Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk
Middle East Politics
Politics -West
Review Articles
What Happens to Truth

New Approaches to Labour Relations in the United States

October 1, 1985 -

The frequent strikes and conflicts in British industry reflect the deeply engrained animosity between labour and management in that country. A particularly destructive strike was the recent clash between the United Mine Workers, led by Arthur Scargill, and the British Coal Board. The radical left of the British labour movement continues to rely on the rhetoric of conflict. In that way lies more economic decline and social hardship. Fortunately, there are signs that the climate is improving. A number of companies and unions have signed collective agreements in which both parties agree to settle disputes without recourse to strike action. Furthermore, these agreements also provide for increased recognition of workers' needs and interests, greater flexibility in the organization of work and labour relations, and improved communication.

Most of the above-mentioned agreements were initiated in foreign-owned companies. For example, the first such agreement was signed in 1981 at a Japanese-owned television factory (Toshiba) in Plymouth. Other Japanese electronics firms—Sanyo, Hitachi and Nissan—have made similar agreements with their workforces. Although the Nissan plant now under construction in England will not start operating until mid-1986, the key principles of the company's agreement with the engineering workers' union (AUEW) have already been established. This agreement recognizes, for example, the need for mutual trust and co-operation, the valued part employees play in the company, and the need to settle differences without interrupting production.

The Nissan agreement also establishes a company council of managers and elected workforce representatives, which will have both a consultative and a negotiating role in dealing with general matters, internal disputes, grievances, pay and working conditions. If the council cannot reach agreement, the issue is referred to government conciliation, and if still unresolved, is settled by pendulum arbitration (known in Canada as final offer arbitration). In this method of dispute settlement, an arbitrator must accept without compromise either the package proposed by labour or by management, and the decision is binding. The intent of this form of arbitration is to make for realistic bargaining.

The no-strike agreement, because it is coupled with a greater concern for working conditions and worker satisfaction, holds promise for overcoming Britain's tradition of adversarial collective bargaining. Without such change, however, do not look for improvements in the performance of British industry.