The importance of industrial relations is the key to the progress and success of an organization. The important benefit of them is to ensure continuity of production. This means continuous employment for all from the managers to the workers. Disputes are the reflections of the failure of basic human urges or motivations to secure adequate satisfaction or expression that are fully cured by good industrial relations. Strikes, lockouts, unfair tactics, and grievances are a few of the reflections of industrial unrest and do not appear in an atmosphere of the industrial calm. In the end “good” industrial relations depends on which theory you find more persuasive: unitarism, radicalism, or pluralism.
Unitarism is perceived as an integrated and harmonious system where the management, staff and all the members of the organization share the same objectives, interests, purposes and are viewed as one happy family. This single entity with a single authority has a loyalty structure which is considered paternalistic approaches were trade unions are deemed unnecessary and conflict is perceived as disruptive. Here management rights to manage are seen as legitimate and rational; and any opposition to management right to manage is seen as irrational. How long would the step ford wives syndrome last before it begins to crumble and fall apart?
On the other hand radicalism objects to the capitalistic source of power where the ownership and control extends beyond the corporate limits and into the labour market itself. This allows for certain fundamental rights as in the right to associate where the workers possibly can form trade unions and assert a degree of power through the process of collective bargaining; having compared to the unionism capitalistic system that has no intention to take over management. They learned to bargain within an institutional framework that limits the bargaining scope to job territory. It is also argued that workers are growing discontent from the political dimensions with a view to eliminate capitalism. The gap between rank-and-file members and union officials remain potentially radical while union officials retain their interest in collective bargaining and therefore are willing to collaborate with the government.
Trade unions are seen as part of the class struggle and link their activities to political parties to achieve fundamental change with in our society. Collective bargaining is than seen as a way of co-operating trade unions into the capitalist system. Our underlying assumption of the radical theory remains that there is conflict between classes due to ownership and control of means of production, but is addressed by the market conditions. This macro or societal approach where the theory of unionism develops into a concept of social control, exploitation and the radical class consciousness with the ultimate goal of eliminating capitalism by means does not compare to the pluralism theory of industrial relations.
Pluralism concept has become relevant for the analysis of social processes in industrial relations. Because corporate and property laws the ownership has diffused and through collective bargaining, conflict has become institutionalized. This specialized collective bargaining process has benefited for resolving conflict between labour and management.
People have assumed equality of power of disappearance of conflict among groups is unrealistic in the practical world. The pluralists have made the obvious choice between seeking a greater social equality or greater avenues of liberty. There have been at least three accounts of critique failure; one is the assumption that the political theory assumes equality of power amongst a various constituent groups in our society that helps the government in evolving a public policy based on mutuality and consensus. Another is the economic theory underplays the conflict among various economic groups in our society, whereas history reveals a continuing battle over scarce resources. Here is where conflict is in fact a natural product of scarcity. The third failure is that liberty and freedom are coveted goals and important elements in moralistic philosophy of pluralism should be that one group enjoy more power, freedom or privilege in the society than any other group. Pluralism shows a bias or almost a deliberate vagueness on this issue.
In reality the realm of industrial relations is a specific accommodative process of collective bargaining. The success of this process is resolving conflict between labour and management and depends on an unconditional acceptance of certain broad societal values where industrial controlled by a minority private property interests, managerial prerogatives and bargaining in good faith.
Both unitarism and radicalism approaches postulate the least amount of conflict. Unitarism essentially sees no conflict except as a pathological condition where the radical theory views the industrial firm as a part of a society that has largely accepted the basic norms of industrialization. These two approaches do not accept that there is any intrinsic conflict involving industry, labour and society. They both see industrial relations as a harmonious means of organizing society under normal circumstances.
It has then been observed that pluralism and radicalism perspectives have many unities: they derive their conceptual and philosophical substance from a capitalistic system of production and a liberal political ideology. They believe that liberty should be endorsed even at the expense of social inequality. The main differences are in terms of theoretical scope and application.
These moderate conflict approaches all include the social action and some conflict theories. The social action resists conflict is essential in industrial relations, but admits that negotiations between capital and labour, and capital and society, are mediated by the subjective dispositions of the various players. The more restrained conflict theories posit regular conflict, but not as an intrinsic part of industrial relations. Hence, within these approaches, conflict might be a regular occurrence, but is not necessarily inherent in the capitalist system.
To be able to comprehend these theories to arraign and control conflict in an organization, one must understand both sides of the table. This is what is taught at the college level of industrial relations as part of our Human Resources program. We learn the basics and must investigate further if we want to learn as much as possible. Unfortunately I have not been personally exposed to industrial relations in a workplace, but during this process we as students have an opportunity to obtain hands on experience in the Human Resources field. I myself felt to become the best Human Resources representative I also must learn from both sides and see how they interact to resolve conflict between management and labour.
So I sought out, investigated and performed an informal interview with a local union staff representative. What proceeded was a two month climbing up the chain of command to ask for permission from the president of the union to work alongside one of their local staff representatives in my city. I was the first student to ever request this or any type of placement with the union. The exposure and benefit I would receive from this placement would be an incredible amount of experience to take with me in any future career. Permission was received and a four month placement began and finalized my learning experience.
Choosing a college placement with a local union opened my eyes to what some union representatives try to accomplish in today’s economy. This is not saying they are all the same or that management wish to keep things balanced, but there are members from both sides that try to do their best in accomplishing a balanced relationship. That there are people from both sides that will fight tooth and nail to get what they want, no matter the cost.
I learned the pluralist arrangement of society is a notion that groups pursue their goals within limits and proper checks and balances will emerge as a safeguard against abuse of power. Believing that organizations are composed of individuals who come from a wide variety of distinct sectional groups each having their own interests, objectives and leadership as the multi-structured in terms of groups, leadership, authority and loyalty. These organizations as others must manage tensions and competing claims in order to maintain a collaborative structure. Conflict is than accepted as inevitable due to the existence of different interest groups. But the conflict is limited due to the interdependence of parties for economic survival.
In summary pluralism does not deny the existence of a small group of dominant interest groups with broadly common interests to form a stable coalition along class lines. They provide analytical tools for understanding fundamental western values which reflect in the liberal democratic political system and a free market capitalistic system of production. They call a reform to emphasize a balance competing employment relationship interests. This normative prescription is based on respect for human dignity and democratic principles, but the emphasis on balance is a theoretical proposition position that balance matters for how “good” industrial relation works.
Pluralist industrial relations paradigm does recognize that employment relationship is very complex and must understand the workings of the employment relationship to create policies and practices that will promote broadly shared prosperity and long lasting democratic freedoms. They argue that the relationship should be modeled as a complex bargaining problem between human agents operating in imperfect markets and where competing interests need to be balanced in order to ensure not only efficiency but to fulfill the workers’ rights. So in the end “good” industrial relations will be best accomplished and clarified through pluralism.