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The transformation of American industrial relations.

The Transformation of American Industrial Relations.

By Thomas A. Kochan, Harry C. Katz, Robert B. McKersie. New York, Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1986. 272 pp. $22.95.

Thomas A. Kochan, Harry C. Katz, and Robert B. McKersie have made a significant contribution to industrial relations literature. These highly regarded scholars analyze recent changes in the structure and substance of collective bargaining in relation to the traditional conflict management model that has prevailed from The New Deal until the early 1970's. This book is an ambitious attempt to develop a new industrial relations model which explains why the scope of collective bargaining is likely to broaden. It includes changes in the individual's role in the workplace and in the role workers and unions play in determining the organization's business investment and human resources strategies.

As the authors point out, in many industries collective bargaining has been forced to adapt to structural economic change generated by increased competition associated with the growth of international trade and changes in policies that deregulated the entry of firms into domestic markets. Initially, this led to a "conessionary' bargaining climate with an erosion of union bargaining power.

As part of the response to structural change, the authors identify innovations in industrial relations at the workplace in both union and nonunion settings. They present an extremely valuable evaluation of the various approaches to worker participation, including empirical estimates of what these work arrangements contribute to productivity at the plant level.

The book also presents several indepth illustrations of attempts to incorporate union participation in top level strategic business decisions. The objectivity with which the authors discuss the success as well as the problems of moving industrial relations to the level of strategic decisionmaking is a major contribution. They point out that there is no easy way to expand the scope of collective bargaining beyond its traditional limits. Changes in workplace processes, in worker representation in strategic business decisions, and overall improvements in the traditional types of contract provisions of bargaining agreements must, in the authors' view, occur simultaneously if business is to adjust successfully to a more competitive economic environment.

This book should be read by practitioners and scholars of industrial relations alike. Practitioners will benefit from the extensive review of workplace participation experiments and scholars will find the authors' attempt to develop a new industrial theory both exciting and challenging. As the authors attempt to develop a new theory of industrial relations, some students of labor history may be reminded of Frank Tannenbaum's A Philosophy of Labor (Knopf, 1951) in which the author predicted that in order to give the worker status and security the union will gradually begin to share in and accept responsibility for management decisions. Tannenbaum believed that conflict would eventually give way to cooperation. The authors also favor more worker participation as the way to broaden the scope of collective bargaining. In contrast to Tannenbaum's psychological basis for more cooperation between labor and management, they base their theory on the economics of industrial restructuring and the potential economic gain from a more consensual bargaining relationship at all levels within the organization.

The book can be criticized for attempting to explain too much. For example, in my opinion, too much emphasis is placed on the need to reform labor law as the basis for moving toward new approaches to collective bargaining. Labor law reform is an important topic for scholarly research. However, in discussing the decline in union membership the authors incorrectly claim that current labor law has led to "employer domination of labor organizations' (p. 233). The reasons for the decline in union membership are an important topic but it is not central to the authors' main thesis. The authors present an excellent framework for analyzing current changes in collective bargaining and identify the circumstances under which the traditional approach of managing labor-management conflict is likely to prevail and the preconditions for moving to a more consensual bargaining relationship as a way of adjusting to economic change.
COPYRIGHT 1987 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:McLennan, Kenneth
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 1987
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