industrial relations 2289

In the United States, a new discourse
human resource management focusing on the
individual rather than collective employment
relations captured the research agenda and led
practitioners in the field of personnel and indus
trial relations to reinvent themselves. The
administration led by Ronald Reagan was deeply
hostile to the labor movement that had already
been weakened by broader economic forces.
Taking an unusually high profile in breaking
the 1981 air traffic controllers strike, Reagan
was determined to promote a sea change in
management practices, emphasize the primacy
of the individual in the workplace, and deni
grate established collective bargaining relations.
Union membership and influence plummeted
and have yet to recover, a malaise that brought
forth a highly significant split in the peak trade
union federation AFL CIO during 2005.
In continental Europe collective bargaining
and the solidarity of trade unions across service
and industrial sectors proved more enduring.
Tensions were apparent, in the systems that
evolved after 1945, but large employers accepted
(sometimes reluctantly) their duties under the
laws to negotiate and consult with the trade
unions that represented their employees. Union
membership levels remained high by compari
son with the UK and the US, and the coverage
of collective bargaining often approached levels
in excess of 80 percent of the workforce. Despite
the claims on behalf of the Anglo Saxon deregu
lated labor markets, the evidence revealed that
the more regulated economies of Germany,
Scandinavia, and Italy continued to thrive at
the expense of the UK and US economies
(Nolan 1994, 2004).
Employment patterns in continental Europe,
it should be stressed, are not homogeneous.
The panoply of institutional arrangements,
both voluntary and statutory, that regulate the
employment relationship vary considerably.
Yet until quite recently many scholars counter
poised the industrial relations systems of the
Anglo Saxon countries to a stylized model of
highly regulated and highly unionized labor
markets that embedded productivity inhibiting
working practices. To be sure, in line with the
traditions of social democracy that became
embedded in many (but by no means all) Eur
opean countries, institutional structures did
evolve to protect the rights of workers in ways
that far exceeded the rights of British and
American employees.
Yet it is crucial to be aware of the nuances of
the employment systems in different European
countries. In France, for example, a relatively
small and divided union movement has kept
alive a tradition of militancy, one capable of
mobilizing beyond its immediate ranks, that
has brought discipline to the practices of man
agement. The principle of management prero
gative has never been successfully embedded.
In Germany union density rates are high, and
workers retain considerable leverage over their
terms and conditions of employment. A highly
regulated system, to be sure, but it has suc
ceeded in economic terms in delivering high
levels of productivity and economic efficiency.
It remains unique among the advanced econo
mies in retaining a strong manufacturing sec
tor. Further contrasts are provided by Spain,
where unionism only took root after the death
of Franco, and where a substantial proportion
of the workforce is engaged in part time work,
while in the former Soviet bloc, systems of
industrial regulation and union formation are
evidently in a state of flux.
The key conclusion is that countries within
the European zone should be studied in their
own terms and not be grouped under facile
descriptions of a rigid and inefficient block of
sclerotic economies burdened with high unem
ployment and low productivity growth rates.
The early evidence base for the study of
industrial relations was forged in the last dec
ades of the nineteenth century. Seminal contri
butions from the Webbs (1894, 1920) brought a
new focus to the examination of the nature of
employment, authority relations, and the posi
tion of wage labor that had not been attempted
since Engelss study 50 years earlier, of the
nature of employment in Halifax, Leeds, Lon
don, and Manchester (Engels 1993).
Writing in a period of growing tensions in
major industries railways, textiles, chemicals,
and coal and in the buildup to the General
Strike of 1926, Sidney and Beatrice Webb laid
the foundations for the modern study of indus
trial relations. Leading practitioners such as
Montague Burton who developed in Leeds
the largest clothing factory in the world
commissioned independent research into the
conditions of industrial peace. He funded three