by a grant from the Nuffield Foundation US counterparts. In the case of American firms, the "regional or parent company headquarters are more likely to become involved on collective bargaining and strike settlement issues; they will become involved in more ways than on other issues; and the nature of that involvement is likely to be more ways than on other issues; and the nature of that involvement is likely to be more active than just the giving of advice and the setting of standards". (1973: 9). This tendency holds true for all American firms but is particularly pronounced in the case of the more internation companies in terms of geographical location and employment. By contrast, the headquarters of British companies rarely become involved in these more conflictual areas of industrial relations but are "considerably more active in giving advice and guidance in the case of pensions and other important conditions (of employment)". (1974: 405). Moreover, in the British case, it is the headquarters of the least international companies which became the most directly involved in the industrial relations activities of their subsidiaries.

Roberts and May do not offer a systematic explanation of the different patterns of behaviour. …

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