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The Origins and Evolution of the Field of Industrial Relations in the United States.

Editor's Introduction by Harry C. Katz[dagger]

Bruce Kaufman has provided a novel and thought-provoking analysis of the evolution of the field of industrial relations. In addition to analyzing the development of the academic field of industrial relations during the twentieth century in the United States, he assesses the state of the major professional association of the field, the Industrial Relations Research Association, and offers prescriptions for the revival of each.

The three reviewers whose comments follow all take issue with some of Kaufman's arguments, but all praise him for presenting a well-written, carefully reasoned thesis. I share their high opinion of the book's quality. The special attention we give the book in this review symposium, however, might not be warranted if it were not also the case that the subject Kaufman explores is of unquestionable interest and practical importance to industrial relations scholars and practitioners. Few would deny that the field of industrial relations and the practice of collective bargaining in the United States are in crisis--or, at least, at a crossroads. At the simplest level, the shrinking number of participants in each is cause for worry. The field of industrial relations suffers declines in the number of faculty devoted to its study, and collective bargaining coverage has declined to the point that many now discuss whether there is any future for unionism. These declines are clearly related, and they have spread to the Industrial Relations Research Association.

Yet, there are also a number of signs of life in the study and practice of industrial relations. Unionism appears to be alive and well and playing an active role in the promotion of democracy in many developing countries, including the former Soviet and Eastern European Bloc. Meanwhile, in advanced industrial countries heightened attention is being paid to work organization and employee representation, with many arguing that these issues lie at the heart of efforts to improve economic performance. And a broad view of research in the field of industrial relations shows that a number of subjects are attracting growing attention, including negotiations and the human resource contribution to industrial competitiveness.

A simple analysis cannot encompass all of these trends. Fortunately, we have the benefit of comments from three leaders in the field. We turned to Professors Strauss, Jacoby, and Olson because of their deserved reputations and because their previous research spans many of the major subfields within industrial relations.

All the participants in the symposium, and particularly Bruce Kaufman, are to be congratulated for giving us much to think about as we try to understand and affect the evolution of industrial relations.

* Bruce E. Kaufman, The Origins and Evolution of the Field of Industrial Relations in the United States (Ithaca, N.Y.: ILR Press, 1993). xiv, 288 pp. Hardcover: ISBN 0-87546-191-3, $40.00; paperback: ISBN 0-87546-192-1, $19.95.

* Harry C. Katz is Professor and Director, Institute of Collective Bargaining, New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University.

This is an important book that should be read and thought about by everyone concerned with industrial relations (IR) as a field of study. It is certain to incite a great deal of debate.

Kaufman's view of IR as a field in crisis is by no means unique. It is, in fact, widely shared among younger scholars (Adams, in press, for example), and is not far removed from my own perspective (see, for example, Strauss and Feuille 1978; Strauss 1989)--making me, perhaps, not the best person to review this book. But compared to earlier criticisms, Kaufman's work is more heavily documented; examines a broader range of issues, and covers a longer period of time. Further, it links the field's intellectual development with its institutional infrastructure, such as its courses, journals, and IR centers. And it concludes with specific suggestions for change.

The book is in two parts: the first describes how IR got into its present dilemma, and the second suggests how some problems may be resolved. The two parts are interrelated, but my comments stress the first.

Kaufman's historical section begins in the 1920s and 1930s, a period when, as he sees it, IR included two wings, Personnel Management (which he calls PM) and Institutional Labor Economics (ILE). Together, these two wings covered the entire employment relationship. PM people were mostly management practitioners, and ILE people were primarily academic institutional atheoretical economists. Still, the two groups agreed generally that the "prevalent methods of organizing work and managing the work force resulted in a deplorable amount of waste, inefficiency, human suffering, and enmity" (p. 133).

They agreed also as to the nature of needed reforms, especially decent pay, better working conditions and treatment on the job, and the right of workers to be heard through some form of "industrial democracy." They differed chiefly in the means by which these reforms were to be implemented. PM people would have preferred to rely primarily on education and managerial self-interest; ILE people saw those means as insufficient, and believed that unions were necessary. The two wings also disagreed as to the role of conflict. Those in PM felt that conflict was preventable by good management, whereas the ILE wing believed conflict to be inevitable and, within limits, even desirable. (Kaufman's discussion is particularly good with regard to these issues.)

During the 1940s and 1950s, the intellectual position of both wings was considerably strengthened, PM's by the Hawthorne study and the resulting growth of human relations as an academic field and social movement, and ILE's by the work of neo-institutionalist (or neo-classical) labor economists (such as Kerr, Dunlop, and Lester), who were modifying classical economics to make it more applicable to the realities of labor markets and collective bargaining. Thus, by 1960 both fields had considerably more theoretical and research backing than they did twenty years earlier.

Until at least the late 1950s, each wing acknowledged that the other had a legitimate role to play in the broader field of "industrial relations," a term dating back to 1900. (Further--a point Kaufman does not make--they shared a common methodology, the case study.) During the 1950s, however, tensions between the fields began to intensify. (Kaufman views Dunlop's 1958 Industrial Relations Systems as a turning point.) As PM people were made to feel increasingly unwelcome in venues such as the Industrial Relations Research Association (IRRA), they withdrew from IR to join with other disciplines in forming a new field, Organizational Behavior (OB).

In the 1960s and 1970s, the concept of IR as an integrated field suffered still another blow when Chicago-school labor economists fashioned a new, analytically more rigorous approach to labor markets that focused on individual behavior and viewed unions as imperfections to be disregarded or neutralized.

Consequently, by 1980, Kaufman concludes, the field had "hollowed out," transforming itself from "a broad coalition of behavioral and nonbehavioral disciplines devoted to the study of all aspects of work to a much narrower field devoted to the study of unions, collective bargaining, and the employment problems of special groups." Today it is "made up of a small and dwindling number of institutional labor economists" ( p. 104).

My disagreements with Kaufman's historical analysis are mostly those of emphasis. For example, I think he exaggerates the extent to which PM and ILE constituted a single field in the years 1940-58. (I leave the earlier period to my co-reviewer, Sanford Jacoby.) Kaufman goes to great lengths and cites a variety of evidence to demonstrate that prior to 1960 PM and ILE viewed themselves as belonging to a common field. He notes, for example, that Mayo gave a Wertheim Lecture on Industrial Relations, and that two works by sociologists (Wilensky 1954; Miller and Form 1951) identified industrial sociology as one branch of a broader IR field. Much of the same kind of evidence could be marshaled today. Contemporary institutes of industrial relations probably include more people with PM backgrounds (now called OB and HRM, Human Resources Management) than they did 40 years ago. IRRA winter meetings currently include at least two sessions on OB-HRM topics. Kaufman points out that the IRRA published a volume entitled Research in Industrial Human Relations (Arensberg et al. 1957) before the split, but he fails to mention that it issued two other volumes on OB and HRM topics in later years (Strauss et al. 1974; Kleiner et al. 1987).

True PM people were more willing to consider themselves a subfield of IR during the 1940s and 1950s than they are today. IR at the time was an ascendant field with growing departments and institutes. Human Relations, by contrast, still lacked a secure institutional niche. No wonder some Human Relations people tried to creep into IR's tent; and IR people, being imperialists, welcomed them--but only, in my view, as second-class citizens. Only at MIT and perhaps Yale (in the person of Bakke) was there a significant intermingling of the two approaches.

Nevertheless, the main question is not whether the two wings saw themselves as a single field but how much they influenced each other. For example, to what extent did ILE academicians influence PM practitioners or even PM academicians? With regard to this influence criterion, the difference between the 1950s and 1990s may be less than Kaufman contends. For example, the present interest in worker/ member attitudes toward union membership suggests that PM's (or at least psychology's) input into IR today is as great as it ever was. Indeed, most students of worker/member attitudes attend both the IRRA and the Academy of Management meetings.

A second mild criticism: Kaufman is less sure in dealing with what he calls PM than he is in dealing with ILE. He lumps under the single heading of PM what are now called Organizational Behavior and Human Resources Management and, aside from a lengthy discussion of Hawthorne, pays little attention to how these largely separate fields developed over the years. For him, "the label 'PM' does not designate the field of personnel management per se, but rather represents the basic view held by personnel professionals concerning the cause and resolution of labor problems. ... [T]he PM school grew to include ... human relations, organizational behavior, and human resources management. While these academicians differ significantly with respect to theoretical constructs ... they ... share a core set of beliefs about how best to promote improved industrial relations at the workplace" (p. 204).

By implication, then, the defining characteristic of PM (and therefore both OB and HRM--Kaufman uses the present tense) is the rejection of unions. In my view, this definition is oversimplified. Indeed, Kaufman later concedes that "a number of academic members of the PM school were either neutral or favorable toward unions" (p. 232). Kaufman's definition leads to his largely ignoring the important work on selection, training, and fatigue done by industrial psychologists during the 1920s and 1930s. Presumably, by this definition much contemporary work (such as that on organizational ecology) and many HRM subjects (such as Realistic Job Previews) are also not part of PM, since they have only the most remote application to union-management relations. Further, since Kaufman treats all of OB-HRM as one ball of wax, he overlooks recent blurring of the margins between OB-HRM and IR.

I also question Kaufman's apparent implication that IR's main mistake was to reject PM. Sadly, it has also rejected--or been rejected by (the process was mutual)--labor law, labor history, and all forms of radical political economy. (The last is well represented in British and Canadian IR.) Narrowly defined IR has little to say about individual job rights, equal employment, and work-family relations, even though these are among the most important broadly defined IR issues today. IR could have dominated the new field of Negotiations .and Conflict Resolution, a field providing many business school jobs; instead, IR let OB take over. Similarly, by contrast with work in other countries, there have been few recent U.S. studies of shop-floor labor relations. (Kaufman's analysis might have been strengthened had he compared developments in academic IR elsewhere. My impression is that British IR has never been as narrow as that in the United States.)

Here and there, Kaufman seems to place the blame for IR's present problems on its leaders, present and past. I wonder whether, even with perfect foresight and perfect strategy, these leaders could have directed IR into a different course. Almost throughout IR's history, the broad, idealized view of the scope of what the field should cover has contrasted sharply with the rather narrow range of topics that concern people who ordinarily call themselves IR specialists. IR is a problem-oriented field. To the extent that IR is narrowly defined as union-management relations, its future is closely linked to that of the union movement. But if IR is more broadly defined as covering employment relations generally, there is much less room for despair.

Possibly IR has become so deeply identified with its narrower definition that the term Industrial Relations should be abandoned. This is what Kaufman suggests. Titles do have symbolic meaning, and perhaps some change (especially in the IRRA's name) would be useful. But more important than what IR people call themselves is what IR people do.

Fortunately, there are some encouraging signs that IR is breaking out of its self-imposed bonds. Once more, those whom Kaufman might label as PM and ILE share a common methodology, this time quantitative analysis. Increasingly one sees behavioral and economic data being used in the same studies and entering into the same models. There is growing iR interest in the interrelationships among organizational strategy, technology, work, and IR (however defined). The new comparative industrial relations looks at work systems as a whole, not just the behavior of national union confederations. Younger IR scholars view their field more broadly--and utilize a more eclectic set of tools--than did their elders. They are less wedded to what Kaufman and others call the New Deal system of industrial relations. They recognize a range of workplace relationships: nonunion high commitment systems, for example, and networks of small "flex-spec" companies with contingent work forces. In many recent studies labor-management relationships are but one variable rather than the primary focus of attention.

Finally, there is a largely new approach to compensation and careers that links psychology, sociology, and economics, making use of such concepts as agency, tournament, expectancy, procedural justice and equity theories, organizational ecology, legitimacy, and commitment (for example, Baron and Cook 1992). Few of the people doing this research call their field IR, and few include union-management relations as a variable. Nevertheless, they are using an interdisciplinary approach to key issues once considered within IR's jurisdiction.

Probably more important than any split between IR and PM is that between academicians and practitioners. At one time the leading academicians doubled as arbitrators, and their writings were unencumbered by technical jargon. That day is long past. By contrast with the 1950s, when the focus of IR scholars (however defined) was normative, problem-solving, and inductive, young researchers today are deductive and theory-oriented. Consequently, academicians and practitioners have little of interest to say to each other at the moment. This estrangement may create serious (but not fatal) institutional problems for the IRRA. Eventually it may lead to a sterile academia. At the moment, however, I see elements of considerable vigor in the study of IR, broadly defined. I would encourage these new developments and not worry too much about how they are labeled or whether they can be easily packaged so as to appeal to practitioners. Eventually their implications will become clear.

In the end, I agree with Kaufman's main point. Traditional institutional labor economics may not have much of a future. But IR, broadly defined, is far, far from moribund.

To conclude, this work serves an important purpose in encouraging IR scholars to reexamine the condition of their field. In my view, the focus of IR (or employment relationship) scholarship is bound to broaden. Institutions, such as the IRRA and the various IR centers, may accelerate or slow down the process. But change is inevitable.

* George Strauss is Professor of Business Administration, University of California-Berkeley.
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Author:Strauss, George
Publication:ILR Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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