Colin Barker Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Colin Barker

Industrial Disputes

(October 1969)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.40, October/November 1969, p.41.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Industrial Disputes: Essays in the Sociology of Industrial Relations
J.E.T. Eldridge
Routledge and Kegan Paul, 40s

‘The strategic long-term concerns of the players on the industrial relations stage are no doubt to identify and sustain the areas of common agreement and to regulate the areas of disagreement.’

This conception, although not stated until the very end of his book, underlies the whole of Eldridge’s collection of essays.

This is not to say that the book is not useful, though perhaps less to socialists than to sociologists. In general the tone and approach is ‘realist’ rather than hortatory, which makes a pleasant change in this area. And some of the empirical materiaj is interesting – especially that on demarcation disputes in shipbuilding.

Generally, in his account of ‘industrial relations’, the emphasis falls heavily on the official postures adopted by the participants (especially the trade unions), and on a restricted area. Even allowing for a bias inherent in his material (drawn largely from the north-east of England) there is too much emphasis on such matters as demarcation disputes, and much less on such things as wage drift, conflicts over discipline and control, etc.

And the relevance of the ‘sociological’ references is often doubtful. In common with other contemporary sociologists, Eldridge often describes a particular event or relationship, and then ‘generalises’ it by citing some general dictum of a sociologist of the functionalist school (e.g., Coser) as if this provided some additional enlightenment. These dicta rarely, in fact, add much if anything to the data themselves.

Perhaps the most useful section is a review of the literature on strike explanations. This is flawed, however, by a very significant gap. The underlying social relation between employer and worker, the employment ‘contract’ itself, is not discussed. Put another way, there is no account of the Marxist contribution.

All in all, the book represents a useful, if limited gloss on the still much more useful, if dated, Strikes by Knowles.

Colin Barker Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 23.2.2008