RecensionsBook Reviews

Employment with a Human Face: Balancing Efficiency, Equity, and Voice by John Budd, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2004, 263 pp., ISBN 0-8014-4208-7.[Record]

  • Rafael Gomez

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  • Rafael Gomez
    London School of Economics

A series of oddly shaped dots floats, somewhat haphazardly, across the cover of John Budd’s latest book, but this is hardly an accurate picture of the balancing act that he achieves in Employment with a Human Face. Instead, Budd’s view of Industrial Relations is a roughly aligned triangle, which despite its symmetry, does not avoid the messy bits that are part and parcel of employment relations research. It’s a tall order to bring together the past century of labour relations research into a cohesive picture, especially if the system in question operates at various levels, from grievances on the shop floor to the globalization of labour standards. But Budd gives it the best shot in recent memory. Employment with a Human Face is really a book out of the blue. As the author admits, it grew not from any specific research agenda but simply from his “effort to create a richer, deeper and more engaging way to teach labour relations and labour policy to his students at the University of Minnesota.” Still, Employment with a Human Face is not a textbook, nor is it for those who insist that employment and work are obvious and well understood concepts. While most industrial relations texts serve as an introduction to existing processes, such as the functioning of collective bargaining or the nature of so-called “work rules”, this book kicks it up a notch by successfully weaving together a picture of what the field of pluralist industrial relations is really about—the pursuit of a balance between efficiency, equity and voice in employment. Budd is an engaging writer with a talent for describing arcane IR topics in a way that is accessible not only to university students, but to anyone with even a passing interest in labour relations. He draws on works as disparate as Pope John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus, the United Nations Human Development Report and Uncle Tom’s Cabin to advance his ideas, a device that works well most of the time, but which can sometimes be distracting. There are problems in weaving together a pluralist picture of the world of work, the author notes, beginning with the fact that there are competing claims about “the operation of markets, conflict and power . . . and the role of employment in a democratic, capitalist society.” These competing streams of thought—from Marxism to Management—share the virtue of being at extreme ends of a spectrum. The Critical or Marxian school views employment as a fundamentally unequal relationship, in which conflict between employer and employee is endemic and where organized labour is a natural and inevitable counterbalance. Human resource management theories assume that the interests of employers and employees can be aligned, thereby mitigating conflict and the need for unions. Pluralist industrial relations scholarship, however, is situated between these extremes and hence is more agnostic about the best way to model the employment relationship. It acknowledges the benefits of markets and efficiency, but recognizes that interests do in fact diverge and that there is a necessary role for what Budd calls “non market interests—such as government regulations and unions—to balance unequal . . . power between employers and employees and to . . . produce outcomes that create economic prosperity and respect for human life.” The first chapter of the book argues that the central interests of the employment relationship are equity, efficiency and voice. Budd graciously acknowledges the great debt owed to his immediate predecessors in this regard, namely Jack Barbash, Bruce Kaufman, Tom Kochan and Noah Meltz. But he advances their arguments in subtle but sophisticated ways. For instance, he demonstrates …