MARKETS OR POLITICS? THE DETERMINANTS OF LABOUR RELATIONS IN A NATIONALIZED INDUSTRY

Authors


  • The research upon which this article is based was financed by the Economic and Social Research Council and conducted at Bath University. The primary research objective was to assess how the management of labour in British Rail had changed during the 1980s. I am grateful to Howard Gospel and Bryn Jones and two anonymous referees for comments on earlier versions of this paper.

Abstract

This article examines ‘market’ and ‘political’ explanations for the nature of nationalized industry labour relations, using British Rail as a case study. The market perspective suggests that market insulation generated ‘cosy’ industrial relations since it allowed managers to acquiesce in restrictive practices. More robust labour management recently is the result of greater exposure to market forces. This explanation is rejected because BR was exposed to competitive pressures before the Thatcher era, and because there is no simple relationship between market forces and managerial actions. Instead political uncertainty is the primary determinant of the state of industrial relations. In the 1970s British Rail management and unions formed a ‘tacit alliance’ to limit the potential damage of government interventions. This alliance has broken down in the 1980s not primarily because of market pressures but because government interventions have become more explicitly concerned with industrial relations.

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