Theory in Industrial Relations: Towards a Materialist Analysis

  • Richard Hyman


Analysis of the organised interrelationships between employers and the collective representatives of labour was once conducted overwhelmingly in pragmatic and empiricist terms; the subsequent elaboration of ‘industrial relations theory’ was firmly rooted in the harmonistic presuppositions of functionalist sociology. But in recent years this field of study has attracted a variety of more radical interpretations, and in particular has become an arena for a growing range of Marxist and neo-Marxist arguments. This chapter explores the significance of such developments, raising in the process questions concerning both the nature of Marxism and the adequacy of the conventional category of industrial relations.


Trade Union Collective Bargaining Industrial Relation Capitalist Production Class Struggle 
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Notes and References

  1. 3.
    J. T. Dunlop, Industrial Relations Systems, New York, Holt, 1958, p. vi.Google Scholar
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    Richard Hyman and Bob Fryer, ‘Trade Unions: Sociology and Political Economy’, in McKinlay, Processing People, London, Holt-Blond, 1975, p. 165.Google Scholar
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    R. Dahrendorf, Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1959. A best-seller in British academic circles, Dahrendorf’s book made little impact in Germany where the original version appeared two years earlier: an indication, perhaps, of the theoretical vacuum then existing in British industrial sociology.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    A. M. Ross and P. T. Hartman, Changing Patterns of Industrial Conflict, New York, Wiley, 1960. It is only fair to note that in this work Ross and Hartman presented the ‘withering away of the strike’ thesis in a far more guarded and qualified form than many subsequent writers.Google Scholar
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    The identification of industrial relations in terms of essentially micro-sociological processes is well represented by a work extremely influential among those seeking enhanced sophistication within the framework of traditional orthodoxy: R. E. Walton and R. B. McKersie, A Behavioral Theory of Labor Negotiations, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1965.Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Richard Hyman, Industrial Relations: A Marxist Introduction, London, Macmillan, 1975, Ch. 1.Google Scholar
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    For a comprehensive collection of their writings on trade union questions see Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Le syndicalisme (2 vols) Paris, Maspero, 1972;Google Scholar
  13. and for a brief discussion see Richard Hyman, Marxism and the Sociology of Trade Unionism, London, Pluto Press, 1971.Google Scholar
  14. 24.
    Karl Korsch, ‘Why I am a Marxist’ (1935) in Three Essays on Marxism, London, Pluto Press, 1971, p. 60.Google Scholar
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    H. Kern and M. Schumann, Industriearbeit und Arbeiterbewusstsein, Frankfurt, Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1970.Google Scholar
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  17. and Hugh Armstrong Clegg, Trade Unionism Under Collective Bargaining, Oxford, Blackwell, 1976.Google Scholar
  18. 31.
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  20. 32.
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  21. 33.
    Andrew Glyn and Bob Sutcliffe, British Capitalism, Workers and the Profits Squeeze, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1972, unleashed an intense controversy; debate continues among British Marxists as to the sense in which — if at all — workers can be considered partially ‘responsible’ for economic crises.Google Scholar
  22. Discussions of managerial strategy towards labour include Tony Cliff, The Employers’ Offensive, London, Pluto Press, 1970;Google Scholar
  23. and Andrew L. Friedman, Industry and Labour: Class Struggle at Work and Monopoly Capitalism, London, Macmillan. 1977.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 35.
    Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1974. In Britain there has been a tendency — in line with a certain one-sidedness in Braverman’s analysis — for writers who have ‘rediscovered’ the labour process to fetishise the concept: seeking in effect to reduce capital accumulation to the labour process, and thus neglecting the interdependent operation of the valorisation process. This criticism is developed by Tony Cutler, ‘The Romance of “Labour” ‘, Economy and Society, Vol. 7, No. 1, February 1978; Tony Elger, ‘Valorisation and “Deskilling”’, Capital and Class, No. 7, Spring 1979.Google Scholar
  25. 38.
    See, for example, Braverman, Part II; Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism, NLB, 1975, Ch. 16; CSE Pamphlet No. 1, The Labour Process and Class Strategies, 1976. Particularly important are the German compilations which have appeared roughly annually since 1972:Google Scholar
  26. Otto Jacobi et al., Gewerkschaften und Klassenkampf, Fischer, Frankfurt, 1972 to 1975 and Gewerkschaftspolitik in der Krise, Berlin, Rotbuch, 1978;Google Scholar
  27. and Rainer Duhm and Ulrich Mückenberger, Krise und Gegenwehr and Arbeitskampf im Krisenalltag, Berlin, Rotbuch, 1975 and 1977.Google Scholar
  28. 41.
    An early but sophisticated example of the neo-Weberian approach is David Lockwood, The Blackcoated Worker, London, Allen & Unwin, 1958. While Lockwood considers the ‘work situation’ of clerical labour, the notions of authority and bureaucracy dominate his analysis.Google Scholar
  29. 42.
    For an important comparative discussion of the Marxian and Weberian approaches to the analysis of class, and of recent developments in both traditions, see Anthony Giddens, The Class Structure of the Advanced Societies, London, Hutchinson, 1973.Google Scholar
  30. 44.
    See Martin Nicolaus, ‘Proletariat and Middle Class in Marx’, Studies on the Left, Vol. 7, No. 1, January–February 1967, and Paul Walton, ‘From Surplus Value to Surplus Theories’, Social Research, Vol. 37, No. 4, Winter 1970; also the exchange between the two in Walton and Hall, Situating Marx, Human Context Books, London, n.d. [1972]. Both draw primarily on the Theories of Surplus Value which Marx himself, of course, never completed for publication.Google Scholar
  31. 47.
    ‘The New Middle Class’, p. 1. Carchedi identifies the function of capital in terms of control and surveillance, that of the collective worker in terms of coordination and unity. He insists — without evidence — that while a specific position may involve both functions, they cannot be performed simultaneously. If this assumption is rejected, it is possible to recognise as even more radical than Carchedi suggests the contradictions inherent in many of the rapidly expanding technical-managerial roles. For this reason, Carchedi’s characterisation of those in such occupations as a ‘new middle class’ is an oversimplification — as, in the other direction, is Serge Mallet’s famous thesis of the ‘new working class’ (La nouvelle class ouvrière, Paris, Seuil, 1963). Some of the ambiguities in such positions are explored by André Gorz, ‘Technology, Technicians and Class Struggle’ in Gorz, The Division of Labour, Brighton, Harvester, 1976.Google Scholar
  32. 48.
    For a survey of recent debates on the significance of occupational change for collective organisation and action see Richard Hyman, ‘Occupational Structure, Collective Organisation and Industrial Militancy’, in Crouch and Pizzorno, The Resurgence of Class Conflict in Western Europe since 1968, Vol. 2, London, Macmillan, 1978.Google Scholar
  33. 50.
    Peter B. Doeringer and Michael J. Piore, Internal Labor Markets and Manpower Analysis, Lexington, DC Heath, 1971.Google Scholar
  34. 51.
    A good example of American attempts to radicalise ‘dual labour market’ analysis is Richard C. Edwards et al., Labor Market Segmentation, Lexington, Heath, 1975.Google Scholar
  35. The varying endeavours of European Marxists to incorporate trade union action within the theory of labour (power) market structure are exemplified by Massimo Paci, Mercato del laboro e classi sociali in Italia, Bologna, il Mulino, 1973;Google Scholar
  36. Richard Herding, Job Control and Union Structure, Rotterdam, Rotterdam UP, 1972; Friedman, op. cit.; Jill Rubery, ‘Structured Labour Markets, Worker Organisation and Low Pay’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, Vol. 2, No. 1, March 1978.Google Scholar
  37. 52.
    Any selection of references would be partial and idiosyncratic. In the US, the Review of Radical Political Economics is a forum for many of these controversies. In Britain — in addition to the sources mentioned in note 32 — it is possible to cite the journal Race and Class and, for a range of Marxist and marxisant approaches, Diana Leonard Barker and Sheila Allen, Dependence and Exploitation in Work and Marriage, London, Longman, 1976.Google Scholar
  38. 55.
    Ralph Miliband, Marxism and Politics, Oxford, Oxford UP, 1977, p. 2.Google Scholar
  39. 57.
    The most notable example being Nicos Poulantzas, Political Power and Social Classes, London, NLB, 1973.Google Scholar
  40. 58.
    James O’Connor, The Fiscal Crisis of the State, New York, St Martin’s, 1973.Google Scholar
  41. There are interesting affinities in the analysis developed by Claus Offe, Strukturprobleme des kapitalistischen Staates, Frankfurt, Suhrkamp, 1972.Google Scholar
  42. 60.
    To take one of the most substantial of recent studies which explore this relationship: Joachim Bergmann et al., Gewerkschaften in der Bundesrepublik, Europäische Verlagsanstalt, Frankfurt, 1975. The authors’ starting point is clearly a commitment to Marxist political economy, but it is hard to specify on what grounds their detailed documentation and analysis are to be regarded as distinctively ‘Marxist’.Google Scholar
  43. 62.
    All stable trade unionism inevitably involves some form of accommodation with the superior power wielded by agents of capital and the state, and some degree of disciplinary control over the rebellious tendencies of the membership. In this sense, unions cannot escape ‘incorporation’ to a greater or lesser extent. The crucial analytical issues thus involve questions of modes, levels and outcomes of the incorporation process: issues which few discussions of corporatism attempt seriously to elucidate. One of the more sophisticated of recent treatments — Colin Crouch, Class Conflict and the Industrial Relations Crisis, London, Heinemann, 1977 — does pursue a range of conceptual differentiations; but though a few Marxist notions are grafted onto an essentially Weberian framework, this work (despite its title) gives little attention to class conflict or to production relations more generally. Alessandro Pizzorno, ‘Entre l’action de classe et le corporatisme’, Sociologie du travail, No. 2/78, avril-juin 1978, provides an interesting measure of convergence with Crouch (though his primary focus is at company rather than national level); his comparative analysis is very firmly rooted in the categories of orthodox political science and industrial relations.Google Scholar
  44. 63.
    One recent attempt to explore this dualism is Rainer Zoll, Der Doppelcharakter der Gewerkschaften, Frankfurt, Suhrkamp, 1976: for a pointed critique see Walther Müller-Jentsch, ‘Die Neue Linke und die Gewerkschaften’, Das Argument, No. 107, Januar–Februar 1978. Failing to locate the contradictions of trade unionism which Marx recognised, and those apparent in its contemporary role as Ordnungsfaktor, in their altogether different material contexts, Zoll neglects the specificity of trade union dualism in different social and political environments. In this way, argues Müller-Jentsch, ‘historical process is dissolved into analogy’.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Richard Hyman 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Hyman
    • 1
  1. 1.University of WarwickUK

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