industrial relations 2291

industry who are paid to do nothing at all,
but throughout British industry there must be
hundreds of thousands of workers who are paid
to do nothing for a considerable part of their
time . . . Then there are the machines and
changes in technology many of them in use
in other countries which would be introduced
here but for the limits placed by workers on
their output. (Clegg 1964)

On the face of it this statement by Clegg
represented a severe attack on the disruptive
powers of the organized trade union movement
in the UK, but he was also careful to include in
his prescriptions the failures of management to
do their jobs properly and efficiently. The
Oxford School were ambivalent. Always com
mitted to mutual disputes resolution in the
workplace and to the limited role of legislators,
Clegg and his colleagues espoused a program of
reform that would engage all key parties:
employers, workers, and their representatives
to collective bargaining and the elaboration of
new workplace procedures to minimize the
damage that ensued from unbridled conflict.
The underlying philosophy was pluralism,
the central idea that there were multiple stake
holders in the workplace. The evidence that the
Royal Commission assembled revealed that
conflict was endemic in the workplace and that
institution building was the best way of raising
productivity and reducing strikes, absenteeism,
and conflict. Their prognosis most clearly
registered in the Royal Commission Report
was that power should be shared through the
elaboration of collective bargaining arrange
ments, that the emerging numbers of unpaid
shop stewards in private and public sector orga
nizations should be provided with facilities
(office space, time off work for meetings) in
order to resolve differences with management
to avoid strikes and productivity damaging acts
by both employers and employees.
Throughout this period in which academics
worked hand in glove with policymakers in the
UK and US, there were powerful dissenting
voices. The most prominent scholar in the
UK was Professor Vic Allen, a self proclaimed
Marxist. The Oxford School ignored his con
tributions but failed to minimize their impact
on successive generations of students of indus
trial relations that found in his work a refresh
ing challenge to the pluralist orthodoxy (Allen
1971). The argument, backed by careful empiri
cal research, that workers and their employers
had often differences that could not be recon
ciled by institution building as proposed by the
1968 Royal Commission was borne out by
the severe conflicts of the 1970s.
The election of Mrs. Thatcher in the UK in
1979 signaled a major upheaval in the practice,
perception, and study of industrial relations.
The situation in the US was bleaker, with union
membership plummeting and employers intro
ducing tough measures to retard workers
voice (Freeman & Medoff 1984). The attack
by the Thatcher government, through numer
ous legislative measures, effectively prevented
unions from taking collective action at the work
place. Set piece strikes in the steel, railway, and
coal industries halted the threat of mass mobili
zation policies by workers as the government
sought new legal powers to stem the tide of
resistance to draconian closure and mass redun
dancy programs. No sector was protected.
The academic study of industrial relations
suffered in line with the prevailing material con
ditions. The new advocates of human resource
management seized upon the evidence of declin
ing collective relations in the workplace and
proclaimed a new regime change in which busi
ness would work with individuals to secure busi
ness success. Performance related pay, regular
performance appraisals, teamworking, empow
erment, and skill development programs were
the new watchwords in a managerial vocabulary
deployed to win the commitment of employees.
Industrial relations researchers remained skep
tical, arguing, somewhat complacently, that this
was a fashion that would not endure.
The declining status of academic industrial
relations was also a result of the failure of the
mainstream to engage with other social science
disciplines, notably economics. It ceded the ter
rain of debate arguably the most politically
charged debate in Europe, the US, and the
UK to economists who made bold claims with
their blunt tools about the complex causal rela
tions between conduct in the workplace and the
performance of companies, industries, and
national economies. They claimed that the ter
rain that had been occupied by students of
the labor market, collective bargaining, and dis
pute resolution could be scrutinized with new
techniques and data that would yield more