Employment Relations History – Critically examine the possibilities for the realisation of democ

Part I:

The discussion of workplace democracy in historical and theoretical context: from the growth

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of the factory system to Therssa May.

Here you are demonstrating the long historical debate and range of schemes designed to

embody the democratisation of work, at the level of public policy and in relation to ER

theory. So, taking the notes from my lecture on the subject of Work, Employment and


Situating the debate on democracy at work

(i) Concern with democracy at work is as old as capitalism: the rise of centralised work station

(factories) and the loss of control over production

(ii) Then cooperative movement in England and France in the 19th century: Robert Owen in

England, considered the father of the cooperative movement; Pierre-Joseph Proudhon,

anarchist philosopher , economist and politician saw cooperatives as the foundation for a

new post-capitalist society,

(iii) Growth of trade unionism and collective bargaining seen as important developments in

the road towards workplace democracy.

(iv) Whitleyism and joint consultation, to promote collaboration and peace at work and to

ward off the threat of Bolshevism. (see piece by Harold Clay from 1949).

(v) The impact of continental Europe and the European Union in particular (Directives on

industrial democracy, European Works councils) etc.

(vi) Britain: 1970`s sharp debate over the Bullock Report (1977).

(vii) All major political parties have declared support for Industrial democracy and

participation of various types. Even post-1979 Conservative Governments advocated the

vision of employee empowerment through employee share ownership, albeit while

maintaining the Unitarist mantra of “the right of management to manage” and the sanctity

of private property.

(viii) The argument that participation and involvement schemes release worker creativity,

such that commitment can be captured and utilised in the drive towards economic success.

This is an approach seen in the ideas put forward within Pluralism, with its emphasis upon

the positive impact of trade unionism and collective bargaining, as well as the Human

Relations tradition, which seeks to privilege employee voice in contradistinction to the

tyranny of Taylorism.

(ix) The crisis: resisting neo-liberal restructuring and relocation of production. Evoking

memories of the sit-down strikes in the USA in the 1930s, Chomsky advocates worker

control, ownership and cooperatives to stop job losses and protect American workers from

employer aggression. (See Noam Chomsky, Occupy. Penguin 2012)

(x) Theresa May, on becoming UK PM sets out a vision for workers on the board (See:


It might also be advisable to go further and demonstrate knowledge of the range of

schemes designed to embody the democratisation of work, such as:

-Workers on the Board -Information sharing and joint consultation -European Works

Councils -trade unionism and collective bargaining -Partnership Agreements -Financial

participation -Worker Co-operatives -Nationalisation and public ownership


Part II: The Consequences of restrained worker voice and the impact on Productivity

A) The contemporary scene:

There are a number of articles in the quality press which cover the latest set of findings

regarding the poor performance of the UK economy in the realm of productivity, for


The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/feb/18/uk-productivity-gapwidens-toworst-level-since-records-began

The Financial Times: https://www.ft.com/content/78e578a4-fd5d-3b1a-a3f5b73c28aee5dc

Also the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-37574985

B) How we got here and how the poor performance of the UK has been explained:

There are a number of ways in which the poor productivity performance of the UK has been

explained. For this section of the essay, I suggest that students refer to:

Industrial Relations in Ritzer, G. (ed), The Blackwell International Encyclopedia of Sociology

Unionism. In S. Clegg, & J. Bailey (Eds.), International encyclopedia of organization studies.

(pp. 1589-1594). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE

Part III: What can and is to be done?

In this part of the essay, students would be expected to engage critically with the subject of

workplace democracy. As such, the aim is not to present a definitive set of answers to the

problems of workplace democracy, but it is to demonstrate understanding and thought

regarding the limits, parameters and possibilities for employee empowerment.

When considering democracy at work, students might do well to reflect upon the essentially

anti-democratic discourse of unitarism. In addition, it should be made clear that the wide

range of schemes designed to embody democratic production should alert us to the opaque

character of the term, “industrial democracy”. Furthermore, explorations of tendencies

towards oligarchy and the possibilities presented by the “information age” for democratising

institutions might be a useful area for discussion.

With regard to the discussion of productivity, it is expected that reference is made to the

questioning of the once dominant discourse that regulation and trade union power can be

held responsible for poor performance. Here students might want to very briefly note the

dramatic decline in the power of organised labour, in terms of declines in membership,

collective bargaining coverage, mobilisation and influence upon public policy.

In addition, consideration might be given to Pluralist arguments that collective bargaining

can be seen to have positive productivity outcomes because of the “Voice Effect” and to the

proposition that the absence of effective collective worker organisation and protection in law

removes the “shock effect”, which can serve to close off low wage, long hour and low

investment strategies for making profit.

Part IV: Conclusions

In no more than a paragraph the preceding analysis and arguments should be summarised.

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