What it Means to Take Japan Seriously
Fifteen years ago when I was writing about differences between British and Japanese industrial relations, it seemed to me that there was more evidence of British practices coming to resemble Japanese practices than vice versa.1 William Brown2 [has recently described some of the changes which seem to suggest that this might indeed be happening - more enterprise specific training, plant bargaining, multi-union negotiating committees, single-union agreements, increased importance of ‘ability to pay’ as criterion in wage negotiations, increased use of job-evaluation schemes designed for internal consistency rather than external market reference, increasing use of devices to secure ‘employee involvement’ etc.] Most secular trends in industrial societies can be in some way linked with the one undeniably unidirectional and cumulative trend of the modern period - the growth of scientific knowledge and the ever-increasing sophistication and productiveness of applied technology. The link in this case seems to me a double one. First of all, the rapid cheapening of the technologies of transport and communication has the effect of (a) intensifying international trade competition, and (b) intensifying the demonstration effect and so increasing the pressure on governments whose voters’ standard of living is falling behind that of other countries. It is no wonder that ‘competitiveness’ has become the buzz-word of the decade in both Britain and the USA - and ten years ago nobody was quite sure whether the correct noun was ‘competitiveness’ or ‘competitivity’. That competitive pressure to raise productivity can be intensified from time to time by particular events -...
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