New Directions in the Study of Work and Employment

New Directions in the Study of Work and Employment

Revitalizing Industrial Relations as an Academic Enterprise

Edited by Charles J. Whalen

Charles Whalen’s book identifies avenues leading to the revitalization of industrial relations as an academic discipline. The contributors, a stellar assemblage of the field’s leading scholars, demonstrate there is much work to be done: the scope and intellectual content of industrial relations need to be reconsidered; academic and social institutions must be reshaped; and new conceptual and practical issues demand attention.

Conclusion: The Future of Industrial Relations, a.k.a. Work and Employment Relations

Thomas A. Kochan

Subjects: business and management, human resource management, economics and finance, labour economics


Thomas A. Kochan INTRODUCTION It is the perfect time to celebrate the achievements of the first century of industrial relations (IR) and make the transition to the study of work and employment relations in the forms they exist today. Why? This field of study and practice is now well into an era that parallels the conditions that led to the emergence of IR over a century ago. The Webbs and John R. Commons and their colleagues and students created this field as Britain and the United States were transitioning from an agrarian to an industrial economy with all the attendant changes in the nature of work, the workforce and family life. The fundamental problem identified by these founding scholars was that the institutions and laws governing work had not changed or developed fast enough to keep up with the changes in the economy. The results: Workers experienced income declines, employment disruptions and uncertainties, and harsh working conditions; societies experienced increased conflict and sporadic violence; and the variance in employer behavior increased. Some employers chose to take advantage of excess labor supply and wage competition by ‘sweating labor’ and suppressing worker efforts to form unions, while others tried to follow newly emerging ‘scientific’ principles in managing their workforce. As Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld notes in his chapter, the United States, Britain, and most other developed nations are now in the midst of another transition – from an industrial economy to a service and knowledge-based economy. Once again, the economy, workforce...

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