Industrial Relations Term Paper

Pages: 4 (1581 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Business - Management

Industrial Relations

Discuss the applicability of the systems theory of industrial relations to the present day industrial relations environment.

According to the systems theory of industrial relations an industrial relations system is an abstraction comprised of "certain actors, certain contexts, and an ideology" that bind a particular community system together that is defined through an agreed-upon "body of rules that govern the actors in the workplace" and "the work community." (Black, 2006, p.6) For example, the United States might be defined as a capitalist system that contains certain actors such as labor and management that must come together to negotiate mutually beneficial solutions within a particular industrial context. It is agreed by these actors to proceed legally, according to certain accepted guidelines, and certain principles must be understood as valid even between the potentially disputing parties. For example, labor understands that corporations must make a profit, while the corporation understands that workers are entitled to humane working conditions.

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The context that gives birth to the system, may, of course change over time, which systems theory allows for within an industry. To make a specific example, General Motors during the height of American prosperity was allowed to make very generous agreements with its unionized workers in terms of pensions and health benefits to retirees. In a changed competitive context, after certain arguably 'bad' marketing and manufacturing decisions by GM, plus the fact that American manufactures are no longer dominant in the car industry and there is more international competition, has meant that retired employees, through their union representatives have had to give up some of their valuable benefits. This will ensure the future healthy of the company, and the existence of their pension fund. Before, GM's solvency was a given. Now, the context has changed, so the system must shift to come to a new stasis, that satisfies the needs of the workers, management, and the company as a whole.

Term Paper on Industrial Relations Assignment

This contemporary example seems to show the continued validity of systems theory, with some modifications such as the overview of the international and national situation and how it impacts the car industry. The system has created a constellation of union demands and management demands located in the contest of the American car industry and the culture of the company. These relationships are all locked into a particular national and international situation. Although competing desires may exist within the system, as part of such a series of interconnected relationships, because the relationships are dependant upon one another, and all actors are historically bound by the same circumstances, agreement is possible.

However, other recent examples have shown that when the actors do not agree upon the same basic rules, the system can exhibit a failure. Take, for example, the New York City transit worker's insistence upon their right to strike, even if their contracts forbade them to do so. Although labor and management were in the same context, both sides saw the union demands in very different ways. One could argue that this indicates a growing divide in the cultures of union and management in America today, or at least in New York City, where the divides between the haves and the have-nots, between so-called white and blue-collar jobs are growing in a way that impacts the system in a non-rational or cultural fashion that is hard to quantify.

Also, from an international context, it has been argued that traditional systems theories have focused too much on labor vs. management and not enough upon national and international context. In this view, there are specific "origins of differences in national systems of industrial relations are to be found in "certain underlying principles, expressing value judgments, which are broadly accepted throughout the nation," that transcend class or roles within the system of labor. (Black, 2006, p.6)

For example, a European worker might expect a more secure job position with more benefits than an American worker, or place a higher value upon his or her membership in a union. Workers from different cultures may view the demands of an international management staff in a very different way, to the point where their anger at the company cannot be very clearly defined or remedied through adjustment to the rules of the system. Certain industries may even have certain cultures, such as the government employees of the transit union. One of the transit worker's main demands was that future workers in the union have equal access to benefits as current workers, as part of their union pride. Also within the transit union itself, there was considerable dissent and conflict regarding the loyalty shown to its leadership.

Thus, the systems concept may need to be broadened to include "behavioral as well as structural variables," or cultural beliefs of workers and managers within a certain industry or nation "and unstructured as well as structured relationships," such as personal feelings toward the leadership or towards the opposing negotiating party, when understanding various aspects of job regulation. (Black, 2006, p.7) All of these factors will affect the different actor's concepts of what the dispute is really about, what constitutes 'the system,' and what and who makes the rules.

Question 2: Examine the processes of negotiation. Is negotiation an ethical practice or is it all about winning? How does this fit in with negotiation theory? Evaluate.

Negotiating is a bargaining process. Ideally, both parties should feel that they have 'won' something. However, this is not always possible. According to classical negotiation theory, in a zero-sum situation, it is impossible for one party to advance its position without the other party suffering a corresponding loss. (Spangler, 2003) In this theory, there is one 'pie,' and both sides want all of the 'pie,' and for every gain of the pie for one side, there must be a loss of the pie for the other side.

This view of negotiating tends to make the process seem innately unethical, as the losing party is viewed as being duped into accepting a less choice settlement than was initially offered. This takes a classical view of labor and management, whereby management or the company is viewed as the 'haves' in terms of having more salary, benefits, and control, while labor representatives vie to take away some of these positives of the 'pie' in the Question of fairness. In this view as well, to delude the other side into accepting a loss, when the stronger party has historically behaved in an unfair ways, is unethical. For example, it would be unethical for a rich company to use a canny lawyer to persuade its laborers to work for unnecessarily long hours and poor wages, simply because the free market allowed the company to set such terms.

However, in a contemporary industrial context, the question of winning or losing is often quite murky. Who 'wins' when a company cannot remain solvent, for example? Or who 'wins' when management negotiates an immediately advantageous settlement, which results in good workers leaving the company for better pay or benefits later on? Neither labor nor management really does so, in such scenarios. This suggests that a more ethical and equitable form of negotiating is beneficial for both parties, and a more flexible view of negotiating is necessary than that of the zero-sum game. Ideally, a "positive-sum" outcome should be the goal. This outcome is one, according to negotiating theory, where the sum of winnings and losses is greater than zero, "or some other way is devised so everyone gets what they want or need." (Spangler, 2003) Creative negotiating strategies that transcend traditional forms of competitive bargaining are the goal of such forms of negotiating. Agreement and arriving at innovative solutions that satisfy and perhaps surprise both parties are superior, and more ethical, than a purely competitive view of the process.

However, in the age of corporate… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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