2290 industrial relations

Chairs at the Universities of Cambridge, Leeds,
and Cardiff in the late 1920s to address the
concerns of key businesses about achieving a
degree of consensus on the shop floor. The
incumbents of these Chairs brought pragmatic
guidance to the key policymakers involved in
employment relations, the practitioners in the
expanding industries, and the growing trade
union movement. The concept of partnership
a current public policy issue in the UK and
continental Europe had been anticipated by
progressive employers and trade unions eager
to establish negotiating rights in the factories in
the third decade of the twentieth century. The
situation in the US was far less hospitable and
was not placed on a more constructive footing
for at least two decades.
Industrial relations became an established
source of public policy concern in the US and
the UK in the 1960s. In the US the research led
by economists (Lloyd Reynolds, Clark Kerr,
and John Dunlop) took as a point of theoretical
departure traditional neoclassical economics.
But they invested their studies with an acute
understanding of power relations in the work
place and the pluralism of interactions between
trade unions, government, and employers.
Their research engaged with the orthodox
notion that the anonymous forces of supply
and demand dictated employment levels, rates
of pay, and the position of different segments of
the workforce within organizational hierarchies.
Detailed studies of firms internal labor markets
(e.g., Ozanne 1968) revealed how imprecise a
guide to the world of work the traditional eco
nomic axioms were (and still are). A beacon of
light at a time of growing policy and theoretical
conservatism, their work provided much of the
impetus for the development of the academic
study of industrial relations in Britain.
The research that ensued in Britain was dri
ven by immediate policy questions focusing on
rising strike levels, productivity deficits, and
complex wage systems that were allegedly
bringing manufacturing companies to a stand
still. The challenge for researchers was to get
behind the political rhetoric of the day. The lead
was taken by a group of historians and social
scientists committed to interdisciplinary policy
research, collectively known as the Oxford
School. Led by Hugh Clegg, the group
included academic practitioners (notably Alan
Flanders and Clegg) and historians of the labor
movement (Alan Fox). Such was their political
influence at this time, Clegg was asked by the
then prime minister, Harold Wilson, to lead the
1965 Royal Commission on Industrial Relations.
Notwithstanding the often inflated (sometimes
inflammatory) claims of many writers who
claimed to have detected a direct causal link
between the UKs industrial relations and eco
nomic underperformance, no clear evidence was
produced (see Nolan 1996 for an exposition of
the debates).
Anecdotes were used by economists to sup
port their accounts of the underlying institu
tional causes of productivity deficits with the
ever more successful economies of continental
Europe, but the economists rarely entered the
factories and offices about which they had so
much to say. Studies failed to demonstrate a
clear causal link between the UKs economic
underperformance and the pattern of industrial
relations in firms and industries. Many com
mentators gave voice to the governments posi
tion that the established voluntary system of
industrial relations in the UK had proved dele
terious to economic performance, and that a
regime change, involving restrictive legislation
against the activities of trade unions, was
required. As indicated below, there followed a
sea change in the character of industrial
The government was disturbed by the
increasing incidence of strikes that were both
unconstitutional (out of procedure) and unoffi
cial (unauthorized by the leaders of the relevant
unions). Sometimes referred to as wildcat
strikes, because of their spontaneous character
on the shop floor, these actions were particularly
common in the ailing UK engineering indus
tries. Coventry, Birmingham, and Liverpool
were notable hotspots. In Leeds textiles and
clothing featured prominently in the disputes
stakes. Some commentators linked the strikes
and the wage drift associated with the increas
ingly tight labor markets in the 1960s to loss of
market share in international manufacturing
Hugh Clegg commented thus:

Under employment of labour is one of the
major scandals of the British economy. There
may be few workers outside the newspaper