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Industrial & Organisational : Introduction : Personnel : Organizational psychology : Occupations: Work environment: Index : Outline

The field of labor management relations (also called industrial relations or labor relations or workplace relations) looks at the relationship between management and workers, particularly groups of workers represented by a union.

Labor relations is an important factor in analyzing "varieties of capitalism", such as neocorporatism (or corporatism), social democracy, and neoliberalism (or liberalism).

Labor relations can take place on many levels, such as the "shop-floor", the regional level, and the national level. The distribution of power amongst these levels can greatly shape the way an economy functions.

Another key question when considering systems of labor relations is their ability to adapt to change. This change can be technological (e.g., "What do we do when an industry employing half the population becomes obsolete?"), economic (e.g., "How do we respond to globalization?"), or political (e.g., "How dependent is the system on a certain party or coalition holding power?").

Governments set the framework for labor relations through legislation and regulation. Usually, employment law covers issues such as minimum wages and wrongful dismissal.


Perspective theories

When studying the theories of industrial relations, there are three major perspectives that contrast in their approach to the nature of workplace relations. The three views are generally described as the unitary, pluralist and Marxist perspectives. The Marxist perspective is sometimes referred to as the Conflict Model. Each offers a particular perception of workplace relations and will therefore interpret such events as workplace conflict, the role of trade unions and job regulation very differently.

Unitary perspective

In unitarism, the organization is perceived as an integrated and harmonious whole with the ideal of "one happy family", where management and other members of the staff all share a common purpose, emphasizing mutual cooperation. Furthermore, unitarism has a paternalistic approach where it demands loyalty of all employees, being predominantly managerial in its emphasis and application.

Consequently, trade unions are deemed as unnecessary since the loyalty between employees and organizations are considered mutually exclusive, where there can't be two sides of industry. Conflict is perceived as disruptive and the pathological result of agitators, interpersonal friction and communication breakdown.

Pluralistic perspective

In pluralism the organization is perceived as being made up of powerful and divergent sub-groups, each with its own legitimate loyalties and with their own set of objectives and leaders. In particular, the two predominant sub-groups in the pluralistic perspective are the management and trade unions.

Consequently, the role of management would lean less towards enforcing and controlling and more toward persuasion and co-ordination. Trade unions are deemed as legitimate representatives of employees, conflict is dealt by collective bargaining and is viewed not necessarily as a bad thing and, if managed, could in fact be channeled towards evolution and positive change.

Marxist/Radical Perspective

This view of industrial relations looks at the nature of the capitalist society, where there is a fundamental division of interest between capital and labour, and sees workplace relations against this background. This perspective sees inequalities of power and economic wealth as having their roots in the nature of the capitalist economic system. Conflict is therefore seen as inevitable and trade unions are a natural response of workers to their exploitation by capital. Whilst there may be periods of acquiescence, the Marxist view would be that institutions of joint regulation would enhance rather than limit management's position as they presume the continuation of capitalism rather than challenge it. Conclusion: The Radical/Marxist Perspective has important strengths but may exaggerate the depth and intensity of conflict.

See also

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