three-fold distinction between ‘pluralism’,‘unitarism’ and ‘radicalism’ to understand the competing positions; a classification system first applied to industrial relations by Fox (1974 and 1966) and subsequently debated with considerable fervour (e.g. Clegg 1975 and Hyman 1975). A pluralist perspective takes the view that the potential for conflict is inherent in the employment relationship, but that it is manageable and can be contained by an appropriate network of rules and regulations. A unitarist view of employer–employee relations sees them as essentially harmonious, punctuated only by occasions of temporary and illegitimate conflict. Radicals see industrial relations in terms of an enduring structural conflict between employers and those who sell their labour to the employers.Temporary accommodations to this conflict, according to radicals, do little more than control employees in their exploited position and secure the stability of a system that continues to favour employers.
This taxonomy of ideological perspectives is an imprecise device because there is plenty of room for differences within each category and it is often difficult in practice to distinguish at the boundaries between, say, a conservative pluralist and a unitarist or between some pluralists and some radicals. As well, few people are completely consistent in their statements and actions, with the result being that they can be analysed as unitarists in one situation and pluralists in another. Nonetheless, despite these imperfections, the device helps to reveal real differences between the perspectives of rank and file employees, industrial-relations practitioners and scholars alike—differences that deeply affect their diagnoses of industrial-relations ‘problems’ and their prescriptions for remedies. Like the work of most industrial-relations scholars, the ideological perspective adopted in this book is essentially pluralist. A discussion of the analytical tools used in different theoretical approaches focuses attention on the various sets of concepts used to analyse the employment relationship. Again, debates within economics between competing ‘schools of thought’ illustrate how the same broad empirical events and processes can be interpreted differently according to the analytical tools or theoretical
Pluralism is, as Blyton and Turnbull (1998) have observed, far from a homogeneous or unified analytical construct.What unites pluralists, however, is the recognition that there is some underlying social structure that has the potential to create sectional groups and interests within organisations and to bring these groups into conflict 13
each other as they seek to achieve their separate goals. In contrast to the unitarist approach, which admits only one source of legitimate power, pluralism points to the likelihood of diverse interest groups and multiple forms of loyalty and attachment. A pluralist framework of analysis suggests that employees in different organisations could have similar interests; and by creating horizontal links with groups outside the membership of their organisations in the form of trade unions, a loyalty and commitment to leaders other than the management of their own organisations could develop.The main features of pluralism are summarised in Table 1.1. The British writer Alan Fox believes that it is important for management to recognise that there are other legitimate sources of leadership and focuses of loyalty within an organisation, and that they must share their decision-making authority with these competing interest groups (Fox 1971). Furthermore, he has contended that management should not regard industrial conflict as a pathological deviation from the natural harmony of industry, but it should recognise conflict as inherent in
the employment relationship. Rather than trade unions being seen as introducing conflict into the workplace, they should be viewed as providing an organised and continuous way of...
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