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Theories and Concepts in Comparative Industrial Relations.

Global lessons for unions Theories and Concepts in Comparative

Industrial Relations. Edited by Jack

Barbash and Kate Barbash. Columbia,

sc, University of South Carolina,

1989. 268 pp. $29.95, University of

South Carolina Press, Columbia, sc.

This volume contains 16 papers presented at the Hamburg Congress of the International Relations Society in 1986. Its aim is to contribute to an understanding of multinational theoretical approaches to industrial relations, including an elaboration on the role of the state, descriptions of selected national experiences, and an examination of industrial relations' role as an academic discipline. Quite a task under the best of circumstances. In this case, however, one must conclude that the slim volume promises far more than it delivers. The concepts under discussion are highly diverse and fragmented and no attempt is made to bring them all together in a coherent framework.

Anyone seeking an understanding of the problems facing American unions in 1991 is likely to be disappointed. It is strange, indeed, that in a volume of this kind, the simple question as to why organized labor continues to decline in some countries (United States, Netherlands, United Kingdom) while the opposite is true in others (Canada and Australia) is totally ignored.

Several authors reexamine the prevailing major industrial relations theories and here one is struck by just how well, in the main, John T. Dunlop's system approach (1958) has stood the test of time. Braham Dabscheck, an Australian scholar, leaning heavily on the writings of Richard Hyman, argues for a Marxist interpretation, finding other concepts inadequate to explain the role of the state and the nature of (class) conflict. This contribution may appear somewhat strange given recent events in Eastern Europe until one realizes that it was written in 1986. Hoyt N. Wheeler, professor of management and industrial relations, University of South Carolina, examines industrial relations from a sociobiological perspective and finds that an innate "predisposition . . . to social dominance" underlies "the exchange of an employee's promise to obey for an employer's promise to pay." The author, however, is compelled to admit that "although . . . a biological basis for [social dominance] exists, one might reach the same general conclusions on the basis of the psychological, sociological, and industrial relations literature, without regard to ... biological studies.

What about the future of the U.S. industrial relations curriculum now apparently in the doldrums as a result of the decline in the fortunes of organized labor? This is an issue addressed by several authors, including George Strauss, professor of business administration, University of California, Berkeley, whose examination offers little ground for optimism. "As union density has declined, so has the social significance of IR [industrial relations] classes, centers, and research." On the other hand, "Human Resource Management has been booming in most schools. . ." and "symptomatic of this trend, the IR Center Directors recently decided ... to adopt a new name, the Association of IR and HR Programs." As for suggestions on how to turn things around, he has very little information to offer. The ultimate hope seems to lie in a successful revival of union organizing efforts. The issue here is not just the usual battle over turf between the professors of industrial relations and human resource management, although this too is present, but centers on the training of those who will play key roles in implementing employee relations policies-and let there be no doubt that a human resource management perspective aims at a union-free workplace.

How much all of us working in industrial relations are indebted to Jack Barbash, professor emeritus, University of Wisconsin, becomes again apparent in his treatment of the issue of equity (fair treatment) versus efficiency in employment. Noah M. Meltz, professor of economics and industrial relations, University of Toronto, makes die case that the two can be seen as complementary. In fact, he maintains, "the industrial relations perspective argues that equity consideration can actually enhance efficiency." Not likely, responds Barbash, because equity considerations, particularly during an economic downturn, must inevitably yield to the needs of the firm to achieve various forms of "flexibility" in its treatment of employees, all human resource management strategies notwithstanding. This point is carefully and convincingly developed by Barbash who concludes by raising this question: Is it in the social interest to allow unions to deteriorate considering that everywhere else unions and collective bargaining are inextricably associated with democratic pluralism?" This indeed is the issue public and private decision-makers must ultimately face.

Harry P. Cohany Senior Lecturer Department of Management Towson State University
COPYRIGHT 1991 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Cohany, Henry P.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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