Friday, October 15, 2010

PhD Thesis on Industrial Relations

PhD Thesis on Industrial Relations

Work dominates the lives of most men and women; the management of employees is a central feature of organisational life. We must strive to understand the nature of the working relationship between managers and its employees in order to fully appreciate Industrial Relations.

We perceive Industrial Relations on specific issues and situations when approached and analysed, looking at how people behave and are expected to behave and how their behaviour can be influenced. In this way Industrial Relations has become established and its focus is the regulation of the employment relationship, looking at the collective aspects between the workforce and management and the combined problems of social welfare and social order. In this way Industrial Relations can be defined as ‘a set of phenomena, operating both within and outside the workplace, concerned with determining and regulating the employment relationshipґ.

Industrial Relations are recognised in various extremes but in order to gain a better understanding they have been simplified into three perspectives, these are Pluralism, Unitarism and Marxism. The pluralistic approach looks at conflict as well as co-operation, assuming a society with different values, interests and objectives. The unitary perspective ranges from authoritarian to paternalistic considering an integrated group of people whilst the Marxist perspective adopts an evolutionary or revolutionary approach to social change, assuming imbalance and inequalities in society. Before we can place a value on this perspective of weaknesses and contradictions and the ascendancy of socialism over capitalism, we must first study the other viewpoints to arrange a significant conclusion.


Since its significance in the 1980ґs, the unitary perspective has been an essential ideology in most organisations, placing an emphasis on harmony and working together as a team with a common objective. If conflict arises, it is seen as frictional, caused by irrational behaviour resulting from personality clashes within the organisation. This is seen as a direct result of management failure and its poorly communicated plans and decisions. The idea is that decisions by managers are made for the good of all people in the organisation but the employees fail to understand this. Unitarism represents a management ideology because the management style contains notions of leadership rather than of power. The organisation is based on a managerial prerogative that is regarded as legitimate, rational and generally accepted.

Within this perspective, the management approach to resolving conflict is based on authority and paternalism, coupled with thoughts and threats and including the use of law, this coercion is regarded as a legitimate use of power; helping to control decisions and changes. Dismissal, training and development and improving communications can also remove conflict. Many corporate and human relation strategies have emerged through unitarism, helping improve interpersonal relations and communications within the organisation. The principles Just In Time (JIT) and Total Quality Management (TQM) have also been developed through unitarism. JIT refers to making an organisation more efficient by cutting warehouse costs etc., having stock delivered just before it is needed. TQM relates to increasing revenue by making quality improvements in production and manufacturing.

Unitarist managers feel that trade unions are no longer necessary to protect employees' interests because of the advent of human resource management. The organisation is seen as being capable of looking after its own, no longer being a ‘them and usґ situation but a feeling of togetherness, thus managers are now reluctant to acknowledge any role for trade unions in authority and decision making. As a result, trade unions and collective bargaining have been resisted rather than being welcomed by managers.

Pluralism looks at diverging interests within organisations; being complex, diverse and competitive. From this point of view, the organisation is seen as multi-structured with various interest groups creating a widespread distribution of authority and power, taking away ownership from the manager.

As opposed to the unitary approach, trade unions are tolerated as they do have some legitimacy, because conflict is perceived as rational and inevitable. Managers understand that the organisation is diverse, determined with differing roles of managerial and employee groups causing conflict by specific situations and management principles. Managers seek to improve efficiency, productivity and profitability, co-ordinating employees to achieve this, while employees seek to better their pay, working conditions, job security etc. This principle believes that change and efficiency will be promoted within the organisation, as employees will owe loyalty to authority and being accepted by employers.

Management generally seek to maintain maximum authority as employees try to establish safeguards against arbitrary management decisions and actions. It is accepted that trade unions play a positive role so there is a need for shared decision making, through negotiations and collective bargaining. As both groups have a common interest to survive in the organisation, they are prepared to compromise by limiting their claims and aspirations to negotiable levels.

Although not as dominant, the Marxist perspective is very influential, looking at the economic and social divisions between those who own the means of production and those who donґt. Employment is based on exploitation and inequality, where labour is only used when needed and profit earned is far higher than wages paid. Inequalities in society appear through the amount of power and wealth a person has.

Trade unions are seen as an inevitable employee response to capitalism and are used as a balancing tool in helping employers control and legitimise their use of power over employees. Management perceive trade unions and as giving them the right to order work in return for pay. The nature of conflict is seen as inherent in economic and social systems, which is resolved through a change in society. Trade unions and collective bargaining have become established and accepted as it is seen as an employeeґs response to capitalism, expressing a difference in class and leading to developments in political awareness.

With the Marxist perspective developed to legitimise control and the law supportive of managementґs interests rather than being independent, Industrial Relations are analysed and integrated in social, political and economic terms and not separated. Therefore this association of the development of the working classes must be recognised by union members, and acted upon accordingly through policies and decisions of the organisation.

This viewpoint is critical of pluralists, arguing that they have a false pretence of having a valid contribution; this can also be applied to unitarism too. Pluralism is seen as maintaining an illusion of a balance of power between various interest groups, hiding the real imbalance in social power. Although we understand that Marxism is influential in organisations, from a unitary perspective, pluralism remains dominant in most firms in recognising conflict and managers have never been so in touch.

It can be said that the Marxist perspective is mainly supported by determinists, those who can explain everything, therefore making the theory very limited but influential from a workers point of view. But this can raise questions, Marxism through the class conflict, ascribes trade unions to defeating capitalism. Trade unions stand for an entire workforce and there are only a few people who represent these, it can be said that they have a lack of training for this task and may well have a hidden agenda, are the working people really represented?

Although there is a common concern with the inevitability of conflict and industrial disputes, Marxist and pluralists treat these differently, where pluralists agree that management decisions can be subject to appeal, agreeing to mechanisms for resolution, Marxists argue that capitalist ownership and decision making remain preserved, being legitimised by trade unions and maintaining the status quo.

The Marxist perspective holds value within Industrial Relations because until this concept, there has been no prescriptive literature from a trade unions perspective. Research on strikes, wages, unemployment etc. is conducted from a government perspective while managers provide literature on human resource and organisations. As a paradigm, the Marxist perspective makes powerful assumptions, which tend to be accepted to the exclusion of any other equally valid viewpoint.
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