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Theory in Industrial Relations: Towards a Materialist Analysis

  • Richard Hyman

Abstract

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.

Keywords

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

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    ‘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
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    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
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    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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