The conviction that there exists a power imbalance in the employment relationship which gives employers a prejudicial benefit over employees takes its existence for several centuries. Karl Marx known for his theories and contributions related to the employment relations field, became famous through his literatures and ever since his popularity remains.
Firstly and primarily, the lives of most men and women are subject of work. The large majority of individuals who work are simply employees only few are employers. Therefore, the terms and conditions in which individuals perform this work are crucial for everyone. These agreements are characterized by the relationship between employer and employee. Again, employee relations suggest notion of fairness and equity in the remuneration of labour. At the basic level, employee relations tend to create active group collaboration in the place of work rather than conflicts which give to employees the impression in some way to be separated from employers and organisations for which they work. Employee relations take into account many factors related to a good quality of work such as remuneration of labour, bonuses, promotions as well as the corporate culture and the work environment, training and development programs for employees. Recognizing the achievements and contributions made by the employee, this is an important part of employee relations, as the demands of the employees are more or less respected. Numerous scholars and authors have written lot of theories related to employment relationship field. Edwards defines Employee relation as “all forms of economic activity in which an employee works under the authority of an employer and receives a wage in return for his or her labour”. (Edwards, 2003)
However, new approaches have emerged with the influence and recognition of trade unions in the midst of 60’s and the male breadwinner mainly considered as industrial relationships. According to Blyton and Turnbull, more factors to be considered; “wages and profit, authority and compliance” ,the need of “work being a source of dignity, a ‘living wage'” and “social cohesion, employee voice and participation in decision making”. (Blyton and Turnbull, 2004, p.7)
In this essay, I will briefly talk about the unitary and pluralist perspectives on Employee relations. I will also discuss the applicability of the radical or Marxist perspective to the analysis of employment relations.
Early in the twenty century, before the advent of industrialization and globalization, industries and organisations operated in a context in which all the aspects related the work was largely ruled by employers and the employees had no power and no right to express their views, therefore they were submitted and had to comply with the compulsory rules and regulations on them by employers. For a very long time, the interests of employers have overcome the interests of employees. During the period of post-war, the phenomenon called globalization hardly was not existent and technology had not reached its climax, these factors have not play a predominant role in the industrial world.
Employees were forced to complete the entire amount of work required which included intellectual and physical effort. In return, they had limited support from employers due to managerial styles set. By comparing the post modernization epoch and the current context of work, there has been a huge progress between relations of employees and employers. Today, a large number of factors have be taken into account, which have an impact on Employee relations such as the politico-economic system, new legislation, globalisation, technological advances, trade union, professional organisations, Training and development.
Fox found two basic views expressed about the basis of relationship between management and trade unions in particular or employees in general, the unitary and pluralist. Thereafter, a radical or Marxist view came up as a third perspective, which was totally different and opposed from the others two frames of management. These perspectives are not essentially focused on the nature of the employment relationship but rather by conflict (Fox, 1966).
The unitary view on one hand, this theory considered as one of the earliest theories. The unitary perspective takes into account the nature of work of employees as well as the technology. For the unitary, the organisation must be a united group of individuals with single authority, loyalty structure sharing common objectives. The employers have the right to make decisions; those decisions are considered as legitimate, rational and are not opposable. The assumption is within the unitary organisation system, basic harmony and conflict is needless and exceptional. According to Howard, conflict is seen by your boss as both unnatural and unnecessary. (Howard F, 1993)
Therefore, many managers see trade unions a disturbance within organisation from external which contests unfair decisions for the loyalty of workers. Therefore, if conflict still pending, the management suggests it should be dealt with by their authority: management coercion. As example, this perspective was the case of many organisations during the 1980 in the UK while Margaret Thatcher was prime minister. This clearly demonstrates that there was a strong inequality and an asymmetry between the workers and the employees and the voice of the workers were not taken into consideration.
The pluralist view on the other hand, Pluralist theory is deep-rooted in interests’ conflicts between employers and employees which co-operate in imperfect labour markets. The employment relationship is perceived as a matter of negotiation between stakeholders with opposing interests, the employment outcomes depend primarily on several environmental factors that determine the bargaining power of each party. Pluralist view distinguishes that both employees and employers have divergences in their opinions, and following this, a power struggle or a conflict may rise within the workplace.
However, pluralist view claims that it could be better for the sake of the interests of the organisation if the views of all parties in conflict could be taken in consideration and reconciled. Pluralist views was essentially founded on an convenient situation and did not take into account certain factors such as the flexibility or changes taken in the world of the industry, this due to the evolution of the technology, fast expansion of business, environmental issues. Conflict resolution is branded by the necessity to make agreed actions and institutions which attain collaboration
via comprehensive, codified negotiated settlement systems.
Marxism was established through the observation of Marx recognized as one of the famous scholar who have advanced many theses opposing to capitalism. To Marx employee relations was a significant way to understand the theory of capitalist production. Marx explained how organisations were working, of how and why the history has extended, and particularly an account of the nature of capitalism. Capitalism was seen by Marx as extremely inacceptable and his concern was to end up with this system through violent revolution and shape a communist society. According to Hyman, “capitalism constitutes a complex of work and social relations of production”. (Hyman, 1975:96-97) The main characteristics of the capitalist structure of employment relations are constituted as follow: private ownership of the workers, the small minority control the ownership, mandatory method for the majority of society to sell their labour power as a product, the dominance of profit as the purpose of the economic. Although, the capitalist structure of employment relations reflects an exploitative relationship.
For instance, wages remunerated to the employees consists essentially a small part of the collective value produced by them, in other words wages would be minimized to a substantial level. However the rest of the gain from production is allocated to the employer as a benefit. Therefore, the capitalist environment is fundamentally being seen as a conflicting class relation. On the basis of the capitalist perspective on employment relations, Marxists believes that capitalist organisations are gradually dominating as prescribed in their economic status by two main opposed classes, which are the ruling class or capitalist and the workers considered as subject class. The ruling class owns and controls the mean of production, distribution and trade, in certain ways the means of political domination. Contrary to the ruling class, subject class is subordinate; workers have not control on property and are subject of servitude of the bourgeoisie interests.
Therefore, workers are exploited and ruled politically and socio-economically. This competition between the ruling class and the subjected class would be in argument to gain ground and impose the persistent challenge, therefore fight will be obvious. The asymmetric distribution of power in the presence of private information and opposing between the ruling class and the workers interests is obvious. Although, it is possible that private information and opposing interests give rise to opportunism of both parties to the employment contract in most cases, However, The Marxists believe that the negative consequences experienced by the workers are possibly more thoughtful than consequences encountered employers because of the power of the employers based in the ownership of the organisation.
The main noticeable risks related to imbalances in bargaining power are paying low wage compared to the output that workers have produced and the risk that could arise in the investment decisions of the organisation. As an example of imbalances in bargaining power to illustrate, we can refer to the case study of Nike firm; Nike has been the subject of many criticisms. It has been shown that the conditions of work were inhuman in many factories of Nike in Asia and a strict requirement of standards level needed to be achieved by all workers. How Nike has exploited its workers for financial gain with low wages. (www.stanford.edu/class/e297c/trade_environment/wheeling/hnike.html, last seen 06/02/14) This unacceptable situation is a good example to illustrates how unfairly the capitalist system operates. Therefore, all these inequalities and all of these issues within organisations have given rise to conflict.
For John Kelly, The Marxist approach to industrial relations accepts that conflict exists but that at present there is little balance between organised labour and capital, especially in an era of globalisation. (John Kelly, 1998) A big gap of power between the workers and the Employers within an organisation creates imbalance, the ruling class with more power compared to the workers rarely tend to use it. This is because the use of the excessive power usually turns into a kind of dictatorship in the minds of employers who want to control it.
The current situation comes to be genuine, and workers must comply and accept any unfair decisions taken against them. Therefore, for the Marxist perspective, it was crucial to seek the need to settle conflicts of interests via some forms of job regulations. Contrarily to the unitary and pluralist perspectives, the Marxist perspective has go in depth in term of developing a series of elements related to industrial relations such collective bargaining, trade union regulations and workplace legislations. According to Flanders, industrial relations are a study of the institutions of job regulation. (Flanders, 1974)
In order to understand why there is asymmetry of power between employees and employers, it will be relevant to look closer at the three major actors who play a significant role, which are the collective bargaining and trade union, and the state. However, Marxism has given birth to the collective bargaining and trade unions on the basis of anxieties relating to the negotiation between management and the workforce. According to Gunnigle et al, collective bargaining gives redress the imbalance of power between individual workers and employers. ( (Gunnigle, 1995)) It is for the fundamental reason that collective bargaining is implemented in industrial relations, and basically gives an objective purely politic to collective bargaining which is the balance of power.
As soon as his purpose is accomplished, collective bargaining is utilized principally for financial reasons. Collective bargaining allows managing in tactical way how to deal with employees fairly. The collective bargaining’s process may also provide legitimacy to trade unions within organisations. Purcell states that this legitimacy can give trade union members a sense of belonging to the organisation. (Purcell, 1979) However, collective bargaining has also its imperfections and disadvantages as far the capitalism is concerned. Collective bargaining may result to irrational and groundless demands which may lead to serious conflicts.
Marx has modelled the historical significance of union fight strongly in his book `The Poverty of Philosophy”. Marx was not indifferent to the conditions of workers to make their lives better; they were concerned on how they were struggling to unionize themselves. Marx argues that higher wages simply set up prices and strikes were a dead end. For Marx, the unions could play a political role in the real civil war to pay higher wages to workers. Marx argued that capitalism had operated a physical minimum, which maintained people alive, but that is a social balance of power between capital and labour.
Trade unions are naturel response of workers who have been exploited by the capitalist system; it gives to employees a voice. Within the trade union the workers have the role that the management occupies; this role consists to affect the demand of the union service and union memberships. The establishment of union has been encouraged since the workers are feel frustrate with the style of work or management. When there is a strong presence of union, there is a balance within the employment relations. For instance, the case of John Lewis employees, there is a strong democratic structure where partnership is also encouraged. Workers are less exploited and are less dissatisfy about the style of work. This is a good example to illustrate when we think in term of benefit of the trade unions.
Marx argued about the role played by the state, which he thinks is serves only the interests of the dominant class within organisations. The state appears more as the instrument of the ruling class, because it tries to maintaining its control over employees who are already exploited. Marx claimed that the state reacts as dictatorship for proletariat. The executive of the modern state is essentially a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” (Marx and Engels,1948, p.11.) Again in the instant case, we see that the state plays an adverse and inequitable role the balance of power on employers over their employees.
Having critically assessed some facet of the Marxist perspective on the asymmetry of power between employees and employers, we can come to the conclusion that this perspective leads a concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Marxist perspective focuses more on the structure and nature of the organisation rather than the current workplace in the society and Marxists argue that the conflict in the industrial relations is a reflection on how the society is structured. Marxism puts a particular emphasis on the division of interest between the employers and the employees. The Marxists considered the conflict as unavoidable and trade unions are a seeing as an alternative solution of workers to exploitation by owners.
Within the Marxists perspective, employers are continued to exercise their unfair power over employees even thus the presence of trade unions which are powerless. The state is also considered as an instrument of the bourgeoisie. For the Marxist, trade unions and collective bargaining may increase but may not limit of the employers’ power because they are subjected to the persistence of capitalism instead of challenge it. However, The Marxist perspective is seen to be out-of-date as the entire nature of the class conflict has changed, as a result of modern organisations, ‘as well as its mixed economy and welfare state, which is currently more open and on a social basis mobile.
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