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May, 1988, Vol. 111, No. 5
Have the 1980's changed U.S. industrial relations?John T. Dunlop
Where are American industrial relations headed? Is a major transformation at hand, as some observers have urged?1 Or is our industrial relations system merely reacting to changes in the environment, some of which are reversible and others that reflect longer term secular change.2At any one time there is both change in our industrial relations system and stability. Moreover, there are various types of change: short-run and long-run, reversible and irreversible, peripheral and structural, small and large, or pervasive. How do we classify the changes of the past decade?
There is a related problem of perspective or bias derived from the fact that change or new elements are said to be newsworthy by the media or current events school of academics, while the unchanged or stable escape the spotlight. We expect our newspapers to tell what is new each day, not that which is old hat. Carried over to industrial relations, this perspective, combined with ignorance of history, often distorts or fails to pt into perspective the reporting, analysis, and prescription of the day.
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1 According to the "New Industrial Relations." Business Week, May 11, 1981, p. 85: "Quietly, almost without notice, a new industrial relations system with a fundamentally different way of managing people is taking shape in the U.S. Its goal is to end the adversarial relationship that has grown between management and labor and that now threatens the competitiveness of many industries." An academic formulation that in important respects mirrors the same perspective is Thomas A. Kochan, Harry C. Katz, and Robert B. McKersie, The Transformation of American Industrial Relations (New York, Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1986), p. 227; "We see the current moment as one of those historic periods of transformation in which existing institutional structures have been challenged and opened up to experimentation in ways that allow considerable choice in how to reconstruct and modify them to best serve the interests of workers, employers, and society in general."
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