An Industrial Relations Perspective on Employee Participation

Peter Ackers

in The Oxford Handbook of Participation in Organizations

Published in print February 2010 | ISBN: 9780199207268
Published online May 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191584817 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Business and Management

An Industrial Relations Perspective on Employee Participation

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Industrial relations (IR) has two historical meanings. In one usage, the term describes public policy and the employment practices of employers and unions. But IR also refers to a specific academic perspective, centred on certain normative and theoretical principles. This article traces the argument between the British theorists of mainstream IR realism and their utopian ‘workers control’ protagonists. In the background, outside the mainstream IR community, runs a third, largely forgotten and widely despised, managerial, or unitarist view of organizational participation, as practiced on an ad hoc basis by a deviant group of British employers over the years and theorized by the human relations school from 1940s onwards. The approach here is highly selective and illustrative, rather than comprehensive. This article gives six historical examples of British IR approaches to organizational participation, which demonstrate the long and recurring intellectual dispute between radical utopians and pluralist realists.

Keywords: industrial relations; public policy; employment practices; academic perspective; organizational participation

Article.  10454 words. 

Subjects: Organizational Theory and Behaviour

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