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Collective autonomy and collective bargaining in industrial relations theory industrial relations theory

2.2.1. Introduction

The intention of this section is to conduct an analysis of industrial relations theories that have been influential in conceptualising the main aspects of collective autonomy and collective bargaining. The section begins by considering the works of the Webbs and of Selig Perlman as early attempts to study the phenomena of industrial relations and collective bargaining. Then, it discusses the conceptualisation of the system of industrial relations developed by John T. Dunlop and refers to the ‘pluralist school’ of industrial relations, also known as the ‘Oxford School’, represented by Allan Flanders and Hugh Clegg. Finally, it considers the

‘radical or critical stream’ represented by Richard Hyman and Colin Crouch.

The major schools of industrial relations have been classified according to a

‘frame of reference’ developed by Fox, who distinguished a ‘unitarist’, a ‘pluralist’, and a ‘radical’ stream of industrial relations scholarship.4 The ‘unitarist’ stream assumes the correspondence between the interests of the employees and those of the employer/management. Although descending from the application of management theories developed in the early 1900s, it has been a minority stream of industrial relations scholarship until the emergence of studies oriented towards human resources management.5 Instead, the ‘pluralists’ and the ‘radicals’ consider the employment relationship to be basically characterised by a conflict of interests.

However, their views diverge as to how best to overcome such a conflict. The

‘pluralists’ indicate in the instrument of collective bargaining the primary way to overcome conflict by finding a compromise. The ‘radicals’ instead theorise the conflict as the practice of workers’ emancipation and praise individual as well as collective resistance at the workplace.6 The present work does not take into consideration scholars belonging to the ‘unitarist’ stream, since their analyses place less emphasis on collective bargaining and the conflict of interest.

4 The concept of ‘frame of reference’ is based on a distinction of the different approaches to the study of industrial relations based on the understanding of conflict and on the instruments to be developed for overcoming it, see recently Edmund Heery, “Frames of Reference and Worker Participation” in Stewart Johnstone & Peter Ackers (eds), Finding a Voice at Work? New Perspectives on Employment Relations (Oxford University Press 2015) 21–43.

5 Bruce E. Kaufman, “Paradigms in Industrial Relations: Original, Modern and Versions In-between”

(2008) 46 British Journal of Industrial Relations, 314–39, 328–29; Alan Geare et al., “Exploring the Ideological Undercurrents of HRM: Workplace Values and Beliefs in Ireland and New Zealand”

(2014) 25 The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 2275–94, 2277.

6 Paul Edwards, “The Employment Relationship and the Field of Industrial Relations” in Paul Edwards (ed), Industrial Relations. Theory and Practice (Blackwell 2003) 1–36, 10–11.

The Webbs are universally recognised as forerunners in the study of industrial relations. They approached the emerging phenomenon of labour organising in the second half of the 19th century, in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, which brought to the main political and social scene new actors – such as the proletariat, the trade union, and the capitalist employer.7 Initiated outside the academy, their work contributed to the shaping and founding of industrial relations as a field of study by, for instance, distancing itself from an economic approach to the study of trade unions as actors in the labour market. Rather, they adopted an empirical method based on fieldwork, which introduced sociology into the study of industrial relations. The Webbs were members of the socialist and progressive association, the Fabian Society, and helped found the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1895.

Also very influential in the development of industrial relations is the work of Selig Perlman and in general that of the so-called Wisconsin School of industrial relations, established by John R. Commons who acquired direct knowledge of the industrial relations dynamics by being a trade union member while he was working as typographer.8 This school considers collective bargaining as the means for the lower classes to improve their conditions and gain a share of power within society.

Their idea of trade unionism and collective bargaining is thus grounded on pragmatism and the rejection of ideological claims. This approach also derived from an acquaintance with the US labour movement and in particular with its leader and secretary of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), Samuel Gompers, who set the strategy of the trade union front on pragmatic revindications.9 The study of industrial relations of the Wisconsin School focused on the actors, norms and rules governing and influencing the functioning of collective bargaining, rather than on the economic aspects. In this sense, the school has inaugurated the stream of

‘institutionalism’ in the study of industrial relations.10

The institutional approach is particularly evident in the work of John T. Dunlop.

His work has mainly focused on the need to develop an analytical framework able to capture the interaction of the different actors involved and the rules that such interactions generate. The theory developed by Dunlop concerns the definition of a

‘taxonomy’ of industrial relations or a conceptual framework that could be used in order to pursue comparative works among different countries as well as among different sectors.11 Despite his influence in the field and the critiques to which he

7 Bruce E. Kaufman, The Global Evolution of Industrial Relations. Events, Ideas and the IIRA (ILO 2004) 15.

8 Elvander (2002) 17. Commons was also in Roosevelt’s entourage in the years in which the US Presidency developed and implemented the ‘New Deal’ economic project.

9 Kaufman (2004) 99. See also Selig Perlman, A History of Trade Unionism in the United States (1922), (first publication 1922, The Echo Library 2006) 146.

10 Elvander (2002) 18.

11 Kaufman (2004) 252.

was subjected, Dunlop did not directly take part in the public debate about industrial relations that its work contributed in raising in the US.12 He was later appointed chairman of the Commission on the Future of Management-Worker Relations (also known as the Dunlop Commission) set up by President Clinton in 1993 for discussing labour and employment policies.13

Although not dealing with conflict in industrial relations and overlooking the individual employment relationship in the system,14 the ‘systematisation’ of the study of industrial relations developed by Dunlop has been particularly influential in the work of Flanders and Clegg. Dunlop’s concept of the ‘industrial relations system’ is a prerequisite for the ‘pluralist’ approach, placing collective bargaining at the centre of the system as the process producing rules regulating the relationship between the collective actors.15 Unlike Dunlop, however, Flanders’s and Clegg’s works emphasise the coexistence of different and conflicting interests in society that seek to find a ‘compromise’ in the arena of industrial relations through collective bargaining.16 Both Flanders and Clegg were supporters of the Labour Party in the political debate and both participated, along with Kahn-Freund, in the Lord Donovan Commission formed in 1968 by the Labour cabinet with the aim of assessing the state and evaluating the prospects of industrial relations in Great Britain.17

Although educated in the same school of industrial relations, Hyman distanced himself from the main ideas of the masters of the school by shifting his approach to industrial relations towards Marxism.18 His Marxist analysis of industrial relations contributed to the ‘radicalising’ of this field of study and was particularly influential among the young trade union officers in the 1970s.19 Moving from Warwick (where the Oxford School migrated to in the late 1970s20) to the London School of Economics, Hyman became one of the most influential figures in industrial relations following his founding (in 1995) of the European Journal of Industrial Relations.21

12 Elvander (2002) 21–22.

13 Kaufman (2004) 335–36.

14 Bruce E. Kaufman, “Employment Relations and the Employment Relations System: A Guide to Theorizing” in Bruce E. Kaufman (ed), Theoretical Perspectives on Work and the Employment Relationship (IRRA 2004) 41–75, 48.

15 Richard Hyman, “Industrial Relations in Europe: Theory and Practice” (1995) 1 European Journal of Industrial Relations, 17–46, 21.

16 See Peter Ackers, “Rethinking the Employment Relationship: A Neo-pluralist Critique of British Industrial Relations Orthodoxy” (2012) 25 The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 2608–25, 2612; see also Heery (2015), 21–43.

17 Dukes (2014) 77.

18 Elvander (2002) 11.

19 Gregor Gall, “Richard Hyman: An Assessment of his Industrial Relations: A Marxist Introduction”

(2011) 36 Capital & Class, 135–49.

20 Elvander (2002) 9–10.

21 Kaufman (2004) 461.

In general, Hyman has remained outside mainstream politics, preferring to side with social movements and rank and file unions. Usually grouped with Hyman for his leftist approach to industrial relations, Colin Crouch has played a fundamental role in advancing the study of industrial relations and in its dissemination outside the UK.22 In particular, he focused on the origins and early developments of industrial relations in Europe as well as with the comparative analysis of the European countries’ systems. On the one hand, Hyman has analysed the political and ideological features of the emergence of the trade union phenomenon in Europe, highlighting its strong socialist (and generally leftist) roots.23 On the other, Crouch has provided a systemisation of the industrial relations systems in the European countries according to the degree of centralisation of the systems affirmed in their historical evolution.24 Hyman and Crouch also share an attention to the comparative understanding of industrial relations in Europe, to the analysis of the relationship between industrial relations actors (and social actors in general) and the EU, and to the critique of neo-liberal ideology as a factor undermining the trade unions.

2.2.2. The emergence of trade unionism and collective bargaining The emergence of collective labour relations is one of the results of the socio-economic changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution, which modified the processes and modalities of economic production. The shift from the master-servant to the employer-employee relationship meant the collectivisation of workplaces and workforce and the consequent rise of collective forms of social organising mediating the plural and unbalanced relations between a single employer and her employees.25 Their aims – or tasks – entailed: to act as workers’ negotiating agent before the employer; to eliminate the downward competition among workers; to achieve better working and employment conditions; to counterbalance the accumulation of power in the hands of the capitalist employer. Thus, trade unions are intermediate social bodies mediating the relationship between the individual worker and the employer.26

Industrial relations is a field of studies established with the aim of analysing and understanding the processes and dynamics of collective labour relations from different perspectives. Beatrice and Sidney Webb are traditionally considered the

‘parents’ of the industrial relations field.27 They are universally considered the first

22 Kaufman (2004) 448.

23 Richard Hyman, Understanding European Trade Unionism. Between Market, Class and Society (Sage 2001).

24 Colin Crouch, Industrial Relations and European State Tradition (Oxford University Press 1993).

25 Kaufman (2004) 21.

26 Colin Crouch, Trade Unions. The Logic of Collective Action (Fontana 1982).

27 Elvander (2002) 2; see Carola M. Frege, “The History of Industrial Relations as a Field of Study”

in Paul Blyton et al. (eds), The Sage Handbook of Industrial Relations (Sage 2008) 35–53, 43.

scholars to have approached the nascent phenomena of trade union organising, collective bargaining and collective conflict.28 Their work looked at the emerging phenomenon of the collective organisation of labour relations and conceptualised the discipline through an all-encompassing view on the different factors, elements and aspects involved in such a phenomenon.29 The starting point of their analysis is constituted by the trade unions, which during the Webbs’ time remained a relatively new social form of collective organising that was acquiring increasing influence in the socio-economic sphere.30 The object of their study is quite broad, including several aspects of the regulation of the labour market, among which the unions represented a social force capable of intervening in or interfering with the smooth functioning of supply/demand dynamics.31

The Webbs are also seen as coining the term ‘collective bargaining’.32 Their analysis depicts the latter as a social phenomenon stemming from the changing nature and form of the employment relationship. In the changed economic context, collective bargaining became the method of trade unions to collectively organise the demands of the workers, who in their turn could receive an improvement in their negotiating power before the employer.33 In this sense, the Webbs view collective bargaining as aggregating and replacing several individual negotiations. Instead of negotiating on an individual basis, the workers organise themselves in order to negotiate on a collective basis, so as to have a more powerful bargaining position.34 Collective bargaining has therefore economic origins as a process for the regulation

28 In this sense, Kaufman refers to them not as the ‘parents’ of industrial relations, but rather as the

‘pioneers’ of such a discipline, which would have been later labelled ‘industrial relations’, see Bruce E. Kaufman, “History of the British Industrial Relations Field Reconsidered: Getting from the Webbs to the New Employment Relations Paradigm” (2014) 52 British Journal of Industrial Relations, 1–31, 7.

29 In their work, the phenomenon is studied in all its aspects, including history, internal organisation, relationship with the employers and with the public actor(s), the role of the law, the functioning of collective bargaining and so forth, see Beatrice & Sidney Webb, Industrial Democracy (Longsman 1897).

30 The Webbs approached the study of trade unions by analysing the historical forces which led to their formation, see Beatrice & Sidney Webb, The History of Trade Unionism (Longmans 1894).

31 On the several aspects of the labour market regulation treated by the Webbs, see Bruce E. Kaufman,

“Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s Institutional Theory of Labor Markets and Wage Determination” (2013) 52 Industrial Relations. A Journal of Economy and Society, 765–91. On the ‘economic’ roots of the Webbs’ work, see David Farnham, “Beatrice and Sidney Webb and the Intellectual Origins of British Industrial Relations” (2008) 30 Employee Relations, 534–52, 536.

32 Allan Flanders, “Collective Bargaining” in Allan Flanders & Hugh Clegg (eds), The System of Industrial Relations in Great Britain (Basil Blackwell 1954) 252–322, 252.

33 Webbs (1897) 177–78. On trade unionism and collective bargaining as factors of socio-economic reform in the Webbs’ theory, see Renaud Paquet, Jean-François Tremblay & Éric Gosselin, “Des théories du syndacalisme. Synthèse analytique et considérations contemporaines” (2004) 59 Relations Industrielles & Industrial Relations, 295–320, 304–05.

34 Webbs (1897) 179. The Webbs further saw an improvement in the workers’ bargaining power in the achievement of collective bargaining at town or industry level.

of the labour market led by the workers and aiming at improving their living conditions.35 The establishment of a permanent machinery for collective bargaining is, in the Webbs’ view, a major aim for the individual workers and for their unions.

However, a machinery for collective bargaining requires the presence of different actors, which need each other in order to fulfil their aim. In this sense, a collective bargaining system requires the presence of the trade unions, the employer and the public actor.36

The progressive establishment of trade unions as social actors partaking in the dynamics of labour market regulation was later read by other scholars as the first spark for the ‘making’ of a system of industrial relations. For instance, the so-called Wisconsin School of industrial relations – with Commons as a forerunner – helped shape the concept of collective bargaining as an autonomous institution in charge of regulating the labour market and ensuring the improvement of working conditions for the workers.37 The Wisconsin School adopted an economic and institutional approach to the study of collective bargaining, deeming trade unions to be economic actors and rejecting strong ideological claims in the name of an approach that Perlman defined as ‘job consciousness’.38 In this sense, the work of Perlman – a pupil of Commons – focused on the institutional and pragmatic aspects of collective bargaining. According to Perlman, collective bargaining should be a means for the lower classes to achieve an increasingly substantial share of the social power which is usually the prerogative of the higher classes, rather than a means for pursuing social and political revolution.39 Perlman saw collective bargaining as the instrument for rebalancing the distribution of power within the labour market. In his view, collective bargaining consisted of economic dynamics between social groups aimed at finding an equilibrium among their competing interests. It is thus an institution established by the new actors that emerged in the context of broad socio-economic changes, which had increased the plurality of society.40 Perlman also tracked a parallel between the regulation of working conditions operated by the Medieval guilds in the pre-industrial era and that operated by the unions through

35 On the economic origins of collective bargaining in the Webbs’ view, see Allan Flanders,

“Collective Bargaining: A Theoretical Analysis” (1968) 6 British Journal of Industrial Relations, 1–

26, 2–3.

36 Webbs (1897) 179.

37 Kaufman (2004) 90.

38 Selig Perlman, “The Basic Philosophy of the American Labor Movement” (1951) 274 Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 57–63, 59.

39 The US scholar in this sense criticised and rejected the Marxist idea of trade unions and their role in the revolutionary struggle, see Selig Perlman, “The Principle of Collective Bargaining” (1936) 184 Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 154–60. See also Giovanni Pino, Uno studio su Gino Giugni e il conflitto collettivo (Giappichelli 2014) 28.

40 Gino Giugni, “Introduzione” in Selig Perlman, Ideologia e pratica dell’azione sindacale (La Nuova Italia 1956) XXX–XXXI.

collective bargaining by stressing its democratic features.41 As a self-sufficient institution, collective bargaining ought to produce rules for the functioning of the system, and the role of the public actors – as legislator and policy-maker – should be limited to recognising the trade unions as legitimate actors in the regulation of industrial relations and the labour market by avoiding their juridification and the juridification of their relations.42

The early works made on both shores of the Atlantic have been particularly influential in the later conceptual development of industrial relations and collective bargaining. As for the authors considered here, Dunlop conceives of the system of industrial relations as a subsystem of the industrial society and of the social system, which coexists with other subsystems such as the economic or the political one.43 Instead of focusing on the conflictual relations among the actors, he focuses on the industrial relations as a system producing a web of rules that govern the system itself.44 In contrast, the pluralist school of industrial relations represented by Flanders and Clegg is grounded on the assumption that conflict is an inherent aspect of the employee-employer (as well as the labour-capital) relationship, and it is mainly concerned with the possible ways to overcome and settle such a conflict.45 The pluralists see society as an arena in which different interests interplay and in which the balance between them is constantly ensured by compromises and negotiations, rather than by ultimate, authoritarian decisions.46 Therefore, industrial relations and their dynamics stems from the plurality of society, whose interests find a compromise through the process of collective bargaining, which is the central institution of a system of industrial relations.47

The works of Hyman and Crouch are firmly grounded on a deep understanding of the diversity of the national systems shaped by the historical and political features of the countries. The national element is hence a constant in their analyses. Hyman stresses that ‘[the term] industrial relations is an invention of the era of the nation-state’ and that consequently the study of industrial relations is ‘embedded’ in the historical, political, social and economic national contexts.48 Yet he recognises that trade unions move and act within the same ‘geometry’ formed by a triangle between

41 Perlman (1936) 155–56.

42 See Umberto Romagnoli, “Weimar e il diritto del lavoro in Italia” (2010) 24 Lavoro e Diritto, 181–

90, 184–85.

43 John T. Dunlop, Industrial Relations Systems (Harvard Business School Press 1993) 282.

44 Stephen J. Wood et al, “The ‘Industrial Relations System’ Concept as a basis for Theory in Industrial Relations” (1975) 13 British Journal of Industrial Relations, 291–308, 295.

45 John W. Budd, Rafael Gomez & Noah M. Meltz, “Why a Balance is Best: The Pluralist Industrial Relations Paradigm of Balancing Competing Interests” in Kaufman (2004) 195–227.

46 See Hugh A. Clegg, “Pluralism in Industrial Relations” (1975) 13 British Journal of Industrial Relations, 309–16, 310.

47 Crouch (1982) 19.

48 Richard Hyman, “Is Industrial Relations Theory Always Ethnocentric?” in Kaufman (2004) 265–

92, 272.

market, class and society.49 Therefore it is possible to find similar patterns in different countries, in particular according to a cross-national scheme of ‘variety of trade unionisms’50 and even more specifically in the European context, where a shared understanding and similar evolution of industrial relations are present.51 In his massive comparative historical analysis of the European systems of industrial relations, Crouch instead affirms that despite the attention to ‘the specificity of national experiences, nothing is served by insisting on minute differences when these conceal an underlying and interesting similarity, particularly one that distinguishes a group of countries’.52 Finally, both scholars share a negative evaluation of the marginalising effects of the EU integration project on the trade unions.

2.2.3. The actors of collective bargaining and their social relationships

The analysis of the nature and interactions of the actors of collective bargaining forms a central part of research and study in industrial relations theories.

Historically, employers’ organising has been a reaction to the process of workers’

organising. Further, the dynamics of industrial relations also involve the State, both as an actor engaged into certain types of negotiations and as the actor setting the legal and policy framework in which collective bargaining occurs.

In Dunlop’s view, a system of industrial relations is the arena in which these three actors operate: the workers and their organisations; the managers and their organisations; and the specialised governmental agencies, i.e. the State. These actors engage in reciprocal interactions, which are characterised by the existence of internal hierarchies. For Dunlop, the interactions between the industrial relations actors are characterised by the presence of a shared ideology as the element that binds them within the system and derives from the ideology of the larger society.53 According to him, a system of industrial relations has to feature ‘an ideology or a

49 Hyman (2001) 4.

50 Hyman (and Gumbrell-McCormick) has classified the trade union models in Western Europe into four types: Nordic countries (Sweden and Denmark); Central countries (Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Belgium); Southern countries (France and Italy); and Anglophone countries (Britain and Ireland). See Rebecca Gumbrell-McCornick & Richard Hyman, Trade Unions in Western Europe.

Hard Times, Hard Choices (Oxford University Press 2013) 8.

51 Hyman (2004) 277–80. Hyman talks about a ‘European social model’ for describing how the systems of industrial relations in Europe, with the exception of the Anglo-Saxon model as based on similar institutions and as grounded on substantially similar concepts.

52 Crouch (1993) 4.

53 Dunlop (1993) 54. Dunlop points out the example of voluntarism in industrial relations in Great Britain as a glaring example of a shared ideology by the industrial relations actors.