Industrial Relations: Ideological Perspectives
Centre for Labour Studies
The Polytechnic, Ibadan
This paper identifies the key theories in industrial relations and draws out their implications on the concern for achieving ‘basic needs for all’. The following theories are examined: the political theories of Unitarism and Pluralism; the economistic theory; the democratic and political theory; the moral and ethical theory, and the Marxist theory. A conclusion is drawn on the note of identifying the weakness and strength of labour struggles in the striving to improve the wellbeing of the working class.
THEORIES IN INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS
Political Theory of Unitarism
The essence of the unitary theory is that the larger social system or the work enterprise as a sub-system of the larger social system is a unitary organisation. The larger social system or the work enterprise is likened to a football team or a family which shares a common goal. Just like the head of the family supposedly knows what is best for all members of the family and acts at all times in the interest of the family as a whole, so also the government (in the case of the larger society) or the management (in the case of an enterprise) symbolizes the common good of all parties in the enterprise. On this basis, as members of a football team should unquestionably listen to the coach or as the troops must obey the command structure in the army without complaining, and as the children (and possibly the wife, in many cases) should not query the authority of their parents (and husband), so also the workers should be absolutely loyal to the government or management as the case may be. From the unitarist perspective, all the ideas, perceptions and actions of management or government are legitimate and rational and all the ideas, perceptions and actions of the workers that conflict with the command of the management or government are illegitimate and irrational. Trade unions are seen as a product of sectional greed or an imperfect understanding of the common (or national) interest, which the management/government represents. In some political context, unions may be viewed as a vehicle for those who want to overthrow the existing order. To a unitarist advocate, trade unions and their political organisations are an aberration and should be suppressed. Where they cannot be suppressed successfully, they should be used to serve as a means of effective communication, regulation and compliance. The use of legal regulations backed by coercive sanctions by the management is therefore desirable, legitimate and rational to force the workers in line with governmental/managerial prerogatives. From the standpoint of meeting basic welfare needs, the unitarist theory supports unilateral determination of terms and conditions of work by the employer. The will, ideas and perceptions of the employer/government in this regard are to be accepted unconditionally by the workers. It can therefore be seen that the unitarist ideology is the ideology of conservative ruling classes. It is based on the asserted and enforced legal right of the employer (the master) over the worker (the servant) which has found its way into the employment contract. It is the conception that views the King/Sovereign as supreme over the subjects. The pronouncement or will of the Sovereign is law, regulating the behaviour of others. The ideas, perceptions and interest of management or government are superior and must be imposed and obeyed without questioning because they represent the interest of the people as a whole. The goal of the unitarist is to domesticate the whole of the social unit (society, industrial enterprise, family, school, etc) under his control. The unitarist ruler alone (as the guardian of the society) can determine how society is to be organized, what the goals should be and...
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