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RecensionsBook Reviews

Industrial Relations: Critical Perspectives on Business and Management edited by John Kelly, London: Routledge, 2002, Volumes 1-5, ISBN 0-415-22986-3.

  • Geoffrey Wood

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  • Geoffrey Wood
    Middlesex University

Article body

This edited five-volume set brings together a wide range of influential articles on industrial relations that are explicitly critical and/or international in orientation. With some notable exceptions, most of the articles date from the 1990s, a period characterized by the continued rise of neo-liberal ideologies and associated managerialism, yet, by the close of that decade, also by a resurgence in radical scholarship. As with all subsequent volumes, the first volume is divided into two halves: the first half includes a number of classic and more contemporary approaches to the discipline, whilst the second looks at changes in national systems of industrial relations.

The former half encompasses both classic pluralist (Flanders) and radical accounts (Hyman and Brown), and more contemporary approaches. The latter includes recent work on the role of managerial strategic choice in determining workplace outcomes (Kochan et al.), rather more bleak accounts on the seemingly terminal nature of union decline and its implications for industrial relations scholarship (Kaufman), and the editor’s own recent efforts to revitalize the radical tradition, by pointing to the wave-like nature of union decline—and resurgence—and collective action, and its relationship to economic long waves. The remaining two chapters look at industrial relations issues from a feminist perspective. Wacjman (chapter 8) asserts that employment relations and work remain gendered, as does much industrial relations scholarship; hence the discipline needs to redefined.

The second half of Volume 1 is given over to changes in national IR systems and in the global economy. The first three chapters of this section are international in orientation, looking at globalization (Radice), the convergence/divergence debate (Kitschelt et al.) and comparative trends in Europe (Ross and Martin). The Radice chapter is of particular interest in that it underscores the nature of globalization as a contested phenomenon, rather than as an inevitable process labour unions and other social actors simply have to “cope with”. This is followed by country studies on the U.K. (Millward et al.), the United States (Osterman), Germany (Hassel) and Japan (Sako), and brief overviews of changes in Africa (Mihyo and Schiphorst) and transitional Europe (Pollert).

The first half of Volume 2—rather ambitiously—covers both labour markets and the labour process, whilst the second looks at the changing fortunes of organized labour. The first half is a very diverse section but encompasses both overviews of changes in employment security and studies on new forms of work organization. The opening chapter (Cappelli) looks at the effects of non-standard contracts, followed by an exploration as to the nature and possibilities of consumerism vis-à-vis the relations of production (Sayer and Walker), workplace transformation and the quality of the employment relationship (Milkman), trends in lean production in Japanese enterprises (Berggren), tendencies towards growing job insecurity (Heery and Salmon), and an excellent overview by the OECD’s research department on the nature of earnings inequality and the relative extent of low paid employment in different national contexts. The second half of this volume encompasses studies on trends in trade union organization in a range of different national contexts (Golden et al., and Hancke), the extent of convergence towards the Anglo-Saxon model (Boyer), the implications of declining union membership in the U.S. (Freeman), theoretical accounts of the logic of collective action (Offe and Wiesenthal), union renewal and the organizing model (Wever, and Bronfenbrenner and Juravich respectively), and social movement unionism (Moody and Hirschsohn).

Part I of Volume 3 looks at the role of employers, and Part II, the state. The former includes the increasing prominence of trans-European companies and the implications for industrial relations—according particular attention to pressures towards deregulation (Marginson and Sisson), the effects of participation and involvement, and contingent pay on workplace outcomes in the U.K. (Metcalf and Fernie), employment relations in non-union workplaces, again in the U.K. (Guest and Hoque), the return of autocratic and coercive managerialism in the United States (Gordon), and the implications of the new HRM for gender relations at the workplace (Dickens). The first two chapters of the latter section consist of masterly overviews on the role of the nation state and the national mechanisms for labour regulation in a globalizing world (Elger and Edwards), and a critical overview of trends towards convergence in Western Europe in the 1980s (Crouch). Subsequent chapters, inter alia, explore the relations between unions, political parties and governments in different national contexts (Valenzuela), a case study on neo-liberalism, democratization and labour reform in Latin America (Cook), and an overview of different patterns of unionization in different Asia-Pacific countries (Frenkel).

The first half of Volume 4 returns to issues of workplace representation, primarily concentrating on collective bargaining. It commences with a classic theoretical essay by Alan Flanders, followed on by a review on international trends towards the decentralization of bargaining (Katz), a revisiting of the convergence-divergence debate (Traxler), a study by the OECD’s research department on the relationship between collective bargaining practices and macro-economic outcomes, the findings of a U.S. survey on worker aspirations on the bargaining front (Freeman and Rogers), and an overview of the effects of works councils (Rogers and Streeck). Notable contributions in the second half of this volume—on industrial conflict—look at the apparent return to labour quiescence (Shalev), the relationship between the incidence of strike action and economic long waves (Screpanti), and the importance of strikes in securing worker rights (Cohn).

Volume 5 is divided between a section looking at union-management cooperation, future trends, and a well compiled index covering the entire collection. The first section includes widely-cited essays on “the mutual gains enterprise” (Kochan and Osterman), HRM, management and unions (Guest), and union militancy and social partnership (Kelly). The section on future trends includes essays on the increasing proportion of workers confined to peripheral occupations, particularly in the developing world (Moore, and Standing), inherent tendencies towards the neo-liberal low wage, low skill, low investment paradigm in contemporary capitalism (Gray), and the future of collective forms of employee representation (Hyman).

There is little doubt that this collection represents a major consolidation of the literature, containing both many classic essays, and other, less well-known, but highly valuable critical accounts; it is greatly enhanced by a pithy and incisive general introduction. However, there are a number of limitations. Firstly, the collection would have been enhanced had additional individual, more detailed, introductions been provided to each volume; this would have been particularly useful to the student reader in helping signpost the ongoing evolution of specific theoretical frames of reference.

Secondly, the desire for comprehensivity has led to a stylistically wide range of articles being included, from chapters in introductory textbooks to more sophisticated accounts from leading academic journals, most frequently, the British Journal of Industrial Relations. This makes for a somewhat eclectic and uneven reading experience. Many contributions are chapters from previous books, which, confusingly, often make cryptic references to other parts of their parent volume; perhaps it may have been advisable to reedit such chapters in order to eliminate these ambiguities.

Thirdly, despite attempts to address international issues, the collection remains overwhelmingly British in orientation; again, some important debates, such as that surrounding union renewal, receive rather less attention than their importance deserves. Fourthly, the division of sections seems rather arbitrary—for example, the first second half of Volume 5 overlaps with the first of Volume 2. Finally, for what is intended to be a standard reference set—and priced as such—the quality of the binding leaves a great deal to be desired; the cover of the final volume of the review set has already began to peel away. However, none of these limitations detracts from the importance of this collection, and the invaluable insights of the editor. There is little doubt that it will be of great use to academics, practitioners, and students alike.