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Economic Restructuring and Emerging Patterns of Industrial Relations.

Economic Restructuring and Emerging Patterns of Industrial Relations. Stephen R. Sleigh, ed. Kalamazoo, ML W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, 1993, 224 pp., bibliography. $25, cloth; $15, paper.

Increasing international competition and the speed of technological innovation present major challenges to the survival of many companies. To meet these demands, companies, labor organizations, and government must work together to restructure industries that require change. Economic Restructuring and Emerging Patterns of Industrial Relations illustrates numerous innovative ways unions, management, and government can work together to devise a successful industrial relations policy.

The book consists of three sections: case studies of three restructuring efforts in Europe, studies of four projects in the United States, and two analytical essays about union involvement in economic restructuring. The case studies are derived from a seminar series at the Center for Labor Management Policy Studies at the City University of New York, and the two additional papers are "think pieces" on the impact of unions and collective bargaining on industrial modernization.

Stephen R. Sleigh, the editor and seminar organizer, selected the case studies to point out policy directions that promote successful responses to international competition. The book calls for changing the role of government, unions, and companies, particularly in industrial relations, to support the restructuring of companies.

The case studies include examples of reorganizing the structure of entire industrial sectors in regions to meet changing conditions, how technology shifts affect competition, local or regional government actions that help change industrial structure, and how the role of labor organizations may change in the restructuring process.

Because it is intended as an examination of possible industrial relations alternatives, Economic Restructuring does not attempt to direct the reader to specific policy changes. Rather, the book highlights several innovative options for the reader to consider. Unfortunately, these choices are occasionally unfocused. The book also lacks a recognizable structure to the order of presentation or overriding point of each case study.

Several of the studies do not provide critical examinations of the cases, raising questions of the objectivity of the authors. Because some reports were written by principals in the cases, they become explanations of what the principals were trying to achieve instead of what was accomplished. In addition, several cases were weakened because they were canceled or were reported on before completion.

Sleigh and the authors of many of the studies suggest that participants in the collective bargaining process should contribute substantially to the economic restructuring of their companies. They also suggest that States or regional groups of States--not the Federal Government--should provide public support for restructuring. Other conclusions include the frequent need for inter-company cooperation to support successful restructuring, and the benefit of networks of companies and organizations in a region to improve the competitive positions of the companies.

Many examples of union involvement in economic restructuring are included in the cases. In fact, the most consistent message in the book is the need for and value of labor organizations in bolstering worker involvement. Examples include recognized employee representatives participating in restructuring efforts, encouraging worker involvement without fear of reprisal, and projecting democratic values into decisionmaking efforts. The authors argue that union support of the process can benefit workers and managers alike. Unfortunately, the book displays bias toward labor involvement without critically examining situations or circumstances in which unions might hinder the process. Toward the end of the book, however, one analytical piece discusses how unions might overcome a possible reluctance to change roles in the restructuring process.

Although Economic Restructuring judges rather than analyzes, it provides several useful insights into corporate restructuring. These include the need by all parties to make a clear commitment to restructuring, impose limits on involvement, and set criteria for success. An inadvertent conclusion is that while third-party organizations, including government agencies and industrial commissions, may play useful roles in restructuring as the authors argue, the case studies suggest they are not critical for success. In addition, while the authors contend that restructuring by sector or region is best, they fail to support this point strongly.

Overall, the book provides illustrations of innovative ways companies, unions, and various levels of government can make changes to meet the challenges in the world marketplace. But because of its noncritical examination of these issues, the book does not succeed in providing impetus for new industrial relations policy directions.
COPYRIGHT 1993 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Suchman, Stanley W.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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