5. Management Opposition to Union Organisation: Researching the Indicators

DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/eb055082
Pages31-38
Publication Date01 May 1986
AuthorPhil Beaumont
SubjectHR & organizational behaviour
5. Management Opposition
to Union Organisation:
Researching the Indicators
by
Phil
Beaumont
Introduction
The evidence of relatively few signs of the "destruction" or lapsing of unionised struc-
tures (such as closed shop or union recognition arrangements) has led to the view that
unions in Britain are not facing significant changes in management attitudes towards
the institution of unionism. For example, having raised the question of whether there
has been a "roll-back" of union organisation, Brown[1] states:
It is clear from the studies that
there
was
not.
Although
the character of
collective bargaining may have
been modified, the structure of workplace unionism is remarkably unchanged. Both Batstone and
Edwards found there to have been no significant change in the proportion of factories where trade
unions were
recognised,
or where
senior
shop stewards were recognised
since
1978.
Nor,
despite
the
1980 and 1982
Acts,
was there any change in
the
percentage
of
factories with closed union
shops.
The empirical studies from which this view derives have been essentially surveys
con-
ducted of relatively large-sized plants in the manufacturing sector. The resulting
evidence of these surveys is undoubtedly of value and interest, although the question
posed here is whether they have been looking (i) in the "right place(s)", and (ii) for the
"right signs" to provide a sufficiently well-rounded view of management attitudes
towards the institution of unionism. However, before taking up these two points in
turn,
we offer some brief comments on the conventional wisdom that British employers are
much less anti-union than their American counterparts. The reason for these
introductory comments follows from the fact that the above survey results appear to fit
so comfortably with this conventional view of British employers.
The Conventional Wisdom
There are numerous well-known scholars, such as Bendix[2] and Lipset[3], who have
argued that aspects of the American experience and system of values, such as the
emphasis on individual achievement, have made management more resistant to unions
than has been the case in other Western countries. This is very much the historical per-
spective adopted by Phelps Brown[4] who, when comparing the United States and
Britain,
has stated that:
... at the times when unions were making their first pressure felt, a predominant difference appeared
in the reaction of employers in the two countries. In the land of proclaimed equality, the employers
counter-attacked, individually and in combination. In the land of social hierarchy, though resistance
sometimes went over into counter-attack, the employers did not sustain militant combinations, and
quite widely they came to accept trade unions and even welcome their performance of defined
functions. That the American employers took the line they did may be explained by market forces and
by attitudes.
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