Industrial Action 1980–1984

AuthorPaul Edwards
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8543.1987.tb00716.x
Publication Date01 Jul 1987
British Journal
of
Industrial Relations
25~2
July
1987
0007-1080
$3.00
Industrial
Action
1980-1
984
Paul Edwards*
The chapter on industrial action follows the pattern
of
the rest of the book by
concentrating on changes over the period
1980-84.
As with the
1980
survey,
it covers the form and extent
of
industrial action and the use
of
picketing. A
new feature in
1984
was the inclusion
of
questions about whether action was
made official by the union or unions concerned.
The most notable finding is that the overall extent
of
industrial action
increased between
1980
and
1984:
the proportion of establishments affected
rose from
22
per cent to
25
per cent (and this excludes, it should be recalled,
coal mining). This result apparently conflicts with the image
of
a rapid
decline in the prevalence
of
strikes since
1980.
The authors have no
difficulty, however, in reconciling their figures with the official Department
of
Employment series on ‘stoppages
of
work due to industrial disputes’. This
series measures the frequency of separate disputes whereas the survey data
show how extensive action was across establishments. Although of course
true, it is surely unsatisfactory to leave the matter with this point.
All
recent
surveys have shown that many more plants are affected by industrial action
than the official figures suggest, which is due partly to a failure to count all
strikes which qualify for inclusion but more importantly to the prevalence
of
small stoppages which lie outside the official recording definitions. At least
some reference to the limitations
of
the official data and to the place
of
industrial action in British industrial relations would have helped to put the
survey results in context.
The survey’s data on the distribution
of
industrial action also help to show
that the image
of
a decline is not inappropriate. The prevalence
of
action
fell
sharply in the traditionally strike-prone sectors; the proportion
of
private
manufacturing plants reporting any strikes fell from
22
per cent to
10
per
cent, while in vehicle manufacturing the collapse
of
strike action was even
more dramatic (from
67
per cent
of
plants affected to
23
per cent). This was
balanced by sharp increases in public administration and education.
Readers are left to draw their own conclusions from such trends. In other
sections of the book possible explanations for observed changes are
considered. A decline in the proportion
of
manufacturing plants that has
recognised unions, for example, could be due to the withdrawal
of
recognition in plants that formerly had it or to structural changes, notably
*I.R.R.U.,
University
of
Warwick.

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