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Edited by Keith Townsend and Adrian Wilkinson
Chapter 6: Concerted Capital: Understanding Employer Interests and the Role of Employer Coordination in Contemporary Employment Relations
Michael Barry INTRODUCTION It is generally accepted that employer interests have been behind the various changes that have fundamentally recast employment relations in recent times. It is also accepted that employers exercise strategic choice in relation to how they manage employment relations within the workplace and how they respond to other actors within their regulatory environment (Kochan et al., 1986). Employers are seen to have become more strategic in mobilizing their interests in response to increased market competition and economic uncertainty by taking steps to reclaim managerial prerogative and to enhance various forms of labour flexibility. Thus, paradoxically, the political influence of business has been countercyclical in that it increased during the period of economic uncertainty following the OPEC oil shocks after waning during the period of economic prosperity from the 1960s to the early 1970s (Vogel, 1989). Employer ascendancy has been at one level about successfully challenging the post-World War II orthodoxy of employment relations collectivism. The election of ‘new right’ governments, first in the United States and United Kingdom under Reagan and Thatcher, allowed employer interests to become more prominent in public policy, and employers used this political opportunity to bring about changes to regulatory structures and bargaining instruments. State interventions have given employers a new regulatory framework and a set of regulatory tools to decentralize employment relations, to promote individualization, and to contest the ‘frontier of control’ against workers and their representatives. As Streeck (1987) argued, in uncertain and competitive economic circumstances, employers have sought to scale...
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