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Employers associations and industrial relations: a comparative study.

John P. Windmuller, professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University and Alan Gladstone, an affiliate of the International Labor Organization, have edited a comparative study of employers associations in 10 countries: Australia, Great Britain, United States, Sweden, Federal Republic of Germany, The Netherlands, France, Italy, Israel, and Japan. In addition, the editors have each written summary essays: Windmuller on organization, structure, and administration of employers associations and Gladstone on functions and activities.

The employers associations are in democratic market economies. The separate monographs follow a standardized format which includes history, structure and government, functions--including relationships to governments and political parties--and future prospects. The authors are all established scholars and have set out authoritative, well-written, well-organized, and useful monographs.

Some monographs are, from my viewpoint, better than others. There are those who interpret their brief broadly to encompass not only the governance of the employers association but its social and political setting. Some write with a sense of the sweep of events, others limit themselves pretty much to the organizational specifications. However else they differ, almost all employers associations originate as defensive counter-union organizations. We have an interesting challenge-response chain here because unions originated as--and largely continue to be--counter-employer organizations. The interest of employers associations in challenging union power does not foreclose them from having internal conflicts any more than it does unions. Employers associations are not "bosses unions," however. Unions are the beginning principals. Employers associations are rarely principals, although the scope of delegated authority varies widely.

If you want to set up an employers association, this is the book to turn to for authoritative instruction. If you want to construct a theory of employers associations, this is also the book to turn to but you will have to extract the theory yourself--the editors specifically disclaim a concern with theory. If would not require all that much work to derive a theory from the raw material which the volume offers. Without too much extra effort a sort of theory could, for example, try to explain why some associations are ideologically antiunion and others are not, why some are even "prounion" in a manner of speaking; that is, if they don't approve of unions they accept at least the legitimacy of the union function in a modern industrial society.

Employers associations are part of the effort to institutionalize conflict, which marks industrial relations systems in what I learned to call the IMEC's (industrialized market economies). There are bargaining associations and legislative associations and there are employers associations which, in concert with their union federations, "legislate" economic policy. It has been stylish in some academic circles to characterize these as corporatist and neocorporatist but the analogy is strained, when it isn't wrong.

Some employers associations proclaim an ideology like the social market or social partnership. Socially minded leaders use their position in the employers association to go beyond simple maximizing for their constituent employer groups to proclaim a social responsibility or to urge more constructive modes of relationships with their union counterparts.

It is bad form, I know, for a reviewer to impose his idea of what the book ought to have covered. The book does well what its editors intended it to do, namely to rescue from obscurity a side of industrial relations institutionalism that has been neglected for a long time. One might have wished that they had interpreted their mandate more broadly--which several of the individual contributions do.
COPYRIGHT 1985 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Barbash, Jack
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1985
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