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Industrial Relations, History of
In most developed countries, wages and workingconditions,formsofemployment,bonuses,andallow-ances are regulated, either by law or by collectiveagreements. The latter are themselves bordered by juridical or customary rules which deﬁne their be-ginning,process,andresults.Theircoherencedoesnotmerely reﬂect the logic of the national institutions andof the economy. It takes into account the social actorsthemselves and the aggregation of their decisions,which constitute industrial relations systems. Theyvary throughout the course of history. They also diﬀeramongst North America, Japan, and Europe andwithin Europe itself. But everywhere these systemshave been deeply altered or even challenged since the1980s.
1. The Concept of Industrial Relations
The term ‘industrial relations’ was born in the USA. Itis the product of both changing relations betweencompanies and wage-earners and of academic at-tempts to instil some order into the turmoil of socialchange.
John R. Commons, an economist at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), produced, during the ﬁrst thirdof the twentieth century, the ﬁrst major interpretationof social relations in ‘American industrial society.’ Heargued that US workers were more wage-consciousthan class-conscious. If companies became aware of these fundamental tendencies, there was room forcontracts between management and trade unions.Conﬂicts could be avoided, minimized, or solved.Government was welcome to promote economicgrowth by supporting the contractualization of indus-trialrelations.Commonsandhisfollowersstressedtheimportance of institutions for organizing society.Accordingly, they considered trade unions to be asource of social progress. They privileged collectivebargaining as ﬁtted to US exceptionalism and adaptedto unionization by trade, not by industry.Commons and his followers were not pure andsimple academics. They actively contributed to theliberalization of US social legislation which developedbetween 1918 and 1940.
John T. Dunlop, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin, working between the 1950s and the 1970s,went further in the same direction. He systematizedthe idea of systems of industrial relations at local,regional, or national levels. Thus he stressed theinterdependence between the key elements of indus-trial relations: for instance, between the deﬁnition of atrade union, its representativity, and the nature of anegotiation. This interdependence is characterized notonly by a common juridical doctrine, but also byreciprocal strategies carried out by managers andunions. Moreover, rules in industrial relations need tobe interpreted by reference to the policies of unions,companies,andtradeassociations.Socialactorscreaterules and bind each other by such regulations, at leastfor a speciﬁc period of time. Like Commons and hisfollowers, Dunlop and his colleagues worked asexpertsforpublicadministrationsandplayedasigniﬁ-cant part in the evolution of collective bargaining andof legislation till the ﬁrst oil crisis. Unlike Commons,they moved from the idea of US exceptionalism to itsapparent opposite: a possible universal convergencebetween the national systems of industrial relations.‘Industrialism’ would bring about a civilization of 7344
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