Research Handbook of Comparative Employment Relations
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Research Handbook of Comparative Employment Relations

Edited by Michael Barry and Adrian Wilkinson

The Research Handbook of Comparative Employment Relations is an essential resource for those seeking to understand contemporary developments in the world of work, and the way in which employment relations systems are evolving around the world.
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Chapter 3: The Political Economy of Comparative Employment Relations

John Kelly


John Kelly INTRODUCTION The ‘Golden Age of Capitalism’, from the late 1940s until the mid-1970s, was characterized by unprecedented rates of economic growth, dramatic rises in consumption and levels of unemployment lower than at any time before or since (Marglin and Schor, 1990). It also represented the high water mark of trade union power and militancy and of ‘political exchange’, as governments sought to curb rising inflation and unemployment by negotiating wage restraint with organized labour (Pizzorno, 1978). The intervening years have witnessed a far-reaching and fundamental transformation of employment relations, both in the advanced capitalist world as well as in the major, new economic powers represented by the BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China (Dicken, 2007). Trade union membership and strike activity have declined in many countries (Phelan, 2007; van der Velden et al., 2008); both authoritarian and human resource management approaches to employment relations have become more widespread (cf. Katz and Darbishire, 2000); multinational corporations have become increasingly influential in shaping the labour policies of governments around the globe (Sklair, 2002, pp. 59–83); manufacturing employment has declined in Western Europe and North America but expanded in the Southern Hemisphere (Dicken, 2007); and governments have become more interventionist, not only in wage bargaining but in welfare systems and in labour market policy (Hamann and Kelly, 2010). Although two of the core institutions of employment relations – high collective bargaining coverage and works councils – have remained largely intact in most of Western Europe as of 2010, collective regulation of...

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