Academic journal article Capital & Class

Richard Hyman: An Assessment of His Industrial Relations: A Marxist Introduction

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Richard Hyman: An Assessment of His Industrial Relations: A Marxist Introduction

Article excerpt

Abstract

Richard Hyman's Industrial Relations: A Marxist Introduction is a seminal work in the study of labour unions, the employment relationship and industrial relations within Britain and western capitalist societies, and extant radical and Marxist approaches to the analysis of those selfsame topics. This article is both an appreciation and a critique of it, assessing its strengths and contribution, its longevity of salience and influence, and its weaknesses.

Keywords

Richard Hyman, Marxism, unions, industrial relations

Introduction

Published in 1975 by Macmillan, Richard Hyman's Industrial Relations: A Marxist Introduction (hereafter, IRMI) can, it is argued, be categorised as a seminal work in a number of arenas--those of the study of labour unions, the employment relationship and industrial relations within Britain and western capitalist societies, and extant radical and Marxist approaches to the analysis of those selfsame topics. This is in spite--indeed, possibly because--of its being explicitly presented as a general introduction to the subject matter, albeit 'an integrated [one] rooted in more general Marxist theory' (IRMI: ix). Written by a then young and politically engaged academic, (1) it is a considerable achievement, building upon his earlier important works, which had a narrower focus and were slimmer volumes. The obvious examples are the books Marxism and the Sociology of Trade Unionism (Pluto, 1971) and Strikes (Fontana, 1972), although there were also important papers on wide-ranging issues like his 1974 piece in the British Journal of Industrial Relations on inequality, ideology and industrial relations.

One key component of the seminality of IRMI is to be found in its majestic sweep across the whole terrain of industrial relations and its systematic and powerful approach in doing so. (2) IRMI presents a clear and forceful analysis of the interests, dynamics and ideologies of workers, employers and the state under capitalism as well as the power relations between them. Thus the pursuit of profit as the raison d'etre of capitalism and the structured antagonism to which this gives rise in capital-labour relations is accorded full centrality. But another component of the seminality of IRMI is to be found in the fact that there have been no attempts before or since to provide such a holistic, synthesised and overarching single, unitary work on the application of a Marxist approach to the employment relationship and industrial relations. The one exception is John Kelly's Rethinking Industrial Relations: Mobilization, Collectivism and Long Waves (Routledge, 1998; hereafter RIR). This seminality allowed IRMI to not only set a benchmark for Marxist scholarship in the study of the employment relationship and in the field of industrial relations, but also to become a standard bearer for Marxism and radicalism within these arenas. Not to put too fine a point on it, IRMI provided a rallying call for the radically minded who were sympathetically concerned with insurgent industrial relations at a time of worker insurgency in workplace relations and wider society. As such, IRMI has provided a number of generations of activists, union officers, students and scholars with a robust foundation in Marxist ideas as they pertain to the sociological study of work, employment and the employment relationship. (3) Looking back on Hyman's full and extensive body of work, IRMI is undoubtedly the pinnacle of his overall contribution to the Marxist study of industrial and employment relations, and a sizeable one at that. It is arguably also one of his most longlasting and powerful gifts to scholarship in the field of industrial relations per se.

None of this is to consciously or unconsciously set up a scenario of a 'straw man' thesis which is then to be carefully but painstakingly and consistently knocked down--and where criticisms and differences of opinion are held to outweigh purchase and contribution--for this essay is both an appreciation and a critique of IRMI, comprising four sections assessing the book in terms of a) its strengths and contribution, b) its longevity of salience and influence, c) its weaknesses, and d) a concluding overview. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.