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Colin Barker

Cardboard Play

(Winter 1966/67)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.27, Winter 1966/67, p.34.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Industrial Relations in Engineering
A. Marsh
Pergamon, 30s

A Collection of Teaching Documents and Case Studies
A. Marsh
Pergamon, 15s

As a reference work, the first of these two volumes is a useful book to have on the shelf. But as an account of what goes on in the British engineering industry, it is not the book we’ve all been waiting for. ‘Industrial relations’ here is a formalised system of rules. No persons with contradictory purposes and views ever creep in, in anything but the most abstract way; none of the trade unionists here could ever have shouted ‘Pigface’ at Ray Gunter in Brighton – or if they had it would have had no relevance for this self-sealed universe. For the Oxford industrial relations school, sociology and social history might as well have never existed. But the book is invaluable as a dull but reliable account of the rules that everyone breaks. The more expensive volume is intended as a textbook for teaching ‘industrial relations’ to trade unionists; the cheaper one is a collection of ‘case studies’ etc. around which to organise class discussion. These classes must be tedious affairs, at least if the stewards who act as students for Marsh and his colleagues stay within the narrow frame of reference here proposed. Certainly no one could recognise himself in this distorting mirror: ‘industrial relations’ here is a parcelled puppet game, without sense or purpose, a set of unfilled roles operating paper constitutions.

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