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Colin Barker

Industrial Relations

(June 1976)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.89, June 1976, p.24.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Industrial Relations: A Marxist Introduction
Richard Hyman
Macmillan, £7.95 (cloth); £3.95 (paper)

Social Values and Industrial Relations: A Study of Fairness and Inequality
Richard Hyman and Ian Brough
Blackwell, £2.95 (paper).

Richard Hyman has written (and collaborated with Ian Brough on) two Marxist textbooks of considerable merit. ‘Marxist textbooks’ is a curious phrase, but unavoidable. Both of these books are bursting with references, often to very bourgeois academic writers. Both books set out to confront, systematically, an enormous corpus of ideas and information deriving, mainly, from the often convoluted (and reactionary) tongues of academic ‘experts’ on industrial relations, sociology, economics and the like. Both books are organised around a confrontation with ruling academic orthodoxies, and arrive at revolutionary Marxist conclusions. There is no question that both books are considerable achievements. The comprehensiveness of their coverage of the academic literature is positively terrifying. Their use of academic material to confront academic material, of abstraction to hammer abstraction, is precise and revealing.

The first volume is rather more accessible to the general reader. It sets out to provide a Marxist introduction to the main factors affecting ‘industrial relations’, especially in Britain. Some parts are particularly good: e.g. the chapter on ideology and the state. Socialist teachers who get stuck with having to lecture to ‘Business Studies’ courses and the like will find the book invaluable, both for its fullness and for its clarity of organisation.

The second work, by Hyman and Brough, is devoted to the study of ideology, of the complexities of the ways in which workers and others view problems of ‘fairness’ and ‘inequality’ in capitalist industry and capitalist society generally. It is if anything even more comprehensive than the first book.

Both works will, regrettably, find an audience almost entirely amongst a narrow band of ‘academic Marxists’, i.e. among those who can handle the difficulties of the mode of expression. I say regrettably, since the ideas elaborated by academics in ponderous prose are also ideas which – in different linguistic forms – form part of everyday argument and ‘commonsense’. It is, after all, not only Professors of Industrial Relations (whose chairs are often funded by large capitalist concerns) who pontificate uncritically about ‘the national interest’ and the like: so do every socialist’s workmates. To have the arguments developed in these books translated, as it were, into a different kind of discourse, into jokes, cartoons, stories, illustrative arguments and the like, would be to add considerably to the stock of socialist popular literature.

Any reader willing to make the effort will gain much of value here – but not without effort. This is not to denigrate either book. Such a work of confrontation with the systematic mystifications of bourgeois thought is a vital task, and one performed here with exceptional ability. But it does leave us with the job of turning the wealth of ideas into forms that can speak to millions rather than hundreds. But, then, who wants to see a Rock version of The Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right ...?

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Last updated: 16.3.2008