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The Changing Face of Industrial Democracy Evidence from the UK Electronics Industry

The Changing Face of Industrial Democracy Evidence from the UK Electronics Industry Management Research News Volume 14 Number 10 1991 Participation and Industrial Relations tion for management to reorganise extensively the prac­ The Changing Face of Industrial tice of industrial relations. The rationale which has pro­ Democracy: Evidence from the UK vided the impetus for the use of employee participation is examined within this context in order to assess why man­ Electronics Industry agement have developed a zealous belief in the use of in ­ Louise McArdle, John Hassard, Paul Forrester and volvement techniques within the electronics industry. If Stephen Proctor, Keele University the resurgence in employee participation is designed to increase the commitment of the workforce there needs to The 1980s was a decade of far reaching change in the re­ be some indication as to whether this is actually the case. lations between management and the workforce. Flexi­ This is done by examining the opinions of those inter­ bility can no longer be considered a 'flash in the pan', viewed for the research both in management and the pro­ while the 'Japanisation' of production is probably the duction workers. By presenting both accounts it will be most influential concept since Fordism. Combining these possible to determine areas of agreement between the two elements has enabled employers to introduce whole two groups as well as disparities in the perceived levels packages for the organisation of work and production of commitment. Finally, because the plant is unionised it where quality of product and process are no longer con­ will be determined whether there is a role for the union in sidered optional, rather a pre-requisite for firms compet­ participation practices. The paper will also show to what ing on a global scale. extent participation practices can be considered a method of marginalising the union and whether this will One element which runs through all of this is the im­ eventually render obsolete the relationship between the plementation and use of industrial democracy as a tool union and its members in this sector. of management to gain the commitment of employees to the company. Recent work by Eldridge et al (1991) has Reference identified two distinct strands to the debate surrounding this issue. The first of these is the "moral, ethical and pol­ Eldridge, Cressey and Maclnnes, Industrial Sociology itical" argument which presents an image of how indus­ and Economic Crisis, Harvester, Wheatsheaf, (1991). try should be, with an emphasis on statutory frameworks to govern the extent of worker control over decision- mak­ ing as in Sweden for example. Secondly, the debate fo- cusses on 'participation' exercises within the enterprise such as extolled by the 'excellence school'. This was shaped throughout the 1980s by employers and their per­ ception of what industrial democracy should entail, to the extent that the term itself has become something of an anomoly and rarely used in individual companies. Partici­ pation and involvement are the dominant languages and elements of these new shape the agenda for industrial democracy. Team work, team briefings, quality circles, news letters, and other forms of direct communication are some concepts which management have introduced in order to increase the commitment of employees. One dis­ tinct feature of this is that trade unions no longer provide the impetus, for employee participation. Employers have established a more direct relationship with their em­ ployees, often unsurping the union's role as negotiator. This paper is concerned with this second strand to the debate on industrial democracy. It is based upon re­ search in the UK electronics sector into the implementa­ tion of flexibility both in manufacturing and labour management. For the purposes of this account one par­ ticular case is studied and the paper demonstrates how changes in manufacturing strategy and the implementa­ tion of flexible manufacturing have provided the justifica­ http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Management Research News Emerald Publishing

The Changing Face of Industrial Democracy Evidence from the UK Electronics Industry

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Publisher
Emerald Publishing
Copyright
Copyright © Emerald Group Publishing Limited
ISSN
0140-9174
DOI
10.1108/eb028186
Publisher site
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Abstract

Management Research News Volume 14 Number 10 1991 Participation and Industrial Relations tion for management to reorganise extensively the prac­ The Changing Face of Industrial tice of industrial relations. The rationale which has pro­ Democracy: Evidence from the UK vided the impetus for the use of employee participation is examined within this context in order to assess why man­ Electronics Industry agement have developed a zealous belief in the use of in ­ Louise McArdle, John Hassard, Paul Forrester and volvement techniques within the electronics industry. If Stephen Proctor, Keele University the resurgence in employee participation is designed to increase the commitment of the workforce there needs to The 1980s was a decade of far reaching change in the re­ be some indication as to whether this is actually the case. lations between management and the workforce. Flexi­ This is done by examining the opinions of those inter­ bility can no longer be considered a 'flash in the pan', viewed for the research both in management and the pro­ while the 'Japanisation' of production is probably the duction workers. By presenting both accounts it will be most influential concept since Fordism. Combining these possible to determine areas of agreement between the two elements has enabled employers to introduce whole two groups as well as disparities in the perceived levels packages for the organisation of work and production of commitment. Finally, because the plant is unionised it where quality of product and process are no longer con­ will be determined whether there is a role for the union in sidered optional, rather a pre-requisite for firms compet­ participation practices. The paper will also show to what ing on a global scale. extent participation practices can be considered a method of marginalising the union and whether this will One element which runs through all of this is the im­ eventually render obsolete the relationship between the plementation and use of industrial democracy as a tool union and its members in this sector. of management to gain the commitment of employees to the company. Recent work by Eldridge et al (1991) has Reference identified two distinct strands to the debate surrounding this issue. The first of these is the "moral, ethical and pol­ Eldridge, Cressey and Maclnnes, Industrial Sociology itical" argument which presents an image of how indus­ and Economic Crisis, Harvester, Wheatsheaf, (1991). try should be, with an emphasis on statutory frameworks to govern the extent of worker control over decision- mak­ ing as in Sweden for example. Secondly, the debate fo- cusses on 'participation' exercises within the enterprise such as extolled by the 'excellence school'. This was shaped throughout the 1980s by employers and their per­ ception of what industrial democracy should entail, to the extent that the term itself has become something of an anomoly and rarely used in individual companies. Partici­ pation and involvement are the dominant languages and elements of these new shape the agenda for industrial democracy. Team work, team briefings, quality circles, news letters, and other forms of direct communication are some concepts which management have introduced in order to increase the commitment of employees. One dis­ tinct feature of this is that trade unions no longer provide the impetus, for employee participation. Employers have established a more direct relationship with their em­ ployees, often unsurping the union's role as negotiator. This paper is concerned with this second strand to the debate on industrial democracy. It is based upon re­ search in the UK electronics sector into the implementa­ tion of flexibility both in manufacturing and labour management. For the purposes of this account one par­ ticular case is studied and the paper demonstrates how changes in manufacturing strategy and the implementa­ tion of flexible manufacturing have provided the justifica­

Journal

Management Research NewsEmerald Publishing

Published: Oct 1, 1991

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