Trade Unions and the State

Trade Unions and the State: The Construction of Industrial Relations Institutions in Britain, 1890-2000

Chris Howell
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Trade Unions and the State
    Book Description:

    The collapse of Britain's powerful labor movement in the last quarter century has been one of the most significant and astonishing stories in recent political history. How were the governments of Margaret Thatcher and her successors able to tame the unions?

    In analyzing how an entirely new industrial relations system was constructed after 1979, Howell offers a revisionist history of British trade unionism in the twentieth century. Most scholars regard Britain's industrial relations institutions as the product of a largely laissez faire system of labor relations, punctuated by occasional government interference. Howell, on the other hand, argues that the British state was the prime architect of three distinct systems of industrial relations established in the course of the twentieth century. The book contends that governments used a combination of administrative and judicial action, legislation, and a narrative of crisis to construct new forms of labor relations.

    Understanding the demise of the unions requires a reinterpretation of how these earlier systems were constructed, and the role of the British government in that process. Meticulously researched,Trade Unions and the Statenot only sheds new light on one of Thatcher's most significant achievements but also tells us a great deal about the role of the state in industrial relations.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2661-2
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: The Puzzle of British Industrial Relations
    (pp. 1-19)

    This book begins with a puzzle. Why did the British labor movement so quickly succumb to the radical reforming efforts of Conservative governments elected after 1979? This was a labor movement at the peak of its power and influence in 1979, when more than half of all British employees belonged to unions and more than four-fifths were covered by collective pay-setting mechanisms. Trade union power was widely acknowledged to be immune to state reform efforts because it was embedded in decentralized workplace institutions, rather than being dependent upon a favorable framework of labor law, and the British labor movement had...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Constructing Industrial Relations Institutions
    (pp. 20-45)

    This chapter examines some theoretical and conceptual issues with regard to the institutional development of industrial relations, with particular emphasis on moments of institutional construction and transition—moments when, to paraphrase Gramsci, one set of institutions is dying while another is struggling to be born.¹ Industrial relations go to the heart of the ordering and regulation of class relations, and this chapter is concerned with those points at which industrial conflict cannot be contained within existing institutional structures and practices, and therefore employers, trade unions, and state actors seek alternative arrangements that promise to restore industrial peace, stable accumulation, and...

  6. CHAPTER THREE The Construction of the Collective Laissez-Faire System, 1890–1940
    (pp. 46-85)

    Between 1890 and 1921 the first national system of industrial relations was created in Britain. It was refined, extended to new parts of the economy, and provided with greater legislative buttressing in the ensuing thirty to forty years, but its essential elements were in place within three years of the end of the First World War. This industrial relations system was a coherent and intelligible response to the process of economic decline and accompanying economic restructuring, which accelerated in the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, and the waves of strikes...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Donovan, Dissension, and the Decentralization of Industrial Relations, 1940–1979
    (pp. 86-130)

    Between 1890 and 1921 a set of industrial relations institutions, which can legitimately be collectively labeled a system, was put in place. This system was organized around industry-level collective bargaining between trade unions and employer associations. It encompassed limited mechanisms for the collective regulation of social relations in the workplace (though such institutions did develop in a handful of industries—newspapers, mining, and some parts of engineering, for example) and practically no multiindustry, or corporatist, bargaining. Legal regulation of collective action and collective bargaining was also limited, with labor law facilitating, generalizing, and providing some legal support for the voluntary...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The Decollectivization of Industrial Relations, 1979–1997
    (pp. 131-173)

    In 1979 13.3 million people belonged to trade unions, the highest level ever reached in Britain, for a union density of 55.4 percent. The influence of industry-level bargaining and the wages councils meant that approximately 85 percent of the working population were covered by collective pay-setting mechanisms.¹ Firm-level industrial relations institutions such as union shop stewards, the closed shop, and joint consultative committees were deeply embedded in the workplace, extending the reach of collective regulation to the shop floor. The influence of the labor movement extended into public policy through a dense network of tripartite institutions, privileged access to the...

  9. CHAPTER SIX The Third Way and Beyond: The Future of British Industrial Relations
    (pp. 174-194)

    One might anticipate that the end of the eighteen-year period of Conservative rule with the election of a Labour government in May 1997 would lead to some modification of the third system of industrial relations. In 1979 there was a sharp contrast between the reform efforts of the outgoing Labour government, which had legislated important aspects of the second system of industrial relations, and the promise of the incoming Conservative government to reverse much of that legislation, and indeed to modify the framework of labor law that had underpinned the industrial relations institutions constructed in the early twentieth century. By...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 195-220)
  11. References
    (pp. 221-236)
  12. Index
    (pp. 237-243)