Industrial Relations

views updated May 18 2018

Industrial Relations










Industrial psychology is rapidly becoming multi-disciplinary, international, and accepted as an essential ingredient for decision making by the new managers of the business world. Problems related to industrial psychology cover a wide range, from the communication aspects of international road signs (Krampen 1961) to the cross-cultural studies of the attitudes of managers (Haire et al. 1963). Not only has industry become a place to apply the findings of experimental, clinical, and social psychology; it also provides the office, the plant, and the laboratories of research and development for the study of the needs and achievements of human beings (Gilmer 1961; Marcus-Steiff 1961).

Who is the industrial psychologist? Traditionally, he has been a person trained in experimental psychology who worked with business enterprises; but as his roles have expanded, it is becoming harder to distinguish him from the clinician, the sociologist, or, in some respects, the industrial engineer. He may be thought of as that behavioral scientist who attempts to bring into focus the classical problems of the personnel man, the social aspects of human relations, and the new and difficult human problems caused by the inescapable confrontation of men and machines.

What does the psychologist in industry do? As a researcher, he designs and validates selection tests, studies the relationships between individual personalities and organizational climates, and works on an interdisciplinary team in analyzing the human factors in systems (Forehand & Gilmer 1964; Gagne 1962). As a staff specialist, he advises the industrial relations department on the company’s pending contract negotiations with the union or designs a study to determine the buying habits of the suburban housewife. During one hour, the industrial psychologist may be discussing learning theory with the training director who has become interested in teaching machines; during the next hour, he may be participating in a conference on a morale survey to be conducted in an out-of-town plant. And the staff psychologist may finish the day conferring with the company psychiatrist and the safety director on accident prevention.

The development of industrial psychology

Industrial psychology began in the early 1900s, in the United States (Ferguson 1963—) with research and application on selection, training, and vocational guidance, and in England (Farmer 1958) on what soon became known as occupational psychology. A new era of industrial social psychology started around 1925, and during and following World War II industrial psychology became international in scope as the emphasis shifted to the study of people in groups and to the way in which culture is related to individual differences. Whereas the former concentration was on the efficiency of the worker, emphasis now began to be placed on studies of leadership and communication and on the human problems involved in man-machine systems. By 1960, industrial mental-health programs began to open up to the psychologist.

At the close of World War II, international lists of psychologists indicated that only a few were employed in industry. Two decades later, full-time industrial psychologists number several thousand, and many more of them function in part-time or full-time consulting capacities. One index of the present scope of industrial psychology can be seen by the attendance of professionals from several continents at the meetings of the International Congress of Applied Psychology. Papers presented include problems of absenteeism, marketing, evaluation, counseling, and work efficiency; problems of criteria, equipment design, and incentive schemes; and a host of problems related to communication and leadership.

Industrial psychologists’ changing roles

Traditional organizational theory, which described the layout of jobs and how workers should perform their tasks, largely ignored man’s psychological life. The early “scientific managers” made the erroneous assumptions that people on the job try to satisfy only physical and economic needs, that there is automatically a similarity of goals among members of the organization, and that people try rationally to seek the best solution to a problem.

With the beginning of mass production, the assembly worker began to lose whatever independence he had had. He was told what his work was, and how and when to do it. Gradually, as industrial organizations moved toward participative management, the worker had someone else to plan for him. With the coming of information technology in the late 1950s, and the many aspects of automation in general, it appears that the man in middle management may himself be pushed down in importance, separating the production worker still further from the rest of the organization. Even the top executive is being forced by automation to do more “systems thinking.” Such technological advancements, epitomized by the high-speed computer, are bringing on new types of human problems and offering new horizons for behavioral science research (Green 1963).

With a growing acceleration in technology—it is estimated that of all of the scientists and engineers who have lived since the beginning of time, most are working today—human problems are expanding. New ideas are coming from mathematicians, engineers, and a host of social scientists, dealing with problems of operations analysis, social environments, informal organizations, work groups, communication, and decision making. They involve problems of methodology, power structure, and innovation and change. Thus, to the traditional areas of personnel and industrial social psychology is being added a new dimension called organizational psychology (Leavitt & Bass 1964). The new industrial psychology is concerned with four relationships of man as he functions in industry: between person and person, between person and group, between person and object, and between man and his inner self.

This discussion will continue with a view of organizational environments, followed by the more classical areas of personnel psychology. There is a section that deals with men and machines, including physical environments, performance appraisal, accidents, engineering psychology, and the place of the human factors analyst. Another section deals with the problems of individual adjustments to work situations. The final section discusses the trends of industrial psychology, which is becoming more international in scope.

Organizational environments

For the most part, we can consider that the anatomy of the modern company is made up of both physical and psychological structures. Although there is no typical industry and no cultural pattern is common to all business enterprises, most companies can be described in terms of variations of line and staff organizations, hierarchies of responsibility, and size. Labor unions as physical structures do not differ very much from management organizations, but in power structure and goals they differ extensively. Although the physical structures of organizations are closely related to psychological structure, the descriptions here will be confined to the psychological structure. The modern corporation has become more than an efficient form of organizing large-scale production and distribution; it has become a community within the community, manifesting a genuine social structure of its own.

The informal organizations

The informal organization of the modern company has been called various names: the setup, the system, the ropes, or our way of doing things. It may result from friendships, car pools, nearness of work places, community interests, union associations, personality likes and dislikes, or even the association of those who have only the single bond of self-defense. Basically, it is a tissue of relationships that are never static; these are revealed through symbols, subtle permissions, and even taboos. The corporate image so carefully cultivated by public relations may be vastly different from the power and status structure as seen from within. Decision control may formally be specified in terms of hierarchical structure.

The industrial psychologist is distinguished from his colleagues in other branches of the discipline by the setting in which he works. Since the industrial psychologist is concerned with the interaction between the individual and his environment, he is close to the theories and techniques employed by other social scientists.

The sociogram has proved to be a practical instrument for taking a graphic look at informal communication in terms of leadership structure, helping the industrial psychologist to identify cliques, isolates, and mutual admiration societies [seesociometry]. To a large extent, the many studies of informal organizations have as a common denominator the problem of ego identification. Many employees in industry are being deprived of the sense of doing interesting, significant work. Increasing supervisory pressure to maintain production often creates resistance. Out of studies on worry, work maladjustments, and the other unanticipated behaviors there have come planned programs of counseling, job enlargement, and job rotation for the worker, as well as better selection and training of the foreman and a restructuring of his job. Attention is also being given to the adjustment of the man in middle management, the executive, and the professional staff man of the industrial organization. It is at these higher levels that industrial psychologists are beginning to do research related to climates within organizations.

Psychological climates

As Gellerman (1960) pointed out, the personalities of companies cannot be neatly categorized; each one is unique. This orientation has given modern emphasis to an old problem described by philosophers, playwrights, and novelists and now recognized by modern-day managers who speak of environmental factors, leadership climates, and the “shadow of the organization.”

The range of climate studies includes diverse organizations. For example, one study concludes that hotel environments vary along such dimensions as size, local culture, economic competition, sensitivity to criticism, sophistication of clients, attitude toward tourists, and the current pattern of acceptability. University climates have been described as manifesting differing “cultures”—collegiate, vocational, academic, and nonconformist. Military and governmental organizations, as well as business firms, are being studied along such scales as autocratic-permissive and conservative-liberal. Many of these analyses have been informal and descriptive, but an increasing number of studies attempt to measure organizational climate and its effects (Forehand & Gilmer 1964).

Some researches focus on how companies vary in size, structure, systems complexity, leadership patterns, and goal directions. They lead to hypotheses concerning personality groupings within the organization. Within the same company, one department in which the important individuals are “people-oriented” may differ greatly from another in which influence is from those who are “system-oriented.” Although one may not wish to place people into rigid categories, their behaviors do differ, and some types of people fit into a given organization better than others. For example, the large organization provides a more sympathetic work place for the upward-mobile person (who is less critical of some of the values that lead to success) than for the type of individual who wishes to escape through indifference or for the person who contests the status quo (who wants change for the sake of change).

The marketing influence

Three factors have contributed to the growth of the modern industrial complex: mass production, research and development, and marketing. The following sections will discuss the human factors related to production, research, and development, including a brief discussion of the human aspects of marketing and distribution.

One world-wide corporation made a study to determine in detail the structures of high-level policy decisions and concluded that in terms of influence, if not control, sales held a ranking position. The psychologist in the marketing area is a member of a team involved in several diverse but interdependent activities—advertising, selling, sales promotion, customer service, public relations, and market research. Special attention is being given to consumer attitudes and to various aspects of economic psychology.

A review of the role of the psychologist in marketing concludes that his problems are expanding (Guest 1962). Psychologists continue to occupy important staff positions in marketing departments in business organizations, in consumer research companies and advertising agencies, and as private consultants. They contribute knowledge of method in sampling, in experimental and correlational designs, and in questionnaire construction; and they have been the originators and major proponents in the uses of projective and other techniques for exploration of the substrata of human motives. They are giving increasing attention to perceptual, cognitive, and learning factors in advertising and selling.

Personnel psychology

Psychologists in industry, although often dealing with a wide range of personnel problems, have tended to cluster into specialties, such as selection and training. The industrial psychologist, whether he is concerned with general problems or plays the role of critic and of problem solver in some specific work situation, usually works within restricted limits. These limits may be prescribed by budget, management policy, or union practices. Occasionally, he may have the time, energy, facility, and support to perform experiments. He is often called upon to give advice based on his knowledge of general principles of psychology or on personal observations and wisdom. Let us consider some of his specialties.


The development of psychological tests, and the consequent quantitative investigation of relationships between human abilities and various criteria for behavior, represents one of the outstanding achievements of the social sciences to date. Problems in selection and classification range widely, from the comparatively simple determination of the potential abilities of a lathe operator to the multidimensional problem of predicting executive success. Personnel selection may utilize tests of intelligence, special aptitudes, achievement, or personality and usually includes the use of application blanks, references, biographical and interpersonal data, and interviews.

It is common to use short intelligence tests, developed specifically for screening industrial personnel, to predict performance in training, job proficiency, job turnover, and promotion potential. At higher levels, more extensive tests are used in the selection of creative talent. Custom-made tests designed for a particular job may be used in the measurement of special aptitudes, such as mechanical comprehension, clerical aptitude, and motor skills. Achievement tests are used as measures of current proficiency related to some experience or training or as predictors of subsequent performance. Personality tests used in personnel selection include measures of interest, personality inventories, projective techniques, and situational tests closely approximating actual work samples. Psychological measurement has developed extensively in recent years and, despite the opinions of some critics, is providing the most useful tools available in developing adequate solutions to the selection problem.

By its very nature, research with personnel-selection devices is almost always actuarial. Practicing psychologists are now finding that the sophisticated industrialist realizes that selection is a continuing process. Selection not only takes place when a person is first hired but whenever he is promoted, transferred, or reassigned. The precision of selection procedures, whether for initial hiring or for training programs, is influenced by the adequacy of manpower supply (Guion 1965).

Training and education

“Training,” in the industrial context, means the teaching of specific skills, such as instruction given to an operator in the running of a grinding machine. “Education” refers to a broader type of teaching in which knowledge is related to future situations, such as instructions given in business schools to executive trainees. Industry is now in the process of upgrading training departments to include both. At the supervisory level, for example, it is necessary to combine training in the specifics of handling problems in safety, discipline, and cost control with education that would involve thinking ahead and broadening the base for individual learning.

Psychologists are becoming more involved in training. Technological advancement means that men must be trained not only for an immediate job but also for possible conversion to other or future jobs. Special attention must be given to automated plants in which one error may be too many. Not only can psychologists offer learning theory to industry, but they can also offer much in the way of practical findings from military situations. For example, the Human Resources Research Office of George Washington University has a number of prototype training “packages” for tank crews, for missile operations, and for high-level leadership. This involves analysis of a given system and of a given job, and the development of proficiency tests to determine what skills and knowledge are needed to perform a task. These are transformed into training objectives, which are supplemented by appropriate materials and finally evaluated in the practical setting.

There are many ways in which the psychologist can be of aid to the training director—in waste reduction, conference leadership, and evaluation, to name a few. He is also of help in providing the director, the supervisor, and top management with generalized information on behavior, which is so vital to the understanding of human problems in general and learning problems specifically—problems of criteria and performance appraisal, how goals are related to learning, massed versus spaced practice, reinforcement, and programmed learning. And he helps structure the appropriate climate to motivate learning.

Motivation and work

Industry has made much progress in helping both the worker and the manager satisfy some economic and physical needs. Progress, however, has been slower in other respects, such as in helping the man feel that he belongs, that he has the opportunity to measure up to his own ambitions. There are two main reasons for this retardation: (1) with the growth in the size of many organizations, people are finding it increasingly difficult to get individual satisfaction from the work situation, and (2) what a man needs from his job changes with time and circumstances. In youth, men look more for opportunity; they want and expect challenge, for herein lies the path to recognition. In older men, change is often unwelcome, even resisted, and competition is shunned because few have the stamina to keep up the pace. Even the successful middle-aged man has his problems of need satisfaction, often displaying aggression toward his job and his family as he examines success and failure in terms of previous goals.

That the industrial psychologist has long been aware of the problems of job satisfaction is witnessed by the fact that over two thousand research publications have dealt with the problems of industrial morale, job-factor comparisons, attitudes and productivity, and need variations within individuals and across groups. To some, these problems are near the heart of industrial psychology.

In a book-length summary (Vroom 1964), an attempt was made to reduce the gap between applied and basic research. Vroom has explored the seldom-treated conceptual and theoretical underpinnings of industrial psychology and has analyzed such diverse problems as occupational choice, the determinants of job satisfaction, the relationship between these and performance, and the role of ability and motivation in work performance in terms of a conceptual model of human behavior. The book contains an extensive review of the literature of studies from the laboratory and from within industrial settings.

Supervision and leadership

The emphasis on human relations in industry became most pronounced following World War II and centered primarily on the first-line supervisor. Research in the area had its beginnings some two decades earlier with the classical Hawthorne studies (Roethlis-berger & Dickson 1939). Information on the nature of good supervisory practice has come in recent years from many sources and adds up to several generalizations. The more secure the foreman feels with his superiors, the greater is group productivity. More productivity comes from work groups in which (1) the supervisor assumes a leadership role, (2) there is a combination of emphasis on productivity and employee consideration, and (3) recognition for effort is given. In a series of studies, it was found that there was more efficient production when the supervisor could influence his superiors and used this power to help the workers achieve their goals. Good supervisory practices must be the concern at all levels of the organization, and the organizational climate is of prime importance. Leadership behavior is not a thing apart but is imbedded in a social setting. Human relations in supervision has become a focal point for many of the social aspects of the applications of psychology in industry (Kay & Palmer 1961).

Until recently, little research attention was devoted to executive leadership and development, but along with the upgrading of schools of business administration and the rise to power of the better-educated upward-mobile type of manager, psychologists and sociologists are finding their studies of the executive accepted.

From a variety of studies come the descriptions of successful high-level leadership as involving strong mobility drives, company orientation, and ability to make decisions, to organize, and to act independently. From studies of the motivations, goals, and attitudes of managers in a variety of countries, it was found that managers want the opportunity to use their talents, to realize themselves as individuals (Haire et al. 1963). Not unexpectedly, these researchers found the effects of cultural differences. The goals of Japanese and Norwegian managers, for example, may not be the same, but self-realization and autonomy are universally more important to managers than prestige, social satisfactions, and even security.

In giving a description of the executive, Ghiselli (1963) concluded that the individual with managerial talent is a gifted person and an unusual one. He has pointed out that this individual might well be ill fitted for other kinds of activity, such as science, medicine, or politics. It has been shown that even the scientist may differ in his responses to organizational climates. The academic scientist is more likely to be professionally oriented, whereas the industrial scientist is organizationally oriented.

What is the “right environment” for leadership success? In studies made on an international basis in an oil corporation, a conclusion was reached that the same behaviors that lead to the firing of one manager may lead to a vice presidency in another climate. Research in industrial leadership is beginning to look at the characteristics of individuals and the way they relate to the characteristics of organizations in terms of group interactions, goals, inputs, outputs, function among members, hierarchies of structure, and reward systems.

Special groups

Whether or not the older person likes being classified as a “golden ager” or the blind employee wishes he could be treated like his sighted co-workers, people do find themselves falling into special groups, and industry must deal with them as such.

On the basis of studies made in many countries, there appears to be an almost universal prejudice against women in industry, from both labor and management points of view. The multiple roles played by women in our culture affect problems related to work, and industrial psychologists are becoming concerned with these problems. As research findings are helping to belie old myths, women are slowly being given more opportunity in industry. Even more progress is being made with the acceptance of the handicapped worker now that studies show that through adequate job analysis, measurement, training, and job orientation, most physically handicapped workers are economic assets, motivation being an important variable.

Automation is adding emphasis to another special group—the unemployed and the unemploy-ables. From studies by industrial psychiatrists, sociologists, and psychologists have come data showing that the degree to which unemployment affects the individual depends upon past experience, individual aspirations, socioeconomic class, community associations, age, sex, education, status, attitudes, resistance to change, personality, and the length of unemployment. Experience is also beginning to show that even the best programs of retraining may lead only to training for oblivion when technological advancement moves very rapidly.

A special group, increasing in numbers and influence, is currently receiving attention from both labor and management—the aging worker and manager. Industrial psychology is learning to answer certain questions: When does the man become unproductive? Have we been making the correct assumptions about age and creativity? How is personality related to retirement success? When should job decompression begin?

Findings from many studies of the aging person, reviewing his career development, are giving a new emphasis to the problems of mental health in industry, with consideration of the importance of the individual.

Men and machines

The problems of work efficiency, physical working conditions, evaluation of job performance, boredom, fatigue, and safety—long the traditional subject matter of industrial psychology—are now becoming organized within a framework of men and machines. The experimental psychologist has joined with the engineer in developing new machine systems. What is a system? How does man fit into it? How are the roles of the psychologist changing with automation? What can be done about the changing context of our human problems of work? These questions have only partial answers but are important to the new general industrial psychology.

The work environment

The principal contributions of psychologists in dealing with the problems of working efficiency have been methodological. Through their emphasis on experimental designs that control the effects of such factors as suggestion and attitude changes, it has been possible to develop at least some optimum levels of illumination, atmospheric conditions, noise control, and, more recently, weightlessness, confinement, and other factors related to space travel. Particular attention is being focused on the effects of certain extreme environmental conditions upon human performance. Psychologists have stimulated the investigation of individual differences in the effects of environmental variables (Anastasi 1964).

The industrial psychologist is interested in a wide range of problems at both the physical and mental levels: such physiological measures as blood pressure, oxygen consumption, and muscular responses, and such psychological indexes as fatigue, tiredness, boredom, and the effects of rest. The reader may appreciate the complexity of these “simple problems” by trying to determine what criteria can be used in devising a “comfort index” for clothing, a problem so far unsolved.

Performance appraisal

The analysis of the work of a typist, for example, may be thought of in terms of the typist’s job itself, or in terms of the typed letter as an end product, or in terms of what the person does in typing the letter. Whether an analysis of the job, product, or man is involved, the psychologist is interested in helping to make evaluations, because they impinge upon so many things—personnel requirements, training content, job efficiency, wage rates, ratings for promotion, and production control. Evaluation, then, is being given increasing attention, whether at the level of time and motion study, merit rating, or the appraisal of executive decision making. Evaluation in industry is a problem as difficult, in some respects, as the measurement of “good teaching,” and it sometimes carries with it the same emotional impact and resistance of those concerned.

Accidents and safety

Accident prevention, long looked upon as an engineering problem to be solved through the proper design of mechanical safety devices, is finally receiving attention as a behavior problem. The psychologist is interested in the interaction between unsafe acts and unsafe conditions, and in the relation of accidents to time of day, to job operation, and to cause-and-effect information. He has obtained data that question the assumptions that intelligence is related to accident occurrence and that injury is the result of accident proneness. There are researches that deal with problems of sensory defects and muscular coordination, motor and perceptual speed, fatigue, adjustment to stress, physical working conditions, and the effects of experience on accidents. Personality factors are being studied, and more recently the psychological climate of the workplace has been given attention. Complementary theories are beginning to emerge that should assist industry not only to escape the defeatism caused by an oversimplification of the problem but also to develop programs of accident prevention and to devise better techniques in motivating safety.

Engineering psychology and systems

The coming of age of a systematic conception of the application of psychological principles to the invention, development, and use of complex man-machine systems can be dated as the early 1960s (Gagné 1962). The driver and his horse and buggy constitute a system, as does the Bell Telephone Company, but in the context here the systems concept can be considered as a way of putting the man and the machine on even terms, no matter how complicated their relationship may be. The system is bigger than the sum of the elements that compose it, involving “inputs,” “control,” and “outputs.”

The psychologist here has an interest in the human operator—how he perceives, interprets, and acts. He is interested in the channels of communication and how they can become overloaded, in the part redundancy plays in conveying information, and how information gets processed into perceptions, judgments, and decisions. He is also interested in the study of motor skills and reaction times in the interpretation of errors, as well as in the problems of automation.

For the industrial psychologist the problems are expanding, and in the role of the “human factors specialist” he must work with others, sometimes on a team with members as diverse as engineers, mathematicians, production specialists, and accountants. In research or development, the psychologist who follows the “systems approach” may become engaged in a wide variety of problems ranging from equipment design to the mapping of a human factors subsystem for the establishment of a new processing plant or organizational change. The systems psychologist must be creative and must have the ability to deal effectively with interrelationships between people and work environments and the processes whereby they interact.

The individual

Industrial psychology deals with the individual—how he behaves in small and in large groups, how he reacts to change, and how he responds in general to the organizational climate. Concern is given to personal aspirations and to the conflicts that arise when the work situation is not conducive to the satisfaction of individual needs, as well as to the ways in which organizations help or fail to help an individual to know how anxieties may improve or distort his perception of the company.

In studying the basis for career planning, industrial psychologists have considered generalizations about people and jobs, ranging from adolescent identifications that play a part in shaping vocational interests to what is involved in self-development. It also involves problems of criteria of success, upward mobility, technical obsolescence, and job change, as well as the ways in which levels of aspiration are related to abilities and to individual stress levels. Both the cognitive and the feeling approaches are important for understanding alternatives in personal aspirations, in the development of personal skills, and in the patterns of career survival.

Mental health in industry involves studies of absenteeism, alcoholism, grievances, and emotional disorders; dissatisfaction caused by pressure, frustration, and conflict; the defensive behaviors of individuals, which result in aggressive reactions, withdrawal reactions, and compromise reactions; and other behaviors commonly found among people in general. The industrial psychologist is concerned with providing some understanding of why people behave as they do, but he has no nostrums, panaceas, or gimmicks to offer an industrial society.


Researches in the area of general industrial psychology are published in several places: some in the professional journals of business, education, and sociology; a few in publications devoted mainly to engineering and medicine; but most in psychology journals, about two dozen of them North American, the remaining few world-wide. Textbooks in the field reflect a trend away from technology and toward more general coverage; most are published in English, some through translation. Although in volume most articles in the general area of industrial psychology are found in U.S. publications, many of the researches have come from world-wide sources.

In research, there appear to be trends toward intercultural studies and toward investigations of the interrelations between situational variables and personal characteristics; in addition, economic psychology is beginning to emerge, taking its place beside the new organizational psychology. No doubt the computer specialists, interested in decision-making processes and systems, will help expand the influence of psychology to higher levels of management. Some writers predict that industrial psychology, which began when the businessman asked for help from the academic psychologist and has remained to answer all kinds of practical problems, may venture forth with suggestions and proposals for new organizational theories. Human problems in industry will receive more attention as technological advancements and the increasing size of organizations give renewed emphasis to the needs of the individual. As industrial psychology approaches its seventh decade, the trend continues—people are important.

B. von haller gilmer

[Other relevant material may be found inautomation; Engineering Psychology; Leadership; Organizations; Sociometry.]


The classical areas are covered by the Journal of Applied Psychology; Industrial Psychology; Personnel; Centre d’ Études et Psychologiques, Bulletin; Occupational Psychology; South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, National Institute for Personnel Research, Journal; and Personnel Psychology. Human relations trends can be traced through such journals as Human Organization and Journal of Social Issues. Articles on human factors in systems may be found in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, in Ergonomics, and in the Hitotsubashi Journal of Commerce and Management. Organizational psychology is discussed in Management Science; Behavioral Science; Management International; Harvard Business Review; and other business school journals. General trends are reviewed in the American Psychologist; yearly reviews of materials on industrial psychology appear in the Annual Review of Psychology.

American Psychologist. → Published since 1946 by the American Psychological Association.

Anastasi, Anne 1964 Fields of Applied Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Annual Review of Psychology. → Published since 1950.

Behavioral Science. → Published quarterly since 1956 by the Mental Health Research Institute, University of Michigan.

Centre d' Etudes et Recherches PsychologiquesBulletin. → Published since 1951.

Ergonomics. → Published since 1957 by the Ergonomics Research Society.

Farmer, Eric 1958 Early Days in Industrial Psychology: An Autobiographical Note. Occupational Psychology 32:264-267.

Ferguson, Leonard W. 1963—The Heritage of Industrial Psychology. Hartford, Conn.: Finlay. → A multi-volume series in progress.

Forehand, G. A.; and gilmer, B. von haller 1964 Environmental Variation in Studies of Organizational Behavior. Psychological Bulletin 62:361-382.

GagnÉ, Robert M. (editor) 1962 Psychological Principles in System Development. New York: Holt.

Gellerman, Saul W. 1960 People, Problems and Profits. New york: McGraw-Hill.

Ghiselli, Edwin E. 1963 Managerial Talent. American Psychologist 18:631-642.

Gilmer, B. Von haller (1961) 1966 Industrial Psychology. 2d ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Green, bert F. Jr.1963 Digital Computers in Research? An Introduction for Behavioral and Social Scientists. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Guest, Lester 1962 Consumer Analysis. Annual Review of Psychology 13:315-344.

Guion, Robert M. 1965 Personnel Testing. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Haire, Mason; Ghiselli, E. E.; and Porter, L. W. 1963 Cultural Patterns in the Role of the Manager. Industrial Relations 2, no. 2:95-117.

Harvard Business Review. → Published since 1922 by the Graduate School of Business Administration, Harvard University.

Hitotsubashi Journal of Commerce and Management. → Published since 1961 by Hitotsubashi University.

Human Organization. → Published since 1941 by the Society for Applied Anthropology.

Journal of Applied Psychology. → Published since 1917 by the American Psychological Association.

Journal of Experimental Psychology. → Published since 1916 by the American Psychological Association.

Journal of Social Issues. → Published since 1945 by the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.

Kay, Brian R.; and palmer, stuart 1961 The Challenge of Supervision. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Krampen, M. 1961 Storia dei segnali stradali. Stile in-dustria (Milan) 32:23-34.

Leavitt, Harold J. 1962 Management According to Task: Organizational Differentiation. Management International 2, no. 1:13-22.

leavitt, Harold J.; and Bass, Bernard 1964 Organizational Psychology. Annual Review of Psychology 15: 371-398.

Management International. → Published since 1961.

Management Science. → Published since 1954 by the Institute of Management Sciences.

Marcus-steiff, Joachim 1961 Les études de motivation. Paris: Hermann.

Occupational Psychology. → Published since 1922 by the National Institute of Industrial Psychology.

Personnel. → Published since 1919 by the American Management Association.

Personnel Psychology. → Published since 1948.

Roethlisberger, Fritz J.; and Dickson, William J. (1939) 1961 Management and the Worker: An Account of a Research Program Conducted by the Western Electric Company, Hawthorne Works, Chicago. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1964 by Wiley.

South African Council for Scientific and Industrial ResearchJournal. → Published irregularly from 1948 to 1961.

Vroom, Victor H. 1964 Work and Motivation. New York: Wiley.


Sociology has a long tradition behind it, but as a science it is of recent origin. In the course of establishing its scientific credentials it has continually improved its methodology and refined its conceptual apparatus; this process has inevitably confronted it with new areas for study. In particular, sociological research has applied itself to the phenomenon of work and to the various aspects of industrial society or society in process of industrialization. The result has been the emergence of the sociology of work (sociologie du travail)—a designation which, as used by French sociologists, has a rather broader application than the Anglo-American “industrial sociology.”

No formal definition could do justice to the great variety of concerns that are usually listed under this head. A systematic account of the sociology of work, one that would outline its main dimensions and demonstrate its connections with neighboring fields, would require a theoretical framework that sociology does not yet possess, although some progress has been made in this direction. Thus Etzioni (1958), using a Parsonian frame of reference, has defined industrial sociology as a branch of organizational sociology; but this definition seems too restrictive in view of the range of problems usually dealt with by the sociology of work. For lack of a general theoretical framework we are forced to fall back on a rule-of-thumb definition : the sociology of work is the study, in all its varied aspects, of work as a human activity and of all the social institutions that arise for its sake (Friedmann & Naville 1961-1962). Such a definition has the advantage of highlighting the complex nature of work and of showing how its different manifestations are bound up with each other. On the other hand, it is not a definition that leads to a systematic or intuitively satisfying classification of the problems actually studied. Other definitions of the sociology of work, such as those of Miller and Form (1951) and Schneider (1957), are still broader in scope, and it will be noted that their authors organize their coverage of the topic in ways quite different from that attempted here.

What is work? But what does “work” really signify? One long-standing tradition of inquiry seeks to define work in terms of the dynamic relationship between man and nature. Marx, for instance, saw work as being essentially man’s transformation, through technology, of his natural environment, which reacts in turn by modifying man’s own nature. Against this, one can argue that the activity of man in industrial society no longer has much in common with that of the earlier Homo faber, since it is no longer bound to be either rural or industrial. This is because, with the development of the so-called tertiary sector of the economy, and the accompanying increase in managerial and administrative tasks, work often means the action of man upon man (or upon groups, or even the larger society) instead of upon a nonhuman environment.

Other writers have sought to formulate a definition of work based on the economic necessities that underlie it. They argue that the function of work was originally the satisfaction of elementary human needs; in industrial society, however, men work in order to obtain the wherewithal to satisfy a range of needs that is constantly expanding. Since the reward of work is no longer the direct satisfaction of needs, but the financial means by which they may be satisfied, to work implies a certain economic dependence which, since its nature varies, offers a basis for distinguishing between work activities according to whether they are wage-earning, self-employed, etc. The problems of social justice generated by industrialization—problems that have been, and continue to be, the focus of much controversy—impelled many social philosophers to take up the related problem of work. The stream of thought that resulted has been responsible in large part for the emergence of the sociology of work.

This is not the place to pursue these definitions of work in greater detail. It should, however, be noted that a word of caution is in order when dealing with general definitions that lack any base in history, sociology, ethnography, or economics. Definitions of work that take into account neither the variety of concrete forms it may assume in different societies, cultures, and civilizations nor the various ways in which it forms part of the life and experience of those who perform it cannot help but lead to a scientific dead end.

In actual fact, work undergoes the same evolutions and transformations that societies do; it is therefore hardly surprising that the sociology of work, which is concerned with depicting this process, should undergo corresponding changes in both scope and content. To be more specific, technological transformations such as the mechanization of agriculture, the introduction of computers for administrative and commercial purposes, the various advances in transportation, and so forth, have all combined to give a new and rapidly expanding meaning to the very concept of industry. The term “industrial sociology” reflects these developments, as does the somewhat forced extension of its meaning by which it has come to include studies of nonindustrial institutions or even of industrial civilization in general. From this perspective, the “sociology of work” is a much clearer expression. But, from a different point of view, it embraces a wider field, for it cannot be denied that hospitals, schools, and universities—to name only a few examples—contain permanent work forces. It may be asked whether these are really work institutions (collecti-vités de travail). But the conclusion seems unavoidable that they are, even if the functions of these organizations are not purely economic. The industrial sociologist holds no monopoly on the study of such institutions; his way of approaching a problem is different from but compatible with that of the educational sociologist, for example, or the sociologist of organizations. Here, the fluid boundaries of the sociology of work can no longer be explained by the changing nature of society but, rather, by the development of sociology itself, the provisional quality of its conceptual tools, and the newness of the territory that it explores. Because sociology lacks a theoretical framework to divide it into specific fields, encroachment of one sociological specialty upon the domain of another is unavoidable. But we should not take alarm at this: from a rela-tivistic point of view, encroachment of this kind is perfectly legitimate.

Accordingly, it seems that the best way of giving an intelligible account of the sociology of work is to review the main questions with which it has been concerned and the results that it has obtained. But first a brief historical account of its development will be necessary.

Origins of the sociology of work

It is now generally admitted that the origins of the sociology of work can be traced to the monumental series of experiments conducted by Elton Mayo and his Harvard colleagues at the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Company (for a description of the state of research, both psychological and physiological, into the work process at the time when Mayo began his experiments, see Friedman 1946; Madge 1962, pp. 162-166 in 1963 edition).

In 1927 the management of this important factory invited Mayo to come and study the variations in its workers’ output. The management had already begun to study the effect on output of lighting workshops at different levels of intensity and had obtained some results that it found itself quite unable to explain. Mayo’s study took over five years (for an account, see Roethlisberger & Dickson 1939). The first stage was taken up with scrupulous measurement of the output of five female operatives engaged in the assembly of telephone relays. The operatives’ consent to this measurement was obtained, and their working conditions were the same as those in the main workshop, except that they were in a room apart from the other workers. During this whole period, Mayo systematically varied the working conditions of these five operatives in such respects as the number and duration of their rest periods and coffee breaks, as well as their total hours of work.

The results were disconcerting: there was definitely a steady increase in output, but there were also fluctuations in output that appeared to have no connection with the variations in the environment or in working conditions. Even the abolition of certain privileges these operatives had been granted did not cause a decline in their level of production. On the contrary, the more production increased, the more positive became the girls’ attitude toward their work.

Mayo and his co-workers interpreted these results in terms of the group relations that had been established both among the workers themselves and between the workers and their supervisors. They believed that relations of trust and friendship had been established with these young workers to such a degree that, practically speaking, there was no longer any need to supervise them. In other words, the morale of these workers had improved as soon as they were no longer coerced or interrupted, and, at the same time, they had begun to produce more. The way was now open for the study of morale, supervision, and productivity.

The second stage of Mayo’s inquiry took the form of a series of nondirective interviews, the results of which confirmed his earlier conclusions. These interviews highlighted the importance of subjective factors but also brought out the fact that the workers’ participation in various groups outside the factory could have an adverse effect on productivity and morale inside the factory.

Nevertheless, these results encouraged Mayo to complete his study by a number of on-the-spot observations of groups inside the factory. During this third stage observers were placed in a workshop where the usual working conditions of the factory were in force, with a view to studying, on a day-today basis, both the individual workers and their relations with each other. Thus the earlier interviews were complemented by direct observation of behavior. The observers very soon discovered the existence of various restrictive practices and curbs on production, even though the workers were paid according to how much they produced (restriction of output has since been much studied—see, for example, Roy 1952; Durand 1959a; a general discussion of the role of financial incentives can be found in Whyte et al. 1955). Each worker’s level of production was informally determined by the group, which turned out to have a life of its own, complete with customs, norms, and a system of social control that was most effective in exacting conformity to its rules. This “informal organization” of the group could therefore set itself up in tacit opposition to managerial expectations; it protected the workers against outside interference as well as against indiscretion within their own ranks.

Accordingly, this series of experiments led to the “discovery” of the importance of the work group and of social relations in factory life. Although it may be conceded that, compared with developments in sociological theory during the same period, the Hawthorne experiments did not amount to any genuine scientific discovery, they did afford a scientific demonstration, in vivo, of the role of social groups.

Mayo’s inquiries stimulated much comment, as well as some violent criticism (see especially Kerr & Fisher 1957). But this criticism was directed more against the general philosophy of Mayo and his followers than against his empirical methods and results. Mayo did indeed believe that one of the tasks to which industry had been called in the modern world was to integrate the isolated, anomic individual into society by providing him with a harmonious social order in which it would be possible for him to find happiness (see, for instance, Mayo 1933; 1945). He thought that thanks to the social skills of management, such integration and harmony could be achieved and that, as a result, conflicts of interest would disappear (a savage criticism of the personnel policies inspired by this philosophy can be found in Wilensky & Wilensky 1951).

This ideology was abie to emerge because of the Hawthorne study’s main shortcoming: it allowed the company to remain as if in a social vacuum and gave no information whatsoever about the factory’s environment and the various economic and social bases of its existence (Friedmann 1946, pp. 301-323 in 1954 edition). It cannot be denied that the economic, social, and cultural environment of the factory had a certain influence on the behavior of its employees, but the authors of the study were far more interested in what was going on inside the factory.

Criticism of this kind should not make us forget the considerable stir created by the Hawthorne study. For instance, Madge (1962, pp. 208-209 in 1963 edition) is of the opinion that the study resulted in a number of methodological innovations that were very advanced by the standards of the time; among these he numbers the nondirective interview, content analysis, experimental design, and observation in a factory with the cooperation of both management and workers. The conclusions of Mayo and his co-workers completely upset the commonly held notions of how workers react to authority and how production can be stimulated. Instead, a social model of the worker was put forward to oppose the mechanistic, economic, and even psychological models then current. This social model installed the logic of human emotions side by side with the logic of costs or efficiency. After the Hawthorne experiments it had to be granted that an informal structure of social relations did exist behind the formal organizational structure and that numerous phenomena could not be explained on any other grounds.

The work of Kurt Lewin on group behavior ran parallel to that of Mayo and his school, although Lewin’s findings owed nothing to Mayo. In a famous experiment (Lewin et al. 1939) he demonstrated that in a boys’ club a democratic style of leadership was more effective in increasing both group productivity and satisfaction with work than either an authoritarian or a laissez-faire style. Lewin’s general approach is not far removed from Mayo’s: one finds the same sort of emphasis on the group and on interpersonal relations that is such a prominent feature of American culture in general. The meeting of these two currents of research, together with the sociocultural preoccupations of the wartime and postwar periods that followed, gave considerable impetus to research in the United States and elsewhere, and made possible the study of new problems [seeleadership]. It is to this research in new areas and its results that we must now turn.

Work groups and supervision

The literature on morale and productivity stems directly from the work of Mayo and his associates and represents by far the largest body of data on any topic in the field. But the importance of the results obtained is not proportionate to the number of studies published; indeed, the research too often merely confirms earlier work without adding anything to it.

The usual strategy of this type of research is to treat group supervision and styles of leadership as independent variables, mainly with a view to explaining rates of productivity and absenteeism. Other frequent objects of interest are turnover of personnel, industrial accidents, communication networks, union membership, work disputes, and the “go-slow” (i.e., voluntary restriction of output). Morale is seen as an intervening variable that mediates between these two classes of phenomena; it is an ambiguous concept, best described as a kind of sum total of all the satisfactions afforded to an individual by his belonging to an organization (see, for instance, Morse 1953). The meaning of “morale” is never defined systematically; it is a blanket term for all sorts of emotional states that should be specified in detail. Some attempts have been made to isolate its main dimensions, and it has become clear that the relations of a group of workers with each other and with their supervisors reflect only one aspect of work satisfactions.

It is known that morale varies with different styles of leadership; a work group that has a boss who allows his workers some autonomy, is careful of their feelings, and so on, will display higher work satisfaction, at least in the United States. Such leadership will also result in greater group cohesion, another source of work satisfaction (Kahn & Katz 1953; Seashore 1955), and will make it easier to introduce technological innovations (Coch & French 1948).

At first it was thought that a high level of morale always involves a high level of productivity, and conversely. However, even though this relation is the one most frequently encountered, later and more sophisticated research has shown that low morale can coexist with healthy productivity or high morale with impaired productivity. There is no lack of explanations that purport to account for such correlations: in the former case it may be that the group has been stimulated to produce by fear of punishment or of authoritarian leadership, while in the latter it may be that the group is a cohesive one, with goals of its own that interfere with production.

For those in search of a formula, these results are somewhat disappointing. Recent studies have served only to complicate the situation by specifying the conditions under which the relationship between morale (or its various dimensions) and productivity is positive or negative. Such studies, as we shall see, have been especially concerned with organizational structure—an emphasis that has arisen partly from the failure of, and consequent attempt to evaluate, company training programs in “human relations.” It is now realized that the individual work group does not exist in isolation ; the organization of which it forms part is its environment and cannot be overlooked. Thus, it has been found that a manager is not likely to follow a style of supervision that differs from the one used by his immediate superior—and so on, throughout the entire organizational hierarchy (Fleishman 1951; Mann 1951). Again, a foreman who runs his shop “by the book” will inspire high morale only if he has influence with management (Pelz 1952).

The sociology of organizations

Earlier sections of this article have shown how, in order to understand the behavior of workers, it is necessary to grasp the importance of certain social phenomena at the level of the work group and of the social relations implied by the group. But the business firm as a whole constitutes no less of a setting for the actions of its members; it is a social system in itself, with its own characteristics and requirements. It is along these lines that research into business firms and work institutions, qua organizations, has made rapid progress, so that it has now become one of the established approaches to the sociology of work. Each of the many studies undertaken in this direction has provided a springboard for further studies, until the field now known as the “sociology of organizations” has taken shape. Moreover, researchers in this field have been tempted into going beyond the traditional boundaries of the sociology of work and have carried their observations to noneconomic institutions such as prisons, churches, hospitals, universities, and voluntary associations. Thus a source of progress in this area has been the juxtaposition of data drawn from different types of institutions.

At this point it is probably best to digress briefly in order to define what is meant by “organization.” Research seems to show that organizations have five salient features; a network of statuses, circumscribed and defined within a whole, that are filled by replaceable individuals; an attitude of responsible role commitment on the part of the individuals who fill those statuses; specific goals toward which all the members of the organization are supposed to work; a stable and coordinated system of relations between statuses—in other words, a structure; and one or more centers of power for controlling the organization’s activities and guiding it toward the realization of its goals. In brief, although an organization chart may summarize organizational structure, it does not give an exhaustive description of an organization. It is also clear that unless a firm or institution assumes fairly considerable dimensions, it is not usually called an organization at all [seeorganizations,article ontheories of organizations].

One trend in the study of organizations is closely derived from the work of Mayo and the human relations school. This is the contrast that is often made between formal and informal organizational structure. By informal structure is meant the social relations that develop both parallel to and outside the relations laid down by the organization chart. Formal organization imposes constraints on individuals and groups through its distribution of statuses and authority. The most effective organization will be the one that can give most satisfaction to its members, since, by making the workers “happy” and by responding to their needs through giving them opportunities for participation in decision making (and other appropriate techniques of management and communication), it will make them both identify with and cooperate in fulfilling the organizational goals.

Somewhat in reaction to this school of thought, several authors have drawn attention to the formal structure of organizations (see Merton et al. 1952; Blau 1956; Blau & Scott 1962; Selznick 1957). In the tradition of Frederick Winslow Taylor and, above all, Max Weber, they have specified the conditions for the effectiveness of a rational, bureaucratic organization: perfect adaptation of means to ends, and the use of abstract and universal rules. In short, they provide a timely reminder that an organization must give priority to reaching the goals it has set itself (the supporters of Mayo and his school had indeed tended to neglect this limiting factor in their search for industrial harmony). This new emphasis on goals has given rise to much empirical analysis of organizational structure. For instance, the effects of centralization and decentralization on organizational effectiveness have been studied by Tannenbaum (1956a), who distinguishes two aspects of control—total amount and distribution—and then relates them to the effectiveness of organizations in attaining their goals.

But the ideal of bureaucratic organization is seldom realized because of interference from the human factor, which introduces an element of irrationality that shows itself in bureaucratic routine, inertia, and ritualism. Every new regulation or extension of authority designed to remove these sources of inefficiency only tends to aggravate the problem, and the organization continues to deviate from its original goals.

Some more recent studies (see, for instance, Foundation for Research …1959; Etzioni 1961a; 196b1; Crozier 1961; 1963) have attempted to combine formal and informal organization, or normal and dysfunctional behavior, within a single conceptual scheme. Contemporary theories of organization claim, in effect, to explain at the same time both conformity and nonconformity to the norms of rationality. But these norms do not guarantee organizational effectiveness. Neither individually conceived courses of action nor interpersonal relationships are necessarily alien or deviant when judged in terms of the formal organizational framework. Sometimes they may increase efficiency by making official relationships, such as that between superior and subordinate, both more flexible and less remote. They can also depend on more formal exchanges and make them more harmonious (see, for example, Gouldner 1954; Gross 1953).

For a long time, organizations were considered to be stable, closed systems; the question of organizational change was not raised at all. Increasingly, however, various authors are taking into consideration conflict that arises within the organization itself. The possible mechanisms of change are no longer confined to external stimuli; they are also to be found in the individual and collective strategies of members who seek power or who form centers of hard-core opposition to present policy (Crozier 1963).

The social morphology of work

Sociological interest in the relations between technology and social patterns is of long standing. Authors such as Karl Marx and Max Weber have made contributions in this area, but only at the level of generalities about whole societies and cultures. More recently, other authors have studied the effects of technological change on individual cities and industries (Warner & Low 1947; Walker 1950; 1957).

Contemporary sociology has developed two major concerns in this field. The first of these is the study of how changes in the technical and organizational aspects of work have an impact on skill levels, on the structure of work groups, and on occupational socialization. Most of the research in this area is of European, especially French, origin (Friedmann 1946; 1956; Touraine 1955; Durand 1959b; Verry 1955). On the one hand, the course of technological progress can be traced from the versatile type of machine that, like a tool, serves to prolong certain operations performable by human beings, to automatic machinery that performs tasks beyond human reach, with the specialized, single-operation machine representing an intermediate stage. On the other hand, the progress made in the organization of production has resulted in a coordination of multistage tasks that is increasingly complex, precise, and deliberate. These two trends, which have run parallel, have eliminated the craftsman with his slowly acquired knowledge of product, raw materials, and tools. Instead, a multitude of jobs have been created in which one or several fragmented operations designed by management are repeated ad infinitum by workers who are never called upon to exercise any initiative. Thus the worker becomes more and more dependent, until he loses all vestige of autonomy. In an automated setting, work becomes a matter of keeping alert, of watching instrument panels and interpreting the symbols on them (Naville 1958).

Also symptomatic of these changes are the trends, apparent from labor statistics, in the relative numbers of unskilled, skilled, and professional workers. The work group, too, is in process of transformation. At one time it had a steep, continuous hierarchy based on differences in knowledge; experience made it possible to climb from one level of the hierarchy to another. Mechanization made the hierarchy discontinuous: the specialized worker did not depend on his co-workers; the foreman was no longer omnicompetent; promotion by experience ceased to exist. Automation, however, appears to have made workers more dependent on each other (Mann & Hoffman 1960).

The second major concern in the social morphology of work is analysis of workers’ interaction and attitudes, and of group structure—that is, of the strategies open to workers, given the technical conditions of the work setting (see, for example, Whyte 1951a; Sayles 1958). In particular several authors have demonstrated that there is a close relationship between the technical characteristics of the work setting and the status or prestige system of the work group. This relationship becomes especially obvious when technological change upsets informal group structure and causes unrest among the employees so affected; for instance, workers’ resistance to innovation can sometimes be explained in this way. Here there is a convergence of interests with certain members of the human relations school.

Industrial relations and trade unionism

Much has been written about trade unions, trade unionism, and the relations between unions and employers. But this literature, though plentiful, is disappointing, since little progress has been made in the sociological analysis of problems in this field. All these studies tend to have a parochial character because they hardly ever contain any integrating concepts. All too often an author is content merely to describe how unions work; studies of the labor movement that succeed in integrating or transcending the historical and legal levels are extremely rare. As a result, findings based on one situation usually cannot be applied to others, and it is very difficult to compare different findings or draw general conclusions from them. Moreover, it seems likely that the ideological component historically associated with trade unionism has stood in the way of impartial scientific observation. In spite of this handicap and the reservations already mentioned, it can be said that enough genuine sociological analysis has been done in this area to raise a whole series of questions.

The first group of these questions relates to the reasons for becoming a union member and for participating in union activities. Various partial explanations of these phenomena have been obtained from comparison of active members, passive members, and nonmembers (Tannenbaum & Kahn 1958; Tagliacozzo & Seidmann 1956; Benoit 1962; see Lipset & Gordon in Bendix & Lipset 1953). In the special cultural setting of the United States, active union members are characterized by longer job tenure (which means that they have more of a stake in the situation) and by less social mobility than other workers; they are not necessarily more hostile to management—in fact, they are sometimes more friendly (Stagner 1954). However, it seems likely that these findings apply mainly to trade unions of a definite type. It is not at all clear that union members in a different kind of context—a revolutionary one, for instance—would have the same kinds of reasons for joining or taking part.

A second and more important group of questions centers on the relations between union and management at the factory level. What type of union is responsive to what type of management? In what ways do union and management influence each other, and what mutual transformations do they effect? Which conditions encourage conflict, and which ones cooperation? Some authors have ventured to construct typologies of union-management relations (see, for instance, Illinois, University of …1954). Another promising approach is the study of union and management behavior over time. Indeed, if we follow Whyte (1951b) in believing that what a union wants at the factory level is to be the initiator of any interaction with management (which is itself a form of power), then it is clear that if opportunities to initiate interaction were more equitably distributed, a more harmonious form of coexistence between union and management would result. Here again the concern of American sociologists has been to guarantee industrial peace. Nevertheless, at least one American author has argued that industrial conflict, since it can be organized as an adaptive force, may have certain positive functions (Dubin 1960). The more it is assumed that trade unions, as far as management is concerned, constitute a kind of countervailing power, the more it will appear that conflicts of interest between union and management, while inevitable, are not necessarily to be deplored [seelabor unions, article ontheories of the labor movement].

These considerations have led to a view of the union as a complex organization. The internal functioning of unions has been studied with the aid of the admittedly crude methodology originally developed for the study of industrial organizations. Because trade unionism is one of the mainstays of democratic ideology, the distribution of power in unions poses a number of particularly acute problems. In fact, democracy in trade unions is the exception, not the rule, as Lipset and his colleagues have shown (1956). A more original study (Tannenbaum 1956b) has dealt with the relations between democracy and effectiveness in the dealings of unions with employers; the important variable is neither union democracy nor the sharing of power between all levels of union organization but, rather, the total amount of power at the union’s disposal.

The fourth group of questions stems from the problems of society as a whole. Here mention should be made of those theories of the labor movement which tend to explain variations in union behavior by pointing to national differences in degree or rate of industrialization or (since the labor movement is part of a nation’s political life) in political stability (Touraine 1960).

The study of industrial conflict, especially of strikes, which represent the most violent form taken by such conflict, constitutes a fifth problem area that involves industrial relations at all four of the analytical levels distinguished above. At the social-psychological or motivational level, there is the question of how strikers differ from nonstrikers. At the level of industrial relations in the factory itself, it is necessary to inquire into the nature of the factors that trigger a strike. At the level of union organization a whole series of questions presents itself. How do unions decide to go on strike? What functions do strikes fulfill? How are unauthorized strikes to be evaluated? At the societal level, it has been demonstrated that the number, length, and intensity of strikes are closely related to the institutional framework of industrial relations (Ross & Hartman 1960). At the same level, the fact that some industries are more prone to strikes than others has been attributed to the physical and social isolation of the majority of workers in these industries, most of which are located far from the central cities and therefore offer little opportunity for social mobility. If workers in these industries, it is argued, were integrated with the rest of society, they would be less likely to resort to violence [Kerr & Siegel 1954; see alsolabor relations, article onstrikes].

A sixth and final group of questions deals with worker participation in factory management (the so-called workers’ councils). This is an essentially European phenomenon, and a very controversial one (Delamotte 1959; Clegg 1960). The truth seems to be that worker participation, when it really takes place, is always closely bound up with the existing machinery for settling disputes at the factory level. There is no solid evidence that workers’ councils radically alter the balance of power in a factory, and it does not seem likely that any better results will be obtained from them in future. According to Sturmthal (1961), programs for worker participation in factory management represent an essentially ideological approach to the problem of worker control. The administrative bodies set up for the purpose of worker participation tend, in Poland at least, to reduce union activity to a low level rather than to keep the factory running smoothly.

Work and industrial civilization

The sociology of work is not exclusively concerned with problems that arise in the actual work setting. Many of these problems carry over into life outside the place of work. A truly comprehensive study of work phenomena necessarily implies study of nonwork phenomena, because both classes of phenomena are linked in a mutually causal relationship which in itself constitutes an area largely unexplored by social scientists.

A case in point is the study of occupational careers, which can be approached from two different points of view. In the first of these, the focus of interest is not on the place of work but on the individual’s entire working life. What are the stages of the working career, from the first entry into regular employment up to the point of retirement? How do these stages vary under different technological and social conditions? What attitudes and aspirations are associated with the different types of careers and their various stages? Studies of occupational and social mobility have provided us with dynamic models of careers and career-related attitudes (see especially Lipset & Bendix 1952). We know, for instance, that downwardly mobile individuals do not exhibit the same patterns of behavior as those who are upwardly mobile or those who have retained their position in the social hierarchy (Lipset & Gordon in Bendix & Lipset 1953; Wilen-sky & Edwards 1959). Thus the sociological significance of an individual’s career is held to consist in the amount and type of social mobility that he achieves.

The second point of view is one that considers the working career in terms of relations with peer groups. “Professionalization” is the name sociologists have given to the way in which the span of working life tends to follow the pattern of a more or less regulated career over which occupational peers have an increasing amount of control at the expense of formal superiors, so that the occupation acquires a more or less recognized social status (Foote 1956). As such, professionalization is a recent phenomenon. “Professionalized” groups model themselves on the liberal professions. They are, to a large extent, self-regulating. They confer on their members, who are employed by organizations, a certain measure of autonomy that is not based wholly on expertise. Under these circumstances, relations between the occupation and the general labor market become less close and less determined by purely economic factors [seeoccupations and careers].

Other studies have sought to understand the role of different occupational groups, especially workers, engineers and technicians, and the managerial elite, both in the factory and in the larger society. The development of these social groups throws light on the development of society and its equilibrium. Thus the sociology of work becomes the study of industrial society.

There is no doubt that residential patterns, family life, and leisure in many respects both influence and are influenced by the complex of phenomena that we call work. The sociology of work is not concerned with these areas external to work except insofar as reciprocal influences of this kind can be said to exist. But research on this whole topic is a difficult undertaking because the leading issues have not yet been clearly defined.

General contribution of the field

The sociology of knowledge has laid bare the dependence of scientific research—the problems it selects and the manner in which it approaches them—on economic, social, and cultural conditions. The sociology of work is no exception to this rule of dependence. It has already been shown how closely the very definition of work is bound up with the problems of society. The same applies to all the areas dealt with by this branch of sociology. If this discussion were taken up again from its beginning, it would be easy to demonstrate how for each group of sociological problems there has always been a corresponding group of social problems on which researchers have sought to throw light. Every question posed by researchers is the product of a unique moment in the history of the topic, a moment associated with the emergence of a particular social problem. Thus the theory of organizations, although it had some forerunners, reached its full development only during a period in which there was a rising public consciousness of the way in which large corporations and public bureaucracies were extending their control over the centers of power and the lives of individuals.

The sociology of work has been much criticized for combining sociological research with the study of social problems. It has been argued that the field can never be more than an applied science concerned with strictly practical problems; the studies it has produced have been called “piecemeal and repetitious,” and therefore of no use to the development of sociological theory. But even if it is true that the theoretical contributions of the sociology of work have been relatively weak, considering the impressively large output of studies, it should nevertheless be concluded that these criticisms are exaggerated. The positive contribution of the sociology of work should be abundantly clear from the studies cited in this article; at the least, this contribution consists in the perspective afforded by a scientific consideration of the facts, as opposed to philosophical and ideological speculation on social matters.

Future trends

At the present time, one of the most pressing of all social problems is the economic and social development of the “third world.” The subject has claimed the attention of many researchers already well known for their contributions to the sociology of work. But it is hardly possible to treat the problems of work in the countries of the third world in the same way as the problems of countries that have long since been industrialized. The need is beginning to be felt for a more diachronic approach, with greater emphasis on whole societies and on cultural variation between societies (Moore 1963).

Every section of this article could be reviewed in terms of the new perspectives opened up by the study of problems in countries that are undergoing industrialization. For instance, how can the norms of a traditional culture be reconciled with the norms of an industrial organization, and vice versa? The question of the relations between formal and informal organization also arises in the developing countries, but in a quite different form. Study of the trade union movement in these countries is far more concerned with the movement’s links to the centers of political power and to economic development in general than with union activity at the local level (Galenson 1959; Touraine 1960).

In the same way, study of the effects of the technological revolution is being broadened; it is no longer confined to changes at the job or factory level, but includes the entire process of technological change (Moore 1963). Technological change, moreover, is no longer treated as a fait accompli with effects that are studied only after the event. Instead, attempts are being made to discover the conditions capable of producing technological change. For this reason a special interest attaches to any factors associated with change or innovation. It does indeed appear that most of the developing countries, unlike nineteenth-century Europe, have a strong desire for and willingness to accept economic development. This trend has inspired Harbison and Myers (see Princeton University …1959) to undertake research on the role of different elites in the process of industrialization. This new orientation of the sociology of work has had, like its predecessors, a beneficial effect on approaches to the problems that came before it. On the one hand, it has helped researchers to place more emphasis on the internal preconditions for change, whereas formerly the social system was regarded as tending naturally toward stability and equilibrium, with change coming only from outside. On the other hand, it has abandoned determinism in favor of a view of human action that is more voluntaristic and teleological.

Odile Benoit-Guilbot

[Directly related are the entriesAutomation;Business Management; Industrialization; LaborForce; Labor Relations; Labor Unions; Organizations; Technology; Workers. Other relevant material may be found inGroups; Industry, Small; Leadership; Modernization; Occupations and Careers; Professions; Social Mobility; and in the biographies ofBarnard; Lewin; Mayo.]


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Lipset, Seymour M.; Trow, Martin A.; and Coleman, James S. 1956 Union Democracy: The Internal Politics of the International Typographical Union. Glencoe, III.: Free Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1962 by Doubleday.

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In the twenty-year period starting in the late 1930s and extending through the late 1950s, the term “human relations in industry” was applied widely to a variety of cross-disciplinary research studies and commentaries on the social organization of economic institutions. The most characteristic feature of the human relations approach was a shift away from the tradition of “scientific management,” with its narrowly logical methods of layout and job design and its uncritical emphasis on payment-by-result incentive plans, to an interest in the effects on employees of informal group membership and supervisory practices. At the same time, sociologists, social psychologists, and social anthropologists began to interest themselves in the nature of industrial society as a complex social phenomenon.

Historical overview

The human relations movement, as it came to be called, has been the subject of broad controversy, and the term “human relations” itself is not without unfavorable connotation (though perhaps more in the United States than in western Europe and Asia). At least three sources of conflict can readily be identified. (1) Competition among the three social science disciplines noted above and with economists who had long worked alone in the field of industrial and business administration produced arguments over methodology and conceptual apparatus. (2) The enormous interest and enthusiasm generated by the subject brought popularizers into the field, and a host of marginal academic people were attracted by the widespread public acceptance of human relations “findings.” (3) The subject matter itself touched on such areas of significant social conflict as the relative power of business and its leaders and the balance of power between managers and employees, whether organized or unorganized. It could be argued that the principal significance of the human relations movement in industry (and of its counterpart, human relations in the family and the community) was that it represented the coming of age of social science, in the sense that the findings of social science were now accepted as having relevance to everyday problems outside the university, the consulting room, or the laboratory. For the businessman, in particular, the study of human relations seemed to offer enormous benefits in terms of increased productivity and diminished industrial strife. Many students (and would-be students) were attracted by the glamour and excitement of a field that promised findings of relevance to the world of affairs as well as to the world of scholarship.

The subject matter of the field can best be defined by reviewing the major concepts; their relationship to larger social science theory will be considered below. The most widely used concepts are leadership, informal group, morale, role and status, equilibrium, resistance to change, and motivation.

The Western Electric studies

There is surprising unanimity that “human relations in industry,” as a field of interest, achieved momentum with the Western Electric studies. These were a series of field investigations conducted at the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Company in Chicago between 1927 and 1932 (Roethlisberger & Dickson 1939). The research itself stemmed from the joint interests of the Western Electric Company and the investigators—headed by Elton Mayo —in the effects of monotony on workers. The Western Electric Company’s own researches had produced startling findings. Beginning with a rather mechanical view of fatigue and productivity, the engineers had endeavored to study the effect of the quantity and quality of illumination on efficiency. They had discovered that decreased illumination as well as increased illumination could produce increases in output.

Mayo and his colleagues later argued that such unusual findings could be explained by changes in human relations that transcended the purely physical changes prescribed by “scientific management.” But this conclusion is more clearly illustrated in the first major component of the primary Western Electric researches—the Relay Assembly Test Room (RATR) experiment.

A group of five girls doing light assembly work was isolated in a separate factory location. A series of experimental changes were then made in their working conditions, including the addition of rest periods, refreshments, and a shortened work day. In the famous twelfth experimental period all the physical changes that had presumably improved conditions of work were withdrawn. Up to this time output had been gradually rising, and now it went up once again, somewhat as it had done during the illumination experiments when the physical conditions of work were made increasingly adverse.

Three types of explanations have been proposed for this remarkable series of output increases. The first emphasizes perception and cognition: the girls observed that management was concerned with their welfare; they had been singled out for a great deal of attention by both management and researchers, and they were appreciative of their newfound importance. This reaction has come to be widely known as the Hawthorne effect—a confounding variable in field experiments of this type.

Observers placed in the room noted, and interviews confirmed, an increased amount of on-the-job and off-the-job interaction among the girls, the emergence of an informal leader, and a sense of team membership. While the girls were not told to increase their output or that there was any such objective in the study, through their group they committed themselves to this objective while feeling no sense of urgency or pressure. The functional relationship implied here is that increased group cohesiveness leads to increased productivity. In the literature of human relations, managers were urged to be concerned with providing mutually compatible groups and the opportunity for group interactions. Later work by Seashore (1955) and Sayles (1958) has suggested that this relationship was oversimplified. Cohesiveness could lead to output restriction and effective opposition to management goals as well as to work efficiencies. However, still unchallenged is one of the other conclusions implicit in the RATR study: cohesiveness in the small group reduces turnover in the larger organization. Mayo and Lombard (1944), studying the burgeoning aircraft industry, noted that workers attached to stabilized groups or to informal leaders would be less likely to quit [seeCohesion, Social].

The third explanation has its roots in the field of applied anthropology and the work of Arensberg (1951), Chapple (1940), and Homans (1950). These researchers observed the dependency of attitudes on interaction. In the RATR, the girls were placed in the position of initiating interaction with the experimenters, of being consulted, of having an opportunity to disagree with and even to veto proposals for modifications of working conditions. In the regular factory they had no such opportunities for up-the-line initiations but were passive recipients of originations down the line from management (Arensberg 1951, pp. 347-351). Further, the test room gave them the opportunity for highly increased “horizontal” contacts or free communication. This major change in the structure of supervisory patterns and interaction increased productivity.

All three explanations emphasize improved “morale,” which is defined simply as the will to work, as distinct from skill or the capacity to work. However, the most complete analysis, which emphasizes dynamic processual concepts, is provided by Arensberg.

The process [of change in the RATR] took the form of this definite order of developments: (1) an increase of managerial initiative, (2) followed by an increase of inter-worker communication, (3) followed by an increase of redressive up-the-line action of the workers upon foremen or spokesmen, (4) which resulted in further changes of rewarding sort in managerial action, (5) changing individual attitudes, (6) reaching expression as new group attitudes or morale [the “norms” of Homans], (7) which won informal sanction by the workers on one another, (8) and stimulated further releases of individual output productivity [sic]. (Arensberg & Tootell 1957, p. 316)

It is worth noting the increase in sophistication provided by this “processual” analysis which goes beyond simple correlations to provide a total situa-tional assessment.

Following the RATR studies, with their emphasis on social-psychological experimentation, the research moved into its second major phase. The Bank Wiring Room experiment was designed like an anthropological field study to permit consecutive observations of a typical industrial work group in situ. Fourteen men in three interdependent jobs had their work stations shifted to a room suitable for careful observation of who contacted whom, when, where, and how frequently. While interviewing had provided the major data to interpret productivity changes in the RATR, in the Bank Wiring Room it was subordinated to precise, detailed observation.

Careful analysis of the data again revealed the importance of the social group in providing an outlet for the individual and in controlling his output. Here output restriction was the dominant norm, although there were slight differences between the two distinct cliques in the room. Company rules were violated and the supervisor subjected to carefully contrived pressures in order to maintain the social equilibrium and economic interests of the group. While informal group elaborations and leadership influence could explain some of the observed behavior, a good deal of the variance could be attributed to the patterns of relationships that had been implicitly prescribed by the division of labor—that is, the separate tasks that required interaction and coordination to complete (Homans 1950, pp. 54-73).

In the years following the Western Electric studies, this last point tended to be forgotten as human relations emphasized the power and autonomy of the informal group. Management often sought to coopt the group without recognizing that the behavior of the group was attributable to prescribed constraints such as technology.

Human relations research

In a study of the restaurant industry, Whyte (1948) combined a number of intensive case studies to show how organizational growth, increasing specialization, and the distinctive work flow problems of a restaurant produce distinctive interactional pressures. He showed that different personalities and various supervisory skills are more or less effective, depending on the predictable stress being experienced by job holders. Harbison and Dubin (1947) studied General Motors and Studebaker collective bargaining relationships and learned that the behavior of the participants and their perceptions were a function of the pressures associated with being in a “power center” and “pattern setting” position. Company politics and internal union politics have also been analyzed in terms of situational pressures such as cost-saving campaigns and intergroup competition. There has been a continuing interest in economic incentives for higher productivity (Whyte et al. 1955).

Rensis Likert and others have studied the impact of differential supervisory styles on employee morale. Their work is in the tradition of Kurt Lewin’s studies of democratic leadership in small groups. One of the best-known studies to use the Lewinian concepts of quasi-stationary equilibria and democratic leadership is one that analyzes how a discussion leader, by means of participative techniques, induced a group of textile workers to accept voluntarily changes in methods that groups dealt with in more traditional supervisory styles had resisted (Likert 1961).

Human relations research on motivation has generally argued that employees are more productive when satisfactions come directly from the work itself, rather than from present or deferred economic rewards or fears of punishment (McGregor 1966). McGregor (1960) has sought ways to adjust managerial control techniques to provide the same incentives for executives. Bavelas and Leavitt, in a series of laboratory experiments, have controlled access to communication linkages, showing the differential effect of various types of communication networks on speed and accuracy in problem solving by small groups (Leavitt [1958] 1964, pp. 228-241).

Interest in developing greater awareness among managers of the impact of their actions on subordinate perceptions and on opportunities for “self-actualization” has characterized some recent research on human relations. Argyris (1957) has synthesized a vast quantity of human relations research to argue that modern organizations inspire rather little effective motivation because jobs are not challenging (because of poor delegation and the extreme division of labor) and supervisors are authoritarian. Employee and managerial reactions to mass production, particularly in automobile assembly plants and in integrated steel mills, have also been investigated. It has been found that workers are frustrated with small, inconsequential jobs and that foremen are torn between the demands of multiple staff and line groups (Walker & Guest 1952; Walker et al. 1956). A landmark study of an International Business Machines Company manufacturing plant by Richardson and Walker (1948) identified morale and productivity concomitants of a reduction in the number of managerial levels in the organization and a shift from batch production to continuous work flows.

The effects of technological change on industrial management have been investigated by Lawrence and his associates, who have shown how atti-tudinal changes may follow interactional changes (Ronken & Lawrence 1952) and how changes in the structure of relationships among managers were in one instance dependent upon the adoption of new interaction patterns (Lawrence 1958).

Critique of human relations

In its most naive form, human relations has meant an emphasis on nonscientific management variables. For example, it has been argued that managers tend to regard employees in physical, machinelike terms. According to human relations theorists, managers believe that decreasing the load or frictions (by making jobs easier, lighter, etc.) increases worker output. On the other side, by increasing the energy that would be expended or the “pull” (by providing economic incentives through piecework plans), it is thought that employees can be made to work harder, just as a machine will go faster if the power is turned up. Advocates of the human relations approach made the simple observation that employees are not machines and do not respond in these mechanical terms.

While not profound from a social science theory point of view, doubtless there have been significant contributions to both economic productivity and social welfare through the wide dissemination of “human relations” findings. In particular, the post-World War ii teams composed of management and trade union representatives from western European nations were impressed with the contribution made to U.S. managerial success by human relations training. Such training, while showing little effect on gross behavioral patterns, has concentrated on dispelling simplistic views concerning employees. Supervisors learn that individual hedonism is not the sole or even the primary motivation; work does not get accomplished simply by threats or reprimand; clear communication can be distorted; employees elaborate an impressive and significant social structure that cannot be ignored in management decision making.

While it is futile to dispute the truism that employees are human beings, some of the more extreme expressions of this “philosophy” are less legitimate: employees are not rational; managers are rational; employees respond emotionally and thus ignore their own true interests (e.g., fail to earn available bonuses or foolishly restrict output).

Recent studies of employee response to incentive plans show substantial rationality as workers seek to obtain “looser” rates, protect jobs, de-emphasize tight-rated jobs, and manipulate job elements such as “down time” and “tooling-up” to increase their “paper” output (Whyte et al. 1955). On the other hand, research on management groups (which has been late in developing) shows the same types of output restriction, informal group leadership and norms, and resistance to authority (Dalton 1959).

Traditional human relations dealt with a relatively small number of variables and a simple social system. Leaders (or supervisors) gain additional control by dealing with groups of subordinates rather than just individuals and by identifying their leaders and group norms. They also reduce turnover by encouraging the formation of informal groups and permitting catharsis either by developing their own skills of nondirective counseling or by utilizing trained outsiders as interviewers or staff counselors. Leaders can effectuate change by using participatory techniques, “feeding back” startling morale scores to the supervisors involved, and endeavoring to fit the change into the social system.

There was mounting criticism that such techniques were manipulative, helped create an administrative elite, and served to increase the power of the employer relative to the employee and/or his unions (Barkin 1950). Ammunition, the monthly magazine of the United Automobile Workers, has frequently referred to human relations as “cow psychology,” presumably because it is felt that the purpose of human relations is to induce compliant behavior. A partial response to these criticisms was the application of human relations to the study of unions (Sayles & Strauss 1953) and to conflict-laden union-management relations (Whyte 1951). Further, Solomon Barkin, research director of the Textile Workers Union and one of the most vehement critics of human relations, began to adapt its techniques to the study of problems of organizing the unorganized workers in the South.

More profound criticism dealt with human relations as an ideology: it ignored conflict, equated loyalty (or security) with freedom, protected the status quo, and glorified a closed, static society with fixed statuses and tight, all-embracing controls that served to preserve a monolithic structure (Kerr & Fisher 1957).

Interestingly, the liberal economist’s critical view that the mores and traditions of employees should be none of the concern of managers (who should focus on price-quantity decisions) is transmuted when the scene shifts to less developed countries. In this context, the critics of human relations in fully industrialized countries appear to encourage sociological and anthropological assessments, and do not see them as violations of pluralism or separations of economic from social analysis (Kerr et al. 1960).

Sociologists like Blumer (1947) have accused human relations of ignoring institutional forces and of failing to come to grips with power differences and the quest for power. At an earlier period, economists, too, criticized human relations for its failure to consider institutional forces and its overemphasis on interpersonal relationships. More particularly, it was argued that market forces, the business cycle, and profitability had an enormous effect on human relationships. Dunlop and Whyte (1950) and others countered by showing the value of following through the impact of economic forces on the attitudes and behavior of the participants in the economic process.

It has been suggested that these critics based their vehemence on interpretations of Mayo’s personal views (as distinct from his research findings) and the potential uses of these views by management. But there is no evidence that employees can be fooled into thinking that they are participating in important decisions when, in fact, they are being masterminded, or that they will accept psychological satisfactions in exchange for economic and social objectives. Neither status nor job satisfaction can be created by words. Both are dependent on the actual pattern of relationships, of give and take in the organization. Status and satisfaction are positively correlated with the availability of increased initiative, the ability to control the environment, and the opportunity to be relatively autonomous and free from excessive pressures and controls. (Sayles 1964). Thus managers who wish to increase pride and job attachment have to make real changes in the interactional structure of the organization, not just in supervision. Also, there is no simple functional relationship between employee happiness and productivity. Naive employers who think that good supervision and recognition of the importance of social relations can be substituted for financial rewards will be disappointed.

It has also been argued that human relations ignored the community and larger social and economic forces. However, Hart (1949) very early traced the changing relationships of church, social agencies, managers, and unions. Lloyd Warner, who had been a consultant on the Western Electric studies, designed some parts of his Yankee City research to be a continuation of the earlier work. Here the loss of status of skilled employees and the resulting industrial conflict are traced to changes in economic factors: the structure of the shoe industry, technological changes, the locus of ownership, and changes in the social system of the community (Warner & Low 1947).

Scientific, as distinct from ideological, criticisms of human relations have emphasized the neglect of structural factors in favor of primary group relationships and interpersonal skills. Although a careful review of Mayo’s research has exonerated it of the easy assumption that supervisors are free to adopt a variety of leadership styles independent of larger organizational forces, the study of the organization as an organization has begun rather recently (Landsberger 1958).

The contentiousness surrounding the human re lations field has also involved the area of research methodology. There are some strange ironies here. The earlier human relations studies, such as the one of the Relay Assembly Test Room, utilized naive models drawn from the experimental psychology of the time. These models have been shown to be inadequate for comprehending more complex social organizations in which a multiplicity of variables, including the role of experimenter, economic conditions, and an evolving social structure, reacted with one another. The Bank Wiring Room experiment lent support to the idea that the techniques of anthropological field work were of use to sociologists when the total situation could be observed over time in its natural setting. Disparate pathways have led from this. One direction was taken by Chapple (1940). Homans (1950), Whyte (1948), Bales (1950), Lawrence (1958), and Sayles (1958) have also emphasized the measurement of interaction : who does what with whom, when, where, and how often. Operationalism has been emphasized by interaction measures that can be recorded in fractions of a second by the interaction chronograph (Chapple 1949) or in somewhat larger units by trained observers (Bales 1950).

Simultaneously, others have emphasized unique case studies combining observation and interviews and their quantification. Thus a study by Zaleznik and others (1958) sought to predict the interrelationship between status, satisfaction, and performance in several work groups in an organization.

Present state of the field

In the 1960s the term “human relations” has been less commonly used, which is symbolic of the disputes the field has engendered. Even American management (although not European and Asian management) has learned to be less than totally enthusiastic about human relations. Management has been told that human relations means a de-emphasis on production in favor of satisfaction. Academicians have come to prefer such terminology as “organizational behavior” and “human resources.” However, research and teaching continue to be focused on the relationship problems of organization members.

Two sharply demarcated trends are evident. One has its source in psychology. A number of scholars have sought to identify those factors in the work situation which provide “higher-level” need satisfactions, particularly “self-fulfillment” or “self-actualization.” These needs presumably become more important once physical and social needs have been satisfied. Such studies stress job enlargement, participative supervision, and “sensitivity training.” Argyris (1964) has prepared a good summary of this position. Sensitivity training, like role playing, got its start with the sponsorship of a number of disciples of Kurt Lewin associated with the National Training Laboratories (Bethel, Maine). It is designed not as a research tool but as a training technique, giving participants the opportunity to see themselves as others see them through unstructured discussions of one another’s personality traits (Schein & Bennis 1965).

The other trend is in the direction of more empirical investigation of the impact of organization structure, controls, and technology on behavior. Since about 1950, the Tavistock Institute in London has been a pioneer in such researches, also breaking new ground in the adaptation of sophisticated statistical techniques to the analysis of human relations data (Trist et al. 1963). The institute has also emphasized the significance of industrial economic and market structures on managerial behavior—an “open system” approach to the study of organizations (Rice 1963). Also in Britain, Paterson (1960) has sought to relate structure to behavior, and Woodward (1965) has shown with quantitative significance that small-batch production, mass production, and continuous-process production involve predictably different types of human relations problems as well as predictably distinctive organization structures.

In the United States there has been a search for a conceptual apparatus to study the interrelationships and negotiations among managers and specialists—"lateral” relationships with ambiguous power and deference patterns (Sayles 1964; Dubin 1962). The application of systems theory to these more complex networks in which simplistic notions of maximization and authority do not apply is in its infancy.

For the most part, the applied anthropologists and those who draw their research methods and conceptual apparatus from them stress structural change as the primary method of introducing change in institutions. Their various researches emphasize that behavioral change precedes attitud-inal change and that the former can best be accomplished by dealing with the division of labor, layout, controls, and reporting relationships. On the other hand, those with strong psychological leanings, whose primary interests are in satisfaction and motivation, see change as flowing from new insights, greater awareness, and better understanding. Thus sensitivity training, feedback of morale surveys to key decision makers, and validating perceptions become key variables. These two positions are not easily reconciled. If attitudes stem from position within a structure, it would appear fruitless to engage in prolonged therapeutic techniques to affect perception. On the other hand, administrative skill obviously has some role to play in maintaining organizational stability and adaptability.

In retrospect, two of the most important contributions of human relations have been its emphasis on the problems of introducing change in social institutions and the vitality it has provided to social science. As Gouldner (1956) suggests, many of the theoretical propositions of traditional social science have proved inadequate to deal with the problems of change. Further, although human relations has utilized concepts drawn from traditional social science, it has repaid this debt by a substantial reverse contribution of empirical research that has enriched theory.

Leonard R. Sayles

[Directly related are the entriesGroups, article onTHE STUDY OF GROUPS; INTERACTION, article OnINTERACTION PROCESS ANALYSIS; LABOR RELATIONS; LEADERSHIP; Organizations, article 071EFFECTIVENESS AND PLANNING OF CHANGE; and the biographies ofLewin; Mayo.]


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Arensberg, Conrad M.; and Tootell, Geoffrey 1957 Plant Sociology: Real Discoveries and New Problems. Pages 310-337 in Mirra Komarovsky (editor), Common Frontiers of the Social Sciences. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

Argyris, Chris 1953 Executive Leadership: An Appraisal of a Manager in Action. New York: Harper.

Argyris, Chris 1957 Personality and Organization: The Conflict Between System and the Individual. New York: Harper.

Argyris, Chris 1962 Interpersonal Competence and Organizational Effectiveness. London: Tavistock; Home-wood, 111.: Dorsey.

Argyris, Chris 1964 Integrating the Individual and the Organization. New York: Wiley.

Bakke, E. Wight (1946) 1947 Mutual Survival: The Goals of Unions and Management. New York: Harper.

Bales, Robert F. 1950 Interaction Process Analysis: A Method for the Study of Small Groups. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.

Barkin, Solomon 1950 A Trade Unionist Appraises Management Personnel Philosophy. Harvard Business Review 28, no. 5:59-64.

Bennis, Warren et al. (editors) 1961 The Planning of Change: Readings in the Applied Behavioral Sciences. New York: Holt.

Blumer, Herbert 1947 Sociological Theory in Industrial Relations. American Sociological Review 12:271-278.

Burling, Temple; Lentz, Edith M.; and Wilson, Robert N. 1956 The Give and Take in Hospitals: A Study of Human Organization in Hospitals. New York: Putnam.

Chapple, Eliot D. 1940 Measuring Human Relations: An Introduction to the Study of Interaction of Individuals. Genetic Psychology Monographs 22:3-147.

Chapple, Eliot D. 1949 The Interaction Chronograph: Its Evolution and Present Application. Personnel 25: 295-307.

Dalton, Melville 1959 Men Who Manage: Fusions of Feeling and Theory in Administration. New York: Wiley.

Dubin, Robert 1962 Business Behavior Behaviorally Viewed. Pages 11-55 in George B. Strother (editor), Social Science Approaches to Business Behavior. Homewood, III.: Dorsey.

Dunlop, John T.; and Whyte, William F. 1950 Framework for the Analysis of Industrial Relations: Two Views. Industrial and Labor Relations Review 3:383-401.

Gouldner, Alvin W. 1956 Explorations in Applied Social Science. Social Problems 3:169–181.

Harbison, Frederick; and Dubin, Robert 1947 Patterns of Union-Management Relations: United Automobile Workers (Cio), General Motors, Studebaker. Chicago: Science Research Associates.

Hart, Charles W. M. 1949 Industrial Relations Research and Social Theory. Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science 15:53-73.

Homans, George C 1950 The Human Group. New York: Harcourt.

Kerr, Clark; and Fisher, Lloyd H. 1957 Plant Sociology: The Elite and the Aborigines. Pages 281-309 in Mirra Komarovsky (editor), Common Frontiers of the Social Sciences. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

Kerr, Clark et al. 1960 Industrialism and Industrial Man: The Problems of Labor and Management in Economic Growth. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. → A second edition was published in paperback in 1964 by Oxford University Press.

Landsberger, Henry A. 1958 Hawthorne Revisited: Management and the Worker; Its Critics, and Developments in Human Relations in Industry. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.

Lawrence, Paul 1958 The Changing of Organizational Behavior Patterns: A Case Study of Decentralization. Boston: Harvard Univ., Graduate School of Business Administration.

Leavitt, Harold J. (1958) 1964 Managerial Psychology: An Introduction to Individuals, Pairs, and Groups in Organizations. 2d ed. Univ. of Chicago Press. → See especially pages 228-241, “Communication Nets in Groups: Designs for Getting the Word Around.”

Leighton, Alexander H. (1945) 1964 The Governing of Men: General Principles and Recommendations Based on Experience at a Japanese Relocation Camp. New York: Octagon.

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Mayo, Elton (1933) 1946 The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization. 2d ed. Boston: Harvard Univ., Graduate School of Business Administration, Division of Research. A paperback edition was published in 1960 by Viking.

Mayo, Elton; and Lombard, George F. F. 1944 Team Work and Labor Turnover in the Aircraft Industry of Southern California. Boston: Harvard Univ., Graduate School of Business Administration, Bureau of Business Research.

Paterson, Thomas T. 1960 Glasgow Limited: A Case-study in Industrial War and Peace. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Rice, A. Kenneth 1963 The Enterprise and Its Environment: A System Theory of Management Organization. London: Tavistock.

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Roethlisberger, Fkitz J.; and Dickson, William J. (1939) 1961 Management and the Worker: An Account of a Research Program Conducted by the Western Electric Company, Hawthorne Works, Chicago. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1964 by Wiley.

Rogers, Carl R. 1942 Counseling and Psychotherapy: Newer Concepts in Practice. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Ronken, Harriet O.; and Lawrence, Paul R. 1952 Administering Changes: A Case Study of Human Relations in a Factory. Boston: Harvard Univ., Graduate School of Business Administration, Division of Research.

Sayles, Leonard R. 1958 Behavior of Industrial Work Groups: Prediction and Control. New York: Wiley.

Sayles, Leonard R. 1964 Managerial Behavior: Administration in Complex Organizations. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Sayles, Leonard R.; and Strauss, George 1953 The Local Union: Its Place in the Industrial Plant. New York: Harper.

Seashore, Stanley E. 1955 Group Cohesiveness in the Industrial Work Group. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Univ. of Michigan, Institute for Social Research, Survey Research Center.

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Walker, Charles R.; and Guest, Robert H. 1952 The Man on the Assembly Line. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

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Warner, W. Lloyd; and Low, J. O. 1947 The Social System of the Modern Factory. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press; Oxford Univ. Press.

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Whyte, William F. 1951 Pattern for Industrial Peace. New York: Harper.

Whyte, William F. 1961 Men at Work. Homewood, III.: Dorsey. One of the best summaries of the current status of the human relations field; includes a brief survey of major empirical research.

Whyte, William F. et al. 1955 Money and Motivation: An Analysis of Incentives in Industry. New York: Harper.

Woodward, Joan 1965 Industrial Organization: Theory and Practice. Oxford Univ. Press.

Zaleznik, Abraham; Christensen, Carl; and Roethlisberger, Fritz J. 1958 The Motivation, Productivity and Satisfaction of Workers: A Prediction Study. Boston: Harvard Univ., Graduate School of Business Administration, Division of Research.


Owners and managers of industrial enterprises have used various methods of increasing the human effort upon which their output is seen to depend; but by far the commonest practice is to provide an increment of reward proportional to each increment of effort. The reward is commonly money, both in the form of cash wages (at least enough to assure subsistence) and as fringe benefits. From a sociological point of view, the latter form of reward has special interest, since any “benefit” other than a direct increase in the purchasing power of the worker must reflect some aspect of the society’s general value system. Thus a company may be said to dispense prestige (in the form of promotion to a better position), security (by means of insurance, pensions, or opportunities to purchase company stock), or leisure (as when it gives the employee extra time off, perhaps in its own vacation resort). However, the relationship between effort and reward must be calculated in monetary terms if the reward system is to be applied to substantial numbers of employees with any degree of economic rationality. Most reward systems, therefore, employ a monetary base; and it is only with systems so based that the present discussion is concerned.

Reward systems may be classified into three types, according to whether they are applied to motivation at the individual level, the group level, or the collective level. Of course, a given system may be designed to affect all three levels; and some systems contain features that can be adapted to apply at more than one level. This classification is useful, however, in stressing the fact that management may regard the worker as an isolated individual, as a member of a face-to-face work group, or as a unit in the collectivity of all the employees.

Individual incentive systems. Individual systems are of three main types: “piecework and standard time,” “shared gains,” and “variable return.” Under the first, the individual receives an identical and predictable amount for each unit of output; under the second, he receives a proportion of the value of his output beyond a standard amount (as in the Halsey, Rowan, and Bedaux systems); under the third, he receives amounts per unit which differ according to his level of output (as in the Taylor and Emerson systems). “Commissions” may be regarded as more complicated variants of piecework plans. In all individual systems, the work is usually guaranteed a minimum amount (or “base pay”) to compensate him for time when, through no fault of his own (because of machinery breakdown, for example, or supply failure), he cannot work. There may also be other special conditions—usually as a result of union demands—when a minimum wage is guaranteed.

Group incentive systems. Under the group system, the earnings of a group of men, such as a work crew, are pooled, and each receives a proportion of the value of any output beyond a standard amount. Occasionally the group includes all or most of the employees (as in the Rucker and Scan-Ion plans); more usually, it is a group of men who interact in the course of their normal duties. Payoff occurs as a proportion of labor saved or of costs reduced.

Collective systems. Collective arrangements include profit sharing, deferred compensation bonuses, stock purchase options, and the like. Those systems shade off into fringe benefits, such as pension plans, insurance, surgical plans, and other benefits or services such as vacations, credit unions, athletic facilities, lunchrooms, and parking facilities. The incentive impact of most collective arrangements seems to be tenuous, owing to the relatively remote connection between them and the effort expended by the individual employee. Profits are pleasant to receive; but the worker can scarcely feel (and certainly not predict) that extra effort on his part will result in a proportional profit return—an upturn in the market may return him far more. Measures such as these are more properly regarded (especially in the United States) as devices to secure tax advantages and as general measures to reduce worker turnover and raise morale. Some of them may be required by law or even (as in the case of social security) be provided by the government itself.

History of reward systems

Although Karl Marx characterized piece rates as “the form of wages most in harmony with the capitalist mode of production” ([1867-1879] 1925-1926, p. 608), their use antedates modern capitalism by at least two thousand years. Incentive systems are recorded as having been used as early as 400 B.C. by the Chaldeans and probably by the Romans in the first century a.d. Such systems are also quite common among agricultural and peasant peoples in many places. They began to be used widely in the West with the breakdown of the guild system and the coming of the putting-out system: the merchant provided materials for domestic work, paying for products by the piece—a form of subcontracting that was not long in turning into employment under piecework. The spirit of such a relationship is being drawn on by the present-day employer who speaks of his piecework employees as being “in business for themselves.”

The factory system of the nineteenth century made wide use of incentive systems, mostly of the individual type. Their appeal was mainly as an approach to reducing labor costs: employers could cut piecework rates to keep workers’ income at a definite level while total output increased. This fact, together with the lack of objective means for determining production norms, led to the profound hostility of workers to incentive plans (such plans even being blamed for economic depressions) which is widespread even now, although it is decreasing. Around the turn of the century, a method for establishing appropriate production norms by analysis of the individual job (rather than by looking to the experience of the worker) was devised by Frederick W. Taylor and his followers (see Marriott 1957, chapter 1). The assumption by this group that motivation was largely an individual matter, and their arrogation of the title “scientific management” to their method, resulted in powerful and resentful opposition. At present it is widely recognized that job analysis and measurement, however carefully executed, involve subjective judgments and that solutions to measurement problems often reflect little more than the relative strength of union and management or the social norms. Indeed, it was recognition of the difficulty of setting minimum or average production levels that helped to lead to the development of the Halsey and Rowan plans, both of which, in allowing a level to be set too low, discouraged management from rate-cutting because it shared in the gains when the level was exceeded (Marriott 1957, p. 52).

Present distribution

The extent to which incentive systems are used today is difficult to measure because of lack of data. Labor unions, especially in the United States, claim that their use is declining; but such objective studies as are available do not bear this out. As of 1963, from 25 per cent to 30 per cent of workers in U.S. industry (mostly in manufacturing) were estimated to be covered by incentives, a figure which appears to have remained stable since the end of World War ii (Belcher [1955] 1962, pp. 381 ff.). It appears that this stability is not due to a balancing of the firms that abandon incentive systems by an equivalent number of firms that adopt them for the first time but rather by the expansion of coverage in firms already using them (Mangum 1962, pp. 93-94).

Comparing European figures with figures for the United States is made difficult by the European practice of using “piece rate” as synonymous with the broader “incentive system”; this may have inflated the European figures. However this may be, the proportion of the working force in Europe that is covered by some kind of reward system is in general higher than in the United States. In the United Kingdom, 42 per cent of wage earners in 1961 were on “payment by results,” an increase of 8 per cent over the figure for 1938. In 1949, of all hours worked in industry, the proportion at piece rate was 37 per cent in West Germany, 41 per cent in Denmark, close to 60 per cent in Norway and Sweden, and 70 per cent in Hungary (Marriott 1957, pp. 43 ff.; Mangum 1962, pp. 93 ff.). Piecework is, apparently, as much “in harmony” with the communist as with the capitalist mode of production.

Future prospects

Increasing automation has led some forecasters to see the complete abandonment of incentive payments since, it is claimed, the output level of self-operating, decision-making machinery cannot be attributed to the effort of the man who watches the dials or subjects it to periodic maintenance checks [seeautomation]. Available data, although spotty, give little support to this expectation; on the contrary, the use of “equipment utilization incentives” (incentives for keeping the machines running or for not slowing down) seems to be growing (Mangum 1962, pp. 87 ff.). But perhaps the best insurance that incentive systems will continue to be utilized for a long time is the lack of effective methods of evaluating them in operation. The number of firms abandoning them for the wrong reasons will surely be offset by the number extending or adopting them for different, although equally wrong reasons.

Current theory and research

The field of industrial relations is one in which a greater gap than is usual in science exists between researcher and practitioner. Students of industrial sociology, industrial psychology, and management have been critical of all incentive systems, but managers of firms and personnel administrators install them notwithstanding, out of a belief, widespread in industry, that they “work.” Laboratory experiments, although offering the advantage of control of variables, have been inconclusive; comparisons of performance by subjects “alone” and “together,” although they have been carried out at least since the late nineteenth century, offer inconsistent results. For manual tasks, individual productivity has usually been shown to be superior to group productivity; but the structure of the group is of major significance (Gross 1958, chapter 14). The need for specialization and supervision, or the effects of interpersonal compatibility, may be critical. On the other hand, the superiority claimed for group work arrangements over the individual often proves illusory when results are calculated in number of man-minutes required to reach a solution (Hare 1962, pp. 354 ff.; Dunnette et al. 1963).

Yet even were the results of such experiments to point uniformly in the same direction, they would bear little on industrial incentive systems. Not only are laboratory controls lacking under actual factory conditions, but confounding variables make a truly scientific evaluation almost impossible. The installation of an incentive system requires the establishment of performance standards. If an incentive system is to motivate behavior, it must be possible for an average worker to make a bonus over his base pay. Hence one must measure the output of an average worker; but the very making of such measurements almost always leads to discoveries that the job can be simplified or improved. Also, since the workers can make a bonus only if supplies are continually forthcoming, management will take special pains to be sure there is a continual flow. Through such job and supply improvement, costs may indeed go down, whether one has the incentive system or not. Evaluation would require separating out the effects of these various changes.

Incentive systems in operation

Many incentive systems fail to motivate because their designers ignore the social nature of work. Appeals to the isolated worker (“You work harder and you will get more”) ignore his relationship to his fellows and, in fact, operate to reduce the motivation to cooperate with work-crew members or even with management itself. Further, incentive system designers often assume the worker is a lazy organism that in the absence of incentive will do nothing at all, or as little as possible. He must be continually jogged: hence the incentive system. Such a pessimistic view of man is itself largely responsible for the state of affairs that it deplores.

The social nature of work makes itself felt in a variety of ways relevant to the operation of an incentive system. In the case, for example, of a group incentive system, workers are supposed to be motivated to cooperate. This they may indeed do; but they will rigidly limit this cooperation to their own work crew, excluding both other work crews and management itself. For example, they will refuse to accept trainees or apprentices, who pull down the group’s average output. Management will therefore have to undertake the training of these persons separately.

It is often claimed that piece-rate systems reduce the need for close supervision, since labor costs are self-policing: if workers slow down on the job, they themselves will suffer for it. In reality, supervisors are likely to be judged by the bonus earned by the work group. It is felt that if a group is earning a respectable bonus it is doing a good job and must be satisfied; conversely, if it is not earning a bonus, its morale must be low and its work inefficient. In either case, the results may be attributed to the supervisor. Hence supervisors find themselves spending far more time supervising such a group than they would if they were on time earnings. Supervisors may even reach the point of colluding with their men in the securing of loose incentive rates that make it difficult for the group to avoid earning a substantial bonus.

Incentive systems often result in group conflict. Under individual job evaluation, it is assumed that since job A requires more education, involves more responsibility, or requires greater concentration than job B, therefore job A should be rated at, say, $1.50 per hour while job B is rated at $1.25 per hour. But job B is on incentive, and it is soon discovered that workers on job B are earning $1.60 per hour. Management is then puzzled when a worker in job B refuses a “promotion” to job A. It may also be that maintenance men, who service the machines on which incentive workers earn bonuses, demand a share of those earnings, since they feel that they are partly responsible for the high output.

Restriction of output

It is impossible to understand restriction of output unless one recognizes that it is not an individual but a group phenomenon. If the individual worker were to restrict consistently, then he would simply be discharged, for his low productivity in comparison to others would be patent. Restriction is not simply a matter of one worker holding back but of an entire group holding to an agreed rate: only then can the individual avoid sanctions for restriction, since management judges his performance relative to that of his work group.

There appear to be at least six main reasons for restriction (Gross 1958, chapter 14): (1) deliberate slowdowns may compel management to give favorable piece rates; (2) management, it is feared, may cut the rates if earnings get too high; (3) the worker may feel (often justifiably) that he needs more time to relax on the job; (4) avoidance of the sanctions suffered by the rate buster, who will at best be ostracized, thus acquiring a reputation with management for being hard to get along with, and will at worst be physically attacked by his workmates; (5) the general desire to give personal meaning to a job by performing it in an individualistic manner; (6) a difference in the structure of the aspirations of middle-class managers on the one hand and working-class persons on the other.

This last point deserves expansion. Middle-class people, as research has repeatedly confirmed, aim at success and advancement through achievement and are brought up to defer gratifications that might impede the pursuit of these ends (see Straus 1962). Working-class people, by contrast, habitually aim at no more than holding on to their jobs, raising their children so that they, too, can hold jobs and avoid “trouble,” and enjoying the company of their families and circle of friends. It seems clear that individual incentive plans appeal far more to middle-class than to working-class values. In any case, the real chance that a working-class person can appreciably raise his wage (base pay) by his own effort is not large (the range for his job is usually narrow, and he reaches the top very early in his career); his chances of promotion (as a reward for effort) are even smaller. Hence, after a few years, perhaps, of trying to live up to middle-class standards of “success,” he is likely to turn to other values, perhaps leaving to a union or a political party the task of keeping his earnings proportional to the cost of living.

These six factors are obviously potent and will hardly disappear because an incentive scheme offers the chance to earn an extra 10 per cent per hour. Where incentive systems work best it will be found that they have been tied to the workers’ values. Examples include their relatively successful use in the commission system for salesmen, in bonuses for management, in the favorable response of rate busters (who, although a small group, do have values which are more like those of management than those of their fellows), and in situations where effort bears a relation to strongly sensed societal goals. Productivity goes up in wartime or when workers feel a relationship between what they do and national values they hold dear (as in incentive systems in some totalitarian countries or utopian communities), or if their work is seen by them as a sign of grace or means to heaven.

The individual reward system that seems to come closest to tying incentives to worker values is the Scanlon plan. Its main feature is a structure which provides for labor-management cooperation and consultation in labor-saving and in adoption of worker suggestions. Restriction of output seems to be low under this plan (Lesieur 1958).

Incentives, industry, and society

The success of incentive systems is also related to the market or community in which the industry must operate. If the incentive system results in increased production, then demand for the product must be elastic, or else inventories will pile up. Indeed, the fear that this may happen (and workers be laid off) motivates workers to keep production down. In some industries—the needle trades of New York City provide an excellent example—the piecework system is universal. This is because of the very stiff competition among the many small firms, because of tradition, and because of the acceptance of piecework by the unions, who are largely responsible for the stability of the industry.

Incentive systems have many latent effects. They put pressure on management to evaluate jobs more carefully, to supervise with greater rationality, to provide for a more dependable flow of supplies, to inspect products more closely, and to seek out and train specialists in job evaluation, wage and salary administration, time and motion study, accounting, and other such functions. However well or poorly a given incentive system works, management may thus be doing a more efficient job as a result of adopting it. At the same time, the personnel department becomes a more significant element in the organization; and incentive systems are often also an attractive feature in recruiting new workers. Whether these last two considerations justify incentive systems is a moot question.

The data do not permit us to conclude whether the use of industrial reward systems, on a worldwide scale, is increasing or decreasing, or whether they will necessarily increase productivity or lower costs. Pieceworkers usually out-produce those paid on a straight-time basis, other variables being rarely controlled (Mangum 1962, p. 87); but such gains are at least partly offset by the costs of installation and administration of the system. Time study, extra inspections for quality, job evaluation—all these direct labor-saving measures have to be paid for. Clearly more research is needed, both under laboratory conditions and in field situations. Yet the questions of policy and societal values to which we have referred suggest that the merits of industrial reward systems cannot be decided on any purely scientific grounds; the subject still requires public discussion and solutions founded on intuition and imagination.

Edward Gross

[See alsoWages, article onsystems of payment; and the biography ofMayo.]


Data on the distribution of incentive systems, both in particular industries and in whole countries, are available in Belcher 1955; International Labor Office 1951; Marriott 1957. The details of particular incentive systems may be found in Abruzzi 1956; Belcher 1955; Lesieur 1958; Louden & Deegan 1944; Marriott 1957; Wolf 1957. A good summary and critical review of small group experiments on productivity may be found in Hare 1962 (chapters 12 and 13).

Abruzzi, Adam 1956 Work, Workers, and Work Measurement. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. → A critical evaluation of attempts to measure work movements.

Belcher, David W. (1955) 1962 Wage and Salary Administration. 2d ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. A thorough treatment which places the subject of wage incentives in the context of money payments in general.

Dunnette, Marvin D.; Campbell, John; and Jaastad, Kay 1963 The Effect of Group Participation on Brainstorming Effectiveness for Two Industrial Samples. Journal of Applied Psychology 47:30-37.

Gross, Edward 1958 Work and Society. New York: Crowell. → Work motivation from a sociological view point.

Hare, A. Paul 1962 Handbook of Small Group Research. New York: Free Press. → A careful, comprehensive examination of research on small groups, with particular emphasis on productivity under laboratory conditions.

Herzberg, Frederick; Mausner, Bernard; and Snyder-MAN, Barbara Bloch (1957) 1959 The Motivation to Work. 2d ed. New York: Wiley. → A psychological approach to work motivation.

International Labor Office 1951 Payment by Results. Studies and Reports, New Series, No. 27. Geneva: International Labor Office. → An international survey.

Kennedy, Van Dusen 1945 Union Policy and Incentive Wage Methods. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Lesieur, Frederick G. (editor) 1958 The Scanlon Plan: A Frontier in Labor—Management Co-operation. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press.

Louden, J. Keith; and Deegan, J. Wayne (1944) 1959 Wage Incentives. 2d ed. New York: Wiley. → A detailed description of wage incentive systems.

Mangum, Garth L. 1962 Are Wage Incentives Becoming Obsolete? Industrial Relations 2, no. 1:73-96.

Marriott, R. 1957 Incentive Payment Systems: A Review of Research and Opinion. London: Staples. → A critical examination of incentive systems, with particular attention to laboratory studies and with extensive materials on the European experience.

Marx, Karl (1867-1879) 1925-1926 Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. 3 vols. Chicago: Kerr. → Volume 1: The Process of Capitalist Production. Volume 2: The Process of Circulation of Capital. Volume 3: The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole. Volume 1 was published in 1867. The manuscripts of Volumes 2 and 3 were written between 1867 and 1879. They were first published posthumously in German in 1885 and 1894.

Straus, Murray A. 1962 Deferred Gratification, Social Class, and the Achievement Syndrome. American Sociological Review 27:326-335. → A review of the theoretical and research literature.

Viteles, Morris S. 1953 Motivation and Morale in Industry. New York: Norton. → A psychological approach.

Vroom, Victor H. 1964 Work and Motivation. New York: Wiley.

Whyte, William F. et al. 1955 Money and Motivation: An Analysis of Incentives in Industry. New York: Harper.

Wolf, william B. 1957 Wage Incentives as a Managerial Tool. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Labor Movement

views updated May 17 2018


In the last decades of the nineteenth century it appeared that labor was unable effectively to challenge the combined wealth and power that capitalism in its industrial phase had created. The merger movement brought corporations together into vast concentrations of economic power resting in the hands of relatively few men. These trusts, pools, mergers, "gentlemen's agreements," and other instruments of capital consolidation transformed the structure of whole industries, from oil to coal mining, railroads, iron and steel, and meat packing.

This had a major impact on labor relations. On the one hand, the concentration of capital increased the economic power of the "captains of industry." These vertical and horizontal monopolies brought them the ability, seemingly, to do whatever they liked. Even the growing power of the government seemed unable to contain the power of capital. By the end of the nineteenth century the power among the monopolists seemed to be shifting towards the bankers. An example of this preeminent power of finance capital occurred during Theodore Roosevelt's administration. Roosevelt, who believed that the government must be strong enough to curb the "bad trusts," prosecuted and "busted" the Northern Securities railroad holding company in 1904. J. P. Morgan, who was behind the trust, had pleaded unsuccessfully with Roosevelt that "if we have done something wrong send your man to my man and they can fix it up." In 1904, when the Supreme Court sustained the President's prosecution under the Sherman Anti-trust Act and the Northern Security trust was dissolved, Morgan quietly sustained this challenge to his authority.

Then a few years later, Morgan quietly stepped in to save Roosevelt's political hide when the financial panic of 1907 threatened to scuttle a number of New York banks which might set off a general depression. Working behind the scenes, Morgan constructed a pool of financial support from other banks. Morgan, however, told Roosevelt that the crisis could be avoided only if the government agreed not to prosecute a trust involving U.S. Steel and the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company, whose stock was held by one of the threatened banks. Roosevelt had to promise to let the deal go through. To observers it was obvious that the bombastic, trust-busting Roosevelt might make more noise in a confrontation with finance capital, but that the real power was in Morgan's hands.

With this kind of power arrayed against labor, what was the use in trying to organize trade unions? The answer, at least in part, is that by bringing capital together, the merger movement also brought workers together in larger concentrations. One example of this, taken from the 1930s and early 1940s, was the anti-union measures taken by the Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford resisted unionization for decades, but when he built the Dearborn, Michigan Rouge River complex of auto factories and steel mills with a workforce in excess of 80,000, it was only a matter of time before the United Automobile Workers Union (UAW) would successfully organize the plant. It is no coincidence that the first nation-wide strikes in the nineteenth century were called by unions in the railroad industry. The railroads were powerful in their resistance to unions, it is true, but they were also vulnerable. Though they both failed, the "Rebellion of 1877" and the Pullman strike in 1894 demonstrated the strategic strength of labor in these new industries.

As for the rest of the economy, labor in the 1880s seemed to be combative, but generally too weak successfully to press its claims for higher wages, shorter hours, and safer working conditions. One of the most interesting workers' associations of the time was the Knights of Labor. This group was less successful in winning strikes than in laying the groundwork for a strong culture which emphasized solidarity among workers. Their mode of labor organizing was to found "regional assemblies" which included workers in several nearby industries. This approach stimulated a class-conscious culture, but it was hard to fight strikes when the union was not organized to concentrate on the target industry. Led by a machinist, Terence V. Powderly, the Knights were eclectic in their organizing strategy. They sought to enroll all workers into their lodges: women and African Americans were not excluded; only the "parasitic" elements in the communities were not allowed to jointhe lawyers, the tavern keepers, bankers and gamblers.

With the Haymarket Riots in Chicago in May 1886, the deteriorating relations with the employers and the government led the labor movement to split in two. One part was the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Like the Knights of Labor, the IWW sought to organize all workers in "One Big Union." Also called, affectionately, the "Wobblies," the IWW's roots lay in the unskilled and unruly lumber workers of the northwest, the migrant agricultural workers of the great plains, the Western Federation of Miners, and the textile workers of Lawrence, Massachusetts. They expressed a political culture of American working class radicalisma political culture that is so complex as to challenge definition. They engaged in free-speech campaigns in southern California during the repressive days of World War I, stepping up to give anti-war speeches on soap-boxes; being dragged away by police; only to be replaced by another speaker. They also most probably murdered mine owners whenever they could get close enough to them. In the exchange of violence, however, they were more often the victims than the perpetrator. They were what political scientists call "Anarcho-Syndicalists," (or anarchist-unionists). They believed that there can only be warfare between labor and capitalism and that either capitalism or socialism would emerge from the battle. They refused to negotiate or sign labor contracts with management because that would signify an accommodation between labor and management. Instead, they simply instigated strikes, something they were very good at. Eventually, as American labor became institutionalized, the Wobblies faded away.

The other side of the split in American labor in the late nineteenth century was the American Federation of Labor. In an era in which the employers seemed to be bent on merger and monopoly, other labor leaders began to think of consolidating the labor movement in a different wayby combining the existing trade unions into a national federation similar to the British Trades Union Congress (TUC). In response to management's monopoly of capital, they set out to monopolize labor, but they did so in a very different way than the Wobblies. This new federation, the American Federation of Labor, was formed in 1886. It did not shrink from the IWW's fear of "legitimizing" normal relationships between labor and capital. That, in fact, was its goalto become a legitimate voice of labor in a democratic capitalist society (a contradiction in terms, the Wobblies would have argued). It intended to use whatever tools it could to improve the condition and the wages of labor. It would lobby for legislation in Washington and the state capitals. Of it would go on strike. Like the British TUC, it was composed of craft unions and it promised its constituent unions complete autonomy in the operation of their relations with management. Meeting in Pittsburgh in November 1881, the national trades unions formed the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada. The federation grew slowly, hindered at first by the economic recession from 1883 to 1885, and also by defeats in a number of labor disputes. Eventually, in 1886 they formed the American Federation of Labor.

The AFL called for solidarity among workers, but they did so through supporting each others' boycotts and refusals to "handle struck goods." They didn't call for the end of the wage labor system. They called for an alliance of labor unions committed to bread-andbutter wage and working conditions, rather than political or social issues and advocacy. At the convention in December 1886, the American Federation of Labor was born. Samuel Gompers of the Cigarmakers' International Union was elected president. Eschewing utopianism and espousing practical objectives, the AFL was able to survive the disastrous strikes of the early 1890s, and emerged in 1897 from the depression of that decade with 265,000 members and uncontested dominance in the American labor movement.

With the revival of traditional conservative pro-business politics after World War I (19141918), and the anti-Communism of the first "red scare" (1919early 1920s) labor evinced a desire to appear "legitimate" and non-controversial. As would happen in the second "red scare" of the early 1950s, the leaders of the AFL denounced the radicals in the labor movement. They stood by as several union leaders accused of instigating the Haymarket Riot in Chicago were indicted, tried, found guilty, and hanged (although the accused were not present at the riot).

Pressing their advantage during the 1920s, the company-sponsored offensive against unions included hard-nosed policies like hiring armed company guards, strikebreakers, and agents provocateurs (hired infiltrators who instigated violence to bring down the repression by the police and the courts), as well as the tactic of founding non-controversial and ineffective "company unions." Capitalizing on anti-labor sentiments in the population at large, employers drew upon local and state authorities to deploy mounted police and militia to harass and arrest union organizers and disrupt picket lines. Yellow-dog contracts, which threatened workers with dismissal should they join a union, became commonplace. Under the auspices of the National Association of Manufacturers, anti-labor propaganda circulated widely, systematically arguing in favor of open shops, which allowed nonunion workers to be employed even though a union may have organized the workplace.

The protective legislation that Gompers and his fellow labor leaders thought they saw in the 1914 Clayton Act's provisions excluding unions from prosecution for being "in restraint of trade" was shredded by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1921. In Duplex Printing Press Company v. Deering, the Supreme Court interpreted the Sherman and Clayton Acts as protecting employers from labor violence, from secondary boycotts, and from the use of other labor tactics that could be construed as unlawful interference with interstate commerce.

Speaking for a conservative Court, Justice Mahlon Pitney held that certain union tactics constituted unlawful interference with interstate commerce and therefore were subject to antitrust laws. By holding unions accountable under antitrust laws for anything the Court deemed to be other than normal and legitimate union activity, the Court effectively nullified the Clayton Act's labor provisions, and made it almost impossible for unions to organize workers in nonunion companies.

But under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration (19331945), things changed for labor. Title 7(a) of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), gave labor unions the legal right to bargain collectively, and Roosevelt often backed labor in efforts to put forth its side of the story in disputes with management. It was mainly the Congress of Industrial Organizations that benefited from the government's decision not to repress labor. (Under the leadership of United Mineworker President John L. Lewis, the CIO split from the AFL in 1935 and set about organizing the semi-skilled labor in the new mass production industries like auto, steel, and rubber. The CIO demanded that all labor must be organized, not just the skilled trades).

A conservative Supreme Court struck down NIRA, but Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (the Wagner Act), which upheld the right to bargain collectively, authorized the Fair Labor Standards Act (which continued the 40-hour workweek) and prohibited child labor, and established the National Labor Relations Board to mediate during industrial disputes. When labor unions added the clout of the sit-down strike to government assistance, they secured for themselves living wages and purchasing power.

The 1955 merger that created the American Federation of LaborCongress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) healed a serious rift in the American labor movement, but a number of critical problems haunted AFL-CIO leadership during the next 15 years. The nation's political mood following passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947and the state "right to work" laws that ensuedcontinued to be generally hostile toward organized labor. Much of this hostility was rooted in public perceptions that many unions were infiltrated and dominated by Communists or, equally menacing to the public welfare, that they were run by corrupt officials in collaboration with organized crime.

The U.S. Secretary of Labor, James P. Mitchell, reflecting the views of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration (19531961), announced to the 1957 AFL-CIO convention that the president would soon propose legislation to protect union members from "crooks and racketeers." That prediction anticipated passage of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (Landrum-Griffin Act) two years later. When the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, led by Senator John L. McClellan (D-Arkansas) and its chief counsel, Robert F. Kennedy, shifted its focus toward union corruption and racketeering, labor leaders began to realize the disruptive potential of union reform. Within months, committee revelations concerning corruption among unions of operating engineers, plumbers, and retail clerks became national news.

Aware that the image of organized labor had become badly tarnished, labor leaders during the 1960s attempted to take the lead in cleansing the unions of communist influences as well as dishonest union officials and mobsters. After the merger, the burden of these efforts fell to the AFL-CIO's first president, George Meany, a New York City plumber by trade and a respected organizer and union leader. In his capacity as the McClellan Committee's chief counsel, Robert F. Kennedy personally presented Meany with damning evidence against the AFLCIO's largest constituent union, the Teamsters.

The Kennedy-Mollenhoff materials specifically alleged corruption involving, among others, Teamster president Dave Beck. Beck, an AFL-CIO vice president and executive committee member, testified in 1957 before the McClellan Committee about his purported theft of $300,000 of union funds as well as his acceptance of money from employers. Meany was outraged that Beck invoked the Fifth Amendment ninety times. Meany stripped Beck of his AFL-CIO offices and his Teamster presidency and planned to present the Teamsters's 1957 convention with details of Beck's corruption. Under Beck's successor, Jimmy Hoffa, the presentation of the AFL-CIO report on Teamster corruption at the Teamster's 1957 convention was jeered and expunged from the record. Hoffa declared his union ready to "tell the AFL-CIO to go to hell." Thus, in December 1957 the AFL-CIO expelled its largest union, the Teamsters.

Hoffa by that point was standing trial in New York for wiretapping the telephones of Teamsters who were to appear before the McClellan Committee. While under indictment, Hoffa presided over the Teamsters from 1957 until 1967, the year in which appeals from his 1964 conviction on separate charges of jury tampering, fraud, and conspiracy were exhausted and he began serving the remainder of a 13-year sentence in federal prison. In 1971, with his sentence commuted by President Richard Nixon (19611974), Hoffa retired from all Teamster offices with his union's thanks and an award of $1.7 million, or about a dollar per member. In 1975, as news reports were circulating that the Teamster leader might be about to reenter active leadership of the union, Hoffa disappeared and was presumed murdered.

Meany's efforts to clean house and refurbish labor's name produced significant changes in the AFLCIO. The AFL-CIO constitution prohibited union corruption and criminality; it did not, however, prescribe enforcement powers. Meany and his aides and committees expelled errant officials or unions, placed them on probation or under monitors, or gave them dated ultimatums to produce reforms. In initiating these actions, Meany challenged the historic autonomy that many unions, particularly those of the old AFL, had cherished as their right. Although Meany largely abandoned his drive against union corruption and criminality by 1963, leaving further measures to the U.S. Attorney General and Senate investigators, one momentous consequence of his reformism was the centralization of authority in the hands of AFL-CIO leaders. Management found themselves dealing less with a federation of unions than with the federation itself the world's largest labor organization.

Critics from within the labor movement were quick to observe that a more centralized AFL-CIO was also more conservative and complacent. Some critics attributed a relative decline in nationwide union strength to this complacency. Although no observers lamented the convictions of expelled Teamster officials, least of all Beck and Hoffa, most noted that the Teamsters offered many workers one of few alternatives to the giant federation after the Teamsters' return to political favor during the Nixon administration. The union failed in its efforts between the 1960s and 1987 to reenter the AFL-CIO.

The post-Hoffa Teamsters displayed an interest in organizing almost any workers. This approach to organization, pushed regardless of organizational expense and with great daring, accelerated after 1975. The AFL-CIO avoided trying to unionize companies with only a handful of workers, but the Teamsters, in a spirit that strangely recalled the idealism of the Knights of Labor or the I.W.W., often sought recruits in shops with fewer than a dozen employees. It made no economic sense, but, to many Teamster organizers and rank and file, it was the right thing to do. The overall strength of the union rose only modestly to 1.8 million members by the end of the 1970s. In effect, the Teamsters were the AFL-CIO's only formidable and dynamic competition. This remained true until 1968, when Walter Reuther pulled his United Auto Workers (UAW) out of the AFL-CIO and promptly entered an alliance with the Teamsters. The UAW and the Teamsters each launched vigorous and innovative organizing campaigns that were supposed to put labor on the march again. (Reuther, however, died in a plane crash in 1970.)

After many attempts, the Teamsters were allowed to rejoin the AFL-CIO in 1987. Meany's AFL-CIO tried to maintain its membership during a lengthy relative decline in union membership. By the 1990s the labor scene was businesslike, closely monitored by law and by union leadership. A measure of respectability, if not huge popularity, had returned to a more centralized AFL-CIO.

See also: American Federation of Labor, Congress of Industrial Organizations, Industrial Workers of the World, Knights of Labor, Labor Unionism, John Llewellyn Lewis, RICO Act


Brooks, Thomas R. Toil and Trouble: A History of American Labor. 2d ed. New York: Delacorte Press, 1971.

Lorwin, Lewis L. The American Federation of Labor: History, Policies, and Prospects. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1933.

Mandel, Bernard. Samuel Gompers, A Biography. Yellow Springs, Ohio: Antioch College Press, 1963.

Pelling, Henry. American Labor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960.

Taft, Philip. The A.F. of L. from the Death of Gompers to the Merger. New York: Harper & Row, 1959.

Industrial Relations

views updated May 23 2018


INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS. The term "industrial relations" has developed both a broad and a narrow meaning. Originally, industrial relations was broadly defined to include the totality of relationships and interactions between employers and employees. From this perspective, industrial relations covers all aspects of the employment relationship, including human resource (or personnel) management, employee relations, and union-management (or labor) relations. Since the mid-twentieth century, however, the term has increasingly taken on a narrower, more restricted interpretation that largely equates it with unionized employment relationships. In this view, industrial relations pertains to the study and practice of collective bargaining, trade unionism, and labor-management relations, while human resource management is a separate, largely distinct field that deals with nonunion employment relationships and the personnel practices and policies of employers. Both meanings of the term coexist in the twenty-first century, although the latter is the more common.


The term "industrial relations" came into common usage in the 1910s, particularly in 1912 upon the appointment by President William Taft of an investigative committee titled the Commission on Industrial Relations. The commission's charge was to investigate the causes of widespread, often violent labor conflict and make recommendations regarding methods to promote greater cooperation and harmony among employers and employees. Shortly thereafter, the term gained even greater saliency in the public mind due to the wave of strikes, labor unrest, and agitation for "industrial democracy" that accompanied the economic and political disturbances associated with World War I. As a result, by the beginning of the 1920s universities began to establish industrial relations centers and programs to conduct research and train students in employer-employee relations, while progressive business firms established the first "industrial relations" or "personnel" departments to formalize and professionalize the management of labor.

Although the term "industrial relations" came into prominent usage in the 1910s, its roots extend back at least three decades into the nineteenth century. It was during this period, beginning in the 1870s, that the process of industrialization began in earnest in the United States, leading to the emergence of a growing urban-based wage-earning labor force working in large-scale factories, mills, and mines. Conditions growing out of the industrialization process—twelve-hour work days, tens of thousands of work-related fatalities, low wages, extremely high rates of labor turnover, and poor employee work effort and attitudes—led to growing numbers of strikes, revolutionary economic and political movements, and demands for social and economic reform. These maladjustments and frictions between employers and employees, and the conflict they precipitated, came to be known as "the Labor Problem."

The emergence of industrial relations in the 1910s as an academic field of study and area of business practice was thus intimately associated with the rise and growing seriousness of the Labor Problem, and industrial relations came to be widely defined during this period as the study of labor problems and alternative methods to resolve such problems. Social scientists identified three major types of solutions: the "employer's solution" of personnel management, the "workers' solution" of trade unionism and collective bargaining, and the "community's solution" of government-enacted protective labor legislation and social insurance programs (for example, minimum wages and unemployment insurance). In its early years, therefore, industrial relations was broadly conceived because it subsumed all three types of solutions to labor problems, while in terms of ideology and approach to social policy industrial relations tended to be reformist, progressive, and critical of laissez-faire.

Historical Development

During the prosperous and politically conservative 1920s, the American labor movement suffered a significant loss in membership, influence, and public approval, while restrictive court rulings and conservative political opposition hobbled the extension of labor legislation. In this period the major line of advance in industrial relations was the employer's solution of personnel management. Numerous firms established personnel departments and in various ways tried to reduce the most serious causes of labor unrest and turnover. The apogee of this effort was among several hundred liberal/progressive employers who adopted the new model of welfare capitalism. Intended to promote greater employee morale, cooperation, and productivity—as well as to undercut the threat of unions and government intervention—this employment strategy entailed many new employee welfare benefits (paid vacations and company doctors, for example), promises of employment security, curbs on the right of foremen to hire and fire, payment of fair wages, and the introduction of employee representation plans to promote resolution of grievances and employee participation and voice in the enterprise.

The decade of the 1930s saw a near-revolution in American industrial relations practices and policies. The Great Depression, beginning in late 1929 and extending to 1939, caused widespread suffering and hardship among the industrial workforce, leading to the re-emergence of numerous labor problems, such as low wages, long hours, and mass unemployment. Many workers became disillusioned with employers when firms succumbed to economic pressures and cut wages and other labor conditions, while some became embittered when they perceived that companies took advantage of labor in a harsh and opportunistic way. As the employer's solution lost credibility and effectiveness, focus turned toward other solutions. This shift gained speed when the new administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected in late 1932 and soon thereafter Roosevelt instituted his New Deal economic recovery measures. Under Roosevelt's leadership, public policy turned favorable to labor unions and government labor legislation as a way to promote economic recovery, protect the underdog in the employment relationship, and establish greater industrial democracy. The three major initiatives were the National Labor Relations Act (encouraging and protecting the right to join a union and bargain collectively), the Social Security Act (establishing old age and unemployment insurance), and the Fair Labor Standards Act (setting minimum wages and maximum hours).

The labor movement also transformed itself in the 1930s. More dynamic, aggressive union leaders came to the fore, such as John L. Lewis, Sidney Hillman, and Philip Murray. A more effective method of organizing and representing workers was emphasized ("industrial" unions that organize all workers in an industry, rather than the traditional "craft" union model that includes only workers of a particular occupation or skill). And a new federation of industrial unions, called the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), was established to rival the traditional federation of craft unions, the American Federation of Labor (AFL).

As a result of these events and developments in the economic, legislative, and trade union worlds, a great shift in industrial relations practices and policies occurred in the 1930s. Union membership mushroomed from only 10 percent of the workforce in the early 1930s to 27 percent a decade later. The American laissez-faire approach to employer-employee relations was reversed and the beginnings of both greater government regulation of employment and the development of a social welfare state were initiated. Finally, employers emerged from the 1930s with much-reduced power in industrial relations, while personnel management came to be regarded in many quarters as largely ineffective and often an overt or covert union-avoidance device.

The decade of the 1940s saw a consolidation of the trends unleashed a decade earlier. As a result of World War II, industrial employment boomed and the federal government instituted a system of wage-price controls on the economy. The net effect of these developments was to further spread collective bargaining and government regulation of the labor market, in the case of the former due in part to government pressure on employers to accede to union organizing efforts and bargaining demands in order to prevent strikes and interruptions to war production. With the end of the war, wage-price controls were lifted and a strike wave erupted in 1946 as employers sought to recoup some of their lost prerogatives while unions fought to maintain their gains. The result was largely to leave intact the industrial relations system that had evolved out of the war, but with a discernible spread of opinion among the public that union power needed to be reined in and made more responsible. The result was the passage in 1947 of the Taft-Hartley amendments to the National Labor Relations Act. The law prohibited certain practices of unions, such as the closed shop, and gave the government the ability to temporarily end strikes that cause national emergencies.

Adverse changes in federal law notwithstanding, for roughly another decade organized labor continued to expand its membership and influence. Unity was also restored in the labor movement through the creation of a single labor federation in 1955, the AFL-CIO, under the leadership of George Meany. Although not discernible at the time, the high water mark for the labor movement came in the mid-1950s when the union share of the non-agricultural workforce peaked at slightly above one-third. Hidden in this number is the remarkable fact that over a twenty-year period unions had succeeded in organizing most of the medium-large firms in the manufacturing, mining, and transportation sectors of the economy. Also of significance, unions were seen as the primary innovators in employment practices, using collective bargaining to win formal grievance systems, wage classification systems, cost-of-living wage adjustment clauses, and a plethora of new employee benefits.

Starting in the early 1960s, the New Deal industrial relations system, with its emphasis on collective bargaining as the major institution for determining wages and labor conditions in the economy, began to erode and be replaced by a new system. The new system that emerged, and then became consolidated in the 1980s and 1990s, featured a much smaller role for collective bargaining with a much-expanded role for personnel management—now called human resource management—and direct government regulation of employment conditions.

Several trends and developments were responsible for this shift. One was a slow but cumulatively significant shrinkage in the size and influence of the union sector of the economy. In the private (non-government) sector, the unionized share of the workforce began to contract in the 1960s and continued to do so until the end of the century. While 32 percent of private sector workers were covered by collective bargaining contracts in 1960, in the year 2000 this proportion had shrunk to 9 percent—a level roughly equal to that in the early 1930s. A number of factors were responsible for the union decline. Unions gradually increased wage and benefits for their members up through the mid-1980s, but in so doing the production costs at organized firms also became increasingly higher than at nonunion firms. The result was a slow loss of competitiveness and jobs in the union sector in the 1960s and 1970s, followed in the 1980s by a hemorrhaging of jobs due to widespread plant closings and layoffs. Another complementary factor was the intensification of competition in product and financial markets. Due to globalization and domestic deregulation of industries, American firms experienced a gradual increase in competitive pressure, leading them to more aggressively resist union organizing drives and downsize and eliminate existing unionized plants. This trend was also complemented by greater pressure from financial markets (Wall Street) for higher earnings and short-run profit performance. Finally, during the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s government policy toward organized labor turned more hostile, as reflected in the firing of the striking air traffic controllers and the pro-management rulings of the National Labor Relations Board.

The situation for unions from the 1960s to the 1990s was not entirely negative, however. The most positive development was the spread of collective bargaining to the public sector. Due to a liberalization of state and federal laws in the 1960s and 1970s, union coverage in the public (government) sector greatly expanded, from 11 percent in 1960 to 37 percent in 2000. As a result of the shrinkage of private sector unionism and the expansion of unionism in the public sector, the latter accounts for nearly 40 percent of total union members in the United States. (However, even in the private sector unions continue to represent over 9 million workers [and 7 million in the public sector] and, encouragingly for organized labor, surveys indicate that one-third of American workers would vote to have a union if given the opportunity.)

A second development that undermined the New Deal system of industrial relations was the re-emergence and revitalization of the employer's solution of labor problems in the form of human resource management. The decline of the unionized sector of the economy opened the door for personnel/human resource management to reassert itself as a leading force in industrial relations, and new ideas and practices in human resource management allowed companies, in turn, to effectively take advantage of this opportunity. Through the 1960s, personnel management had a reputation as a largely low-level, heavily administrative, and nonstrategic business function. Starting in the 1960s, however, academic research in the behavioral and organizational sciences led to a flowering of new ideas and theories about how to better motivate people at work, structure jobs for increased productivity and job satisfaction, and organize and operate business firms for competitive advantage. These new insights were gradually incorporated into personnel management, leading to a shift in both its name—to human resource management—and its approach to managing employees (from viewing employees as a short-run expense to a long-term asset). As a result, human resource management gradually replaced labor-management relations (increasingly thought of as synonymous with industrial relations) in the eyes of academics and practitioners as the locus of new and exciting workplace developments.

In the 1970s American companies started to introduce these new employment practices into selected plants and facilities, culminating in the development of what is often called a "high-performance" work system. Since the 1970s this system, and individual parts of it, have spread widely. A high-performance work system is a package of employment practices that include self-managed work teams, gainsharing forms of compensation, promises of employment security, formal dispute resolution systems, and an egalitarian organizational culture. These work systems not only boost productivity but also typically increase employee job satisfaction, leading to reduced interest in union representation. Companies have also become much more adept at keeping out unions, not only through progressive human resource management methods but also through more aggressive and sophisticated union-avoidance practices.

The third major force undermining the New Deal industrial relations system has been the spread of greater government regulation of employment conditions. After the passage of the Social Security and Fair Labor Standards Acts in the 1930s, the federal and state governments enacted little new employment legislation until the mid-1960s. Starting with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, however, government has become increasingly active in the employment sphere. In addition to a host of laws and regulations pertaining to discrimination (racial, gender, age, physical disability, sexual orientation), federal and/or state governments have passed numerous laws relating to other employment areas, such as pension plans, family and medical leave, and the portability of health insurance. It is widely considered that these laws and attendant agencies, courts, and attorneys have to some degree served as a substitute for unions, thus also explaining a portion of the union decline in the late twentieth century.


The field and practice of industrial relations began in the early years of the twentieth century and evolved in numerous ways in reaction to a host of far-reaching changes in the economic, political, and social realm. It began with a broad emphasis on the employment relationship and the labor problems that grow out of this relationship. As a result of the rise of mass unionism between 1935 and 1955, the field became identified in the academic and practitioner worlds with, first and foremost, the study and practice of collective bargaining and labor-management relations. Since then the unionized sector of the economy has shrunk considerably, while a rival field of human resource management has grown and spread—a product of both new ideas and practices and the opening up of a much-expanded unorganized sector in the labor market. Thus the term "industrial relations" is increasingly associated with the unionized sector of the labor market. But a minority of participants continue to view industrial relations as pertaining to the entire world of work and, in particular, the three solutions to labor problems: personnel/human resource management, trade unionism and collective bargaining, and government legislation.


Bennett, James, and Bruce Kaufman. The Future of Private Sector Unionism in the United States. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 2001.

Derber, Milton. The American Idea of Industrial Democracy, 1865–1965. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1970.

Dunlop, John. Industrial Relations Systems. New York: Holt, 1958.

Freeman, Richard, and Joel Rodgers. What Workers Want. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1999.

Jacoby, Sanford. Employing Bureaucracy: Managers, Unions, and the Transformation of Work in American Industry, 1900–1945. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

Kaufman, Bruce. The Origins and Evolution of the Field of Industrial Relations in the United States. Ithaca, N.Y.: ILR Press, 1993.

———. "Human Resources and Industrial Relations: Commonalities and Differences." Human Resource Management Review 11, no. 4 (2001): 339–374.

Kochan, Thomas, Harry Katz, and Robert McKersie. The Transformation of American Industrial Relations. New York: Basic Books, 1986.

Nelson, Daniel. Shifting Fortunes: The Rise and Decline of American Labor from the 1820s to the Present. Chicago: Ivan Doe, 1997.


See alsoLabor ; Trade Unions .

Labor Movement

views updated May 21 2018

Labor Movement

Prior to the 1870s, America's economy was based on agriculture. The Industrial Revolution of the late nineteenth century introduced new opportunities for labor and changed the way Americans earned a living.

Between 1860 and 1900, the number of workers in manufacturing quadrupled to six million. Where once people had made their living farming, millions now left home each day to work in industry and earn a wage. Change on such a magnificent level tends to bring problems that need to be solved, and in the case of the Industrial Revolution the treatment of workers was one such problem.

Hardships in every industry

In every industry, pay was very low and working conditions were horrible. Many industries, such as coal mining , relied on immigrants who needed work. Company owners knew they could force them to work long hours in dangerous conditions for next to no pay, and the immigrants would accept that without complaint. Most knew no English and had no idea how American society operated. They were grateful just to find jobs.

Women and children were treated particularly poorly. Child labor was common as families required every able body to work to pay for housing and food. According to the laws of the day, women and children were considered second-class citizens, so most industries saw no need to treat them humanely.

Labor unions to the rescue?

Big business was right: workers needed their jobs, and they were willing to accept poor treatment up to a point, especially if there was hope for a better life. But as workers continued to labor long hours without earning enough money even to survive, they knew something had to change. The determination to change wages and working conditions led to the formation of labor unions, formally organized associations of

workers that advanced members’ views on wages, work hours, and labor conditions.

Company and factory owners were vehemently opposed to the formation of labor unions. The more money they had to invest in wages or making the workplace safe, the less profit they would make. Also, there were no benefits such as health insurance in those days, so if a worker got sick, there were always many more willing to take his or her place.

The idea of labor unions was not new to the Industrial Revolution. As far back as the 1790s, shoemakers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania , organized their efforts. One of the most powerful labor unions was organized in 1869. The Knights of Labor (KOL) allowed both skilled and unskilled laborers to join. At first, the group met in secrecy, but by the 1880s it had become a national force.

When workers were dissatisfied with their wages or labor conditions, they met with their union. Union leaders would then attempt to meet with the owner or manager of the employees’ company to negotiate how best to compromise so that both sides could be satisfied. More often than not, business owners refused to negotiate. When that happened, workers did not have many options in how to respond, so usually they went on strike . A strike is when workers refuse to do their jobs until their grievances are discussed and resolved.

Violence everywhere

Some of the most violent labor strikes in American history occurred during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1877, 20 percent of America's labor force was unemployed. Another 60 percent worked irregular hours and took odd jobs as they could find them. Railroad workers were laboring fifteen to eighteen hours a day only to earn 35 percent less in wages than they had earned five years before. It was a hard time for everyone.

America depended upon the railroad for business and industry to run. When one railroad company informed its workers they would be forced to endure another 10 percent pay cut, the workers went on strike. As more railroads announced pay cuts, more workers went on strike. In West Virginia a strike got so violent that President Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893; served 1877–81) called in federal troops to take control. It was the first time a U.S. president took federal action against strikers. Another strike in 1877, this one in Pennsylvania, turned into a riot in which twenty-five people were killed and more wounded. More than $10 million in property damages had been incurred. (See Great Railroad Strike .)

The Haymarket Square riot on May 4, 1886, began as a peaceful protest in downtown Chicago, Illinois . Participants were publicly denouncing the police brutality of strikers just the day before. Police had attacked unarmed strikers and killed several of them. As the Haymarket meeting was coming to an end, police arrived to break it up. Someone from the crowd threw a bomb into the group of police officers, killing one on the spot. A riot broke out, and both sides began shooting. No one knows who threw the bomb, and the number of dead protestors has never been confirmed. Seven more police officers died as a result of the bomb.

There seemed no end to the strikes. The Homestead Strike at the Carnegie Steel Company in 1892 involved armed battles between strikers and detectives hired to act as guards. It took eight thousand state troops to take control of the strike, and the workers never had their demands met. Ten men died in the violence and scores of others were injured. Two years later, workers at a railroad car manufacturing plant in Pullman, Illinois, went on strike. President Grover Cleveland (1837–1908; served 1885–89 and 1893–97) sent in twenty-five hundred troops to halt the Pullman Strike . Strikers rioted against the troops for two days. Around thirty strikers were killed and many more wounded. Soon, fourteen thousand troops were on site. After several weeks of negotiating, the company reopened for business.

Strikes continue

The coal mining industry saw its share of strikes, one in 1900 and another in 1902. But the worst strike of the industry by far did not happen until 1914. In September 1913, more than ten thousand coal miners went on strike in Ludlow, Colorado . Led by the United Mine Workers of America, the workers demanded, among other things, union recognition, a wage increase, enforcement of the eight-hour-day law as well as state mining laws, and the right to choose where they shopped and lived.

The leader among mine operators was the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, owned by John D. Rockefeller (1839–1937). Rockefeller had the miners and their families evicted from company housing and used the National Guard to keep the mines operating.

Without shelter, the mining families set up tents in the hills and continued striking throughout the winter. Conditions were harsh, and food was scarce. But Rockefeller showed no sign of changing his mind; arbitration would not take place.

April 20, 1914, was Easter on the calendar of the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Greek immigrants among the miners were celebrating. Despite the strike, the mood around the tent camp that morning was festive. At 10 AM, however, Colorado troops surrounded the camp in Ludlow and opened fire on the miners’ tent colony, which had been set up on public property. Company guards, strikebreakers, private detectives, and soldiers had planned the attack. They brought with them an armored car mounted with a machine gun called the Death Special. As

bullets sprayed through the colony, tents caught on fire. Later, investigations revealed that kerosene had been poured on the tents.

By the end of the day, twenty people, including two women and eleven children, were dead. Three strikers were taken prisoner and executed. None of the attackers was ever punished, although hundreds of the miners were arrested and blacklisted (forbidden to find work) in the coal industry. John D. Rockefeller Jr. (1874–1960), who by this time was in charge of the mine, denied the massacre ever occurred and publicly stated that no women or children died in what he called a fight that was started by the miners. He spent the next decade trying to repair the damage done by the Ludlow Massacre to the Rockefeller name. He gradually came to acknowledge the atrocity of the massacre, and through his efforts to right the wrongs that had been done, Rockefeller increased the social awareness of his entire family. The Rockefellers would eventually become one of the most philanthropic (generous, through charitable donations) families in America.

The American Federation of Labor

Samuel Gompers (1850–1924) worked at one of the bigger cigar shops in New York. Gompers was born in London, England, to Jewish parents who had emigrated from Holland. He learned how to make cigars at a young age. When he moved with his family to America in 1863, he relied on his skills to earn a living. By 1885, having earned a reputation as a dependable worker with a serious mind, Gompers was elected president of Cigar Makers International Union Local 144.

In 1886, the New York Cigar Manufacturers' Association cut wages. Local 144 of the Cigar Makers International Union and the other cigar union, Progressive No. 1 of KOL, protested. When cigar manufacturers ordered a lockout of ten thousand workers, Progressive No. 1 negotiated and settled with the employers. Local 144 did not give in. As president, Gompers felt betrayed by the KOL and its leader, Terence V. Powderly (1849–1924), and accused the group of not having the best interests of the workers in mind. Gompers persuaded the Cigar Makers union to boycott all other cigars.

The conflict between the two unions gave the crafters (skilled laborers) unions the opportunity they had been waiting for to confront the KOL. The Knights, still focused on improving the rights of the unskilled laborer, ordered all members of the Cigar Makers International Union to

resign or give up their KOL membership. On December 8, 1886, forty-two members of twenty-five different labor unions met and formed the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The labor movement had a new leader.

Unlike the KOL, the AFL acknowledged that each trade within its membership had autonomy (the ability to make its own specific rules and regulations). The executive committee would not interfere in each trade union's internal affairs, but it would have the right to resolve disputes. The AFL required dues (regular payments) to create a strike fund. That money would be paid to workers on strike, although the amount would not equal their usual pay. Soon, city and state federations of the AFL were formed to promote labor legislation.

Gompers was elected the AFL's first president in 1886. With the exception of one year, he kept that position until his death thirty-eight years later. He drafted charters, collected monies, organized conventions, and edited the AFL's newspaper. He was a popular president who never lost communication with the laborers.

Despite Gompers's popularity, the AFL's growth was slow. Membership in 1886 was 150,000. By 1892, it had increased by just another hundred thousand. Despite the slow rise in membership, however, the AFL offered the first real stability to labor unions. That stability attracted four railway brotherhoods, which had learned their lesson in the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. Other labor unions joined because the AFL offered health insurance and other benefits that many laborers considered as important as wages, if not more so. Laborers who disagreed with the philosophy and mission of the KOL left the Knights in favor of the AFL. The KOL had its lowest membership ever in 1900 and eventually disappeared.

A look to the future

Laissez-faire (lack of government interference) capitalism was America's reality in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Without a way to fight effectively for justice, the working class could not hope to improve the future. The Haymarket Square riot and the Homestead and Pullman strikes were reminders that power was in the hands of the wealthy. The majority of laborers still worked between fifty-four and sixty-three hours each week, sometimes even longer.

The American Federation of Labor (AFL) offered hope. By 1901, 75 percent of all trade union members were also members of the AFL. Its leader, Gompers, remained opposed to allowing unskilled workers into the AFL, partly because the socialists favored it.

Socialists in America continued to fight capitalism. When the Socialist Labor Party (SLP) tried to take over the KOL and the AFL in the 1890s, it failed. Many Jewish laborers, tired of the authoritarian (controlling) attitude of the SLP, severed ties with the organization in 1897 and 1898. Their leaders joined fellow labor leader Eugene V. Debs (1855–1926) in founding the Socialist Party of America in 1901. Socialism is a system in which the government owns and operates business and production as well as the distribution of wealth.

Although progress was slow for the labor movement, most of the important gains were made in state and federal legislation. Congress passed the Erdman Act in 1898, which stated that railroads could not discriminate against union members. Between 1886 and the end of the century, reform took place in areas that included child labor, women's labor, negotiation guidelines, the eight-hour workday, safety conditions, and responsibility for accidents. Major federal reform legislation was not passed until the 1930s.

Labor Movement

views updated May 29 2018


The American labor movement has had a passionate, paradoxical, and often bitter relationship with the Constitution. During the era of lochner v. new york (1905), from the 1880s to the 1920s, most judges agreed that labor was a commodity like any other; the Constitution guaranteed workers the right freely to sell their labor "just as the employer may sell his iron or coal." During these decades, state and federal courts protected employers' and individual workers' rights to contract and compete in the marketplace free from what judges deemed unwarranted governmental interferences. Courts voided many hours and safety laws as unconstitutional interferences with liberty of contract. Courts enjoined strikes and boycotts as tortious interferences with employers' freedom of enterprise. Even in "legal" strikes, many state and federal courts held that there was no such thing as peaceful pick-eting.

The burdens of repression and semi-outlawry drove trade unionists to develop an alternative constitutional outlook. They assailed the common law view that labor was a mere commodity and that employers could acquire a property right in their workers' labor or "human capacities." The injunctions that forbade strikers' "interference" with this right were, in labor's view, "judicial re-enactments of slavery." The thirteenth amendment—even some of the Supreme Court's own Thirteenth Amendment decisions—seemed to support these claims. According to the unions, the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, was a "glorious labor amendment" that stood not only for self-owernship but also for labor's dignity and independence. These ideas drew upon the Lincolnian "Free Labor" philosophy of the Thirteenth Amendment's framers who vowed that the amendment would always stand as a shield against the oppression of "free labor both black and white."

Labor's constitutional critique of the injunction also invoked the first amendment. However slight a feature of official constitutional doctrine, the First Amendment, in the eyes of nineteenth-century trade unionists, always stood for the sanctity of association by citizens and "uniting peaceably to redress wrongs." Injunctions against peaceful persuasion, meetings, publications, parades, and picketing "trampled on" this vision of the First Amendment.

During the Lochner era, only a few dissenting jurists embraced aspects of labor's constitutional vision. But labor's constitutional views were seconded by many new deal congressmen who championed the norris-laguardia act and wagner act. These statutes supplanted the old common law regime and ushered in the modern labor-law era. Then, with the demise of Lochner -era substantive due process and the emergence of a New Deal majority on the Supreme Court, the Court began to extend First Amendment protection to labor protest.

in thornhill v. alabama (1940) the Court struck down a state antipicketing statute, declaring that "the dissemination of information concerning the facts of a labor dispute must be regarded as within that area of free discussion that is guaranteed by the Constitution." Picketing was a means of communicating with the public about matters of public concern. Although decided on the narrow ground of overbreadth, Thornhill established that restrictions on picketing were subject to the constraints of the First Amendment.

inThornhill, the Court did not adopt organized labor's—and New Deal reformers'—view that liberty of labor protest was bound up with an alternative conception of labor and of industrial democracy. Instead, the Thornhill Court classified picketing as political speech, perhaps because it had just abandoned the economic due-process doctrines of the Lochner era and did not want to appear to be meddling anew in economic affairs. But the marketplace dimension of picketing was inescapable. Picketing is inextricable from strikes and boycotts: a form of moral and political expression at the same time it aims to produce marketplace pressure and advantage. The Court could not recognize and define a constitutional right to picket without confronting the question of constitutional protection for strikes and boycotts. After Thornhill, several lower federal courts began to forge substantial First and Thirteenth Amendment limits on the states' power to bar peaceful strikes and boycotts.

But the Supreme Court soon dissappointed those who expected it to recognize these nascent rights. Instead, the Court returned the issue to the common-law terrain, reaffirming the law's traditional role of restricting the scope of allowable protest and mutaul aid. In Carpenters & Joiners Union, Locale 213 v. Ritter's Cafe (1942) the Court upheld a state court injunction against peaceful picketing. "[R]ecognition of peaceful picketing as an exercise of free speech," the Court reasoned, "does not imply that the states must be without power" to confine the bounds of industrial disputes—in this case, to forbid any pickets urging the public to boycott a cafe whose owner "had awarded a building contract to a man who was unfair to organized labor." The state court had found that the boycott violated the state's antitrust laws; the Supreme Court held that state courts and legislatures remained free to "draw the line" in this fashion, balancing "the effort of the employer to carry on his business free from the interference of others against the effort of labor to further its economic self-interest."

But the Supreme Court soon disappointed those who expected it to recognize these nascent rights. Instead, the Court returned the issue to the common-law terrain, reaffirming the law's tradtional role of restricting the scope of allowable protest and mutual aid. In Carpenter and Joiners Union, Local No. 213 v. Ritter's Cafe (1942) the Court upheld a state court injunction against peaceful picketing. "[R]ecognition of peaceful picketing as an excercise of free speach," the Court reasoned, "does not imply that the state must be without power" to confine the bounds of industrial disputes—in this case, to forbid any pickets urging the public to boycott a cafe whose owner "had awarded a building contract to a man who was unfair to organized labor." The state courts had found that the boycott violated the state's antitrust laws; the Supreme Court held that state courts and legislatures remained free to "draw the line" in this fashion, balancing "the effort of the employer to carry on his business free from the interference of others against the effort of labor to further its economic self-interest.

In the new regime of judicial deference toward state regulation of business and commerce, this characterization of labor conflicts—as clashes of private economic interests—was a gloomy sign from labor's perspective. Beginning with Ritter's Cafe, the Court ceased characterizing industrial disputes and labor picketing as involving matters of public concern. By the 1950s, labor protest was held to involve "purely commercial activities which may be regulated by the state upon any reasonable basis." Organized workers once again were sellers of a commodity like any other, and judicial restraint was therefore the appropriate posture. Since the New Deal, primary strikes over wages and working conditions have enjoyed considerable statutory protection; but strikes or boycotts that fall outside the narrow circle of statutory or state court approval have found almost no shelter in the Constitution. Today, even peaceful picketing urging consumers not to buy the products of "unfair" employers continues to be routinely enjoined, and First Amendment challenges are routinely rebuffed.

Meanwhile, First Amendment doctrine has undergone transformations that render its treatment of labor protest anomalous. Nonlabor picketing now enjoys full First Amendment protection from content-based restrictions. Moreover, in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. (1982), the Court held that peaceful picketing by civil rights groups in support of a boycott of white merchants was fully shielded by the First Amendment. The Court rejected the argument that the picketing was unprotected because the pickets frequently had no direct dispute with the merchants. The pickets' main goal was desegregation of local public facilities; thus, the boycott was largely a "secondary" one, in labor-law jargon. The Claiborne Court noted that no similar First Amendment protection shields picketing in support of labor boycotts, but the Court found the difference in constitutional status justified by the difference it perceived between the two kinds of boycotts. The black citizens' boycott involved "expression on public issues, which has always rested on the highest rung of the hierarchy of first amendment values." Labor boycotts, by contrast, involve mere clashes of economic interests. Forgetting what it once had recognized—that labor protest also involves "public issues"—the Court relegated labor picketing to a second-class status.

Many commentators have assailed the Court's "public issue" versus "labor" picketing distinction, particularly in light of the elevation of commercial advertising to the status of constitutionally protected speech. At the time of Thornhill, the Court regarded government regulation of commercial speech as falling within that domain of social and economic policy that it behooved the Court to leave alone. More recently, however, the Court in central hudson gas and electric corp. v. public service commission (1980) extended substantial First Amendment protection to commercial advertising so that it now enjoys more constitutional protection than peaceful labor picketing.

It may be that the Court continues to relegate labor protest to a second-class constitutional status because it does not view industrial conflict as a matter of much public concern. Other factors may also figure. Many current decisions rest on the hoary nineteenth-century assumption that picketing is inherently coercive. Today's courts still frequently seem unable to distinguish physical coercion on the part of pickets from the economic force exerted on an employer if uncoerced listeners are simply persuaded by the pickets' message.

Courts may also tolerate severe governmental restraints on labor protest in part because they see unions as powerful political and economic players, more or less evenly matched with their employer-adversaries. In fact, this parity has rarely existed; today, the labor movement is extremely weak—as weak, in some respects, as it was before the New Deal reforms. But it is unlikely that the courts will change the Constitution's treatment of labor protest unless workers and unions themselves again create on a massive scale a protest movement that appeals beyond existing law to an alternative constitutional tradition and the moral imagination of the public.

William E. Forbath


Forbath, William 1989 The Shaping of the American Labor Movement. Harvard Law Review 102:1109–1256.

Note (Cynthia Estlund) 1982 Labor Picketing and Commercial Speech: Free Enterprise Values in the Doctrine of Free Speech. Yale Law Journal 91:938–960.

Pope, James 1987 Labor and the Constitution: From Abolition to Deindustrialization. Texas Law Review 65:1071–1136.

Labor Movement

views updated Jun 27 2018

Labor Movement

Trade unions emerged in Ireland in the early nineteenth century, combining features of the obsolescent guilds and agrarian secret societies. Their legal status was not fully regularized until the 1860s. The sheer numbers and poverty of Irish unskilled workers made them difficult to organize, and not until the end of the nineteenth century were sustained efforts made to do so.

Before 1900 organized labor was dominated by skilled craft workers who emphasized their differential status (by restricting skills and controlling admissions). Craft unions acted as friendly societies, providing medical and other benefits for members. They operated within cross-class nationalist movements (the Dublin trades were a mainstay of nationalist processions); their emphasis on self-reliance drew many urban artisans into radical nationalist movements such as Fenianism and Parnellism. They believed that workers' interests lay in cooperation with employers to develop Irish industries, though such cooperation often proved one-sided.

Craft unions established trade councils in urban centers (Cork in 1880, Belfast in 1881, Dublin in 1886). Attempts to create U.K.-wide labor federations in the nineteenth century foundered because of organizational and communications difficulties and nationalist sentiments; an Irish Trade Union Congress (ITUC) was founded in 1894. The 1890s also saw many local Irish societies merge with larger British unions; the role of British unions in Ireland intermittently divided the Irish labor movement until the 1950s.

Small socialist groups appeared in Irish urban centers beginning in the 1870s; these were usually short-lived because of clerical and political opposition. The Dublin-centered Irish Republican Socialist Party (1894–1903) deserves particular attention as the first political venture of James Connolly (1868–1916), the Scottish-born Marxist theorist and future leader of the 1916 Rising. The first independent Labour parliamentary candidates stood for election in Belfast in 1885 and 1886. The Home Rule Party sometimes spoke of itself as a "labor party"; some members were labor activists in Britain, and the party sought British support by comparing land agitation to trade unionism. From 1892 several Home Rule MPs identified themselves as "labor nationalists" (similar to contemporary "Lib-Lab" MPs within the British Liberal Party). The "Lib-Nat" MPs voiced labor concerns but were primarily loyal to the Home Rule Party, whose relations with the British labor movement were complicated by its alliance with the Liberals and its own increasingly bourgeois character. The extension of the local-government franchise in 1899 created independent labor groups on several urban councils, but these proved divisive and ineffective.

The ITUC was hampered by divisions between pro-union northern workers and (predominantly nationalist) southern unions. The industrialization of northeast Ulster gave it disproportionate strength within the movement, but northern unions mirrored the sectarian divide. Skilled workers' unions maintained sectarian as well as craft divisions, and unskilled workers followed populist Orange or Green (Protestant or Catholic) leaders who incorporated "laborist" elements in their messages. Cross-sectarian cooperation occurred from time to time, but it was always vulnerable to constitutional and religious tensions.

The Belfast trade unionist William Walker (1871–1918) established an Independent Labour Party presence in Belfast in 1893. Walker's "gas and water socialism" included support for the union on economic grounds. His endorsement of sectarian Protestant legislation alienated Catholic support, which contributed to the defeat of his parliamentary candidacies in 1905 to 1907; he is best remembered for debating the relationship between socialism and nationalism with Connolly in 1911.

Beginning in 1873 attempts were made to organize agricultural laborers through groups such as the Irish Agricultural Labourers' Union (1873–1879), the Knights of the Plough (1890s), and the Irish Land and Labour Association (1894–1918). These faced formidable organizational difficulties; their association with the Irish Parliamentary Party encouraged factionalization and complicated relations with urban unions. They were absorbed by the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union during the First World War.

British "new unionism," which tried to organize unskilled workers in mass-membership unions, led briefly to labor unrest in Ireland when it emerged in the late 1880s. Its principal impact on Ireland began in 1907 when James Larkin (1876–1947) arrived in Belfast as an organizer for the Liverpool-based National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL, founded in Liverpool by Irish immigrants). Belfast was already experiencing an upsurge of trade-union militancy. Larkin, an inspiring orator, organized large numbers of unskilled workers, to some extent uniting Catholic and Protestant. Employers reacted with lockouts; between April and November 1907 Belfast saw disputes involving dockers, carters, and tobacco workers. Organized strike-breaking and street unrest led to police mutiny and military intervention in which two laborers were killed and many were wounded by troops.

The NUDL leadership disliked Larkin's confrontational style and expansive recruitment. Faced with heavy demands for strike pay, it sidelined Larkin and settled on disadvantageous terms. Larkin moved to Dublin and Cork, becoming embroiled in further strikes. After his suspension by the NUDL in December 1908, Larkin founded the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (ITGWU). The new union faced determined opposition from employers and the NUDL. In the summer of 1909, ITGWU strikers in Cork were crushed by a concerted lockout; Larkin was briefly jailed in 1910 because of a dispute over NUDL funds.

Instead of the conciliatory tactics of the older unions, the ITGWU operated in a confrontational style, enlisting the impoverished masses of unskilled urban labor and trying with some success to bring a general rise in wages through sympathetic strikes, the "closed shop," and aggressive tactics against strike-breaking. Larkin held the syndicalist belief in the general strike as a weapon of social transformation. He expressed the anger and hopes of the poor, linking their struggle to Fenianism and Parnellism, which had also faced middleclass and clerical opposition. His reckless leadership was balanced by skilled (and occasionally exasperated) organizers such as William O'Brien and James Fearon.

The ITGWU joined the ITUC in 1909, moving it toward explicit socialism. Older craft unions acquiesced or were sidelined. Pro-Larkin labor councillors became the principal opposition to Dublin Corporation; Connolly returned from the United States as a political organizer and produced some of his best-known attempts to adapt Marxism to Irish conditions. In 1912 the ITUC established the present-day Irish Labour Party.

The year 1911 saw further labor conflict, with prolonged strikes in Wexford and Dundalk and a Dublin rail and timber strike in September. The weekly Irish Worker, written mostly by Larkin, first appeared on 27 May 1911; it denounced the employers and their allies in uncompromising terms. Meanwhile, the Dublin employers, led by William Martin Murphy, prepared concerted counteraction. The Irish Parliamentary Party, frightened by Larkin's radicalism and divided between laborist and probusiness elements, proved ineffective and was bitterly denounced by Larkin. (In some provincial centers, notably Sligo, which experienced a major dispute in 1912, local Home Rule leaders did come to terms with Larkinism.)

The great Dublin lockout of 1913 to 1914 was the climax of two years of preparations by employers and Larkinites. The dismissal of Independent employees who joined the ITGWU led to sympathy action by ITGWU members in other firms and to a walkout by ITGWU tramwaymen on 19 August 1913. The employers retaliated with a mass lockout aimed at destroying the union by starving out its members. The strikers received financial assistance from British unions (which, however, turned down Larkin's calls for sympathy strikes in Britain). The end of the dispute in January 1914 marked a short-term defeat for the ITGWU, but it survived. The terrible poverty of Edwardian Dublin, the determined endurance of the strikers, and the vindictive words and behavior of the employers provided the founding images for the modern Irish labor movement. The formation of the Irish Citizen Army in self-defense against widespread police brutality symbolizes the strike's radicalizing effect.

Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, Larkin left for the United States on a fundraising tour. He returned in 1923 to a labor movement strengthened by wartime upheavals but less receptive to his form of radicalism.

SEE ALSO Connolly, James; Larkin, James; Lockout of 1913; Markievicz, Countess Constance; Murphy, William Martin; O'Brien, William; Trade Unions


Boyle, John W. The Irish Labor Movement in the Nineteenth Century. 1988.

Cunningham, John. Labour in the West of Ireland: Working Life and Struggle, 1890–1914. 1995.

Gray John. City in Revolt: James Larkin and the Belfast Dock Strike of 1907. 1985.

O'Connor, Emmet. A Labour History of Ireland, 1824–1960. 1992.

Yeates, Padraig. Lockout: Dublin 1913. 2000.

Patrick Maume

Industrial Relations

views updated Jun 27 2018

Industrial Relations

Most definitions of industrial relations acknowledge that industrial relations involves the complex interplay among management, workers and their representatives, and the government. Each of these three players has different needs and goals that determine how they interact with the other two parties. In general, management's goals center upon labor costs, productivity, and profitability. In contrast, workers and their representatives (i.e., unions) are concerned with securing high wages and benefits, safe working conditions, fulfilling work, and a voice in the workplace. Finally, as the representative of the members of the society in which employers and unions reside, the government's objectives include balancing the rights of labor and management. Perhaps even more important, the government has the obligation to protect the rights of the members of society by maintaining relative harmony between workers and employers. In the U.S. private sector, industrial relations are governed by the National Labor Relations Act (1935, as amended).

There is a three-tier structure of industrial relations in the United States. Local unions deal with the daily interaction with employers at the workplace level. Typically, these local unions are affiliated with a national union such as the Service Employees International Union, which, as of 2008, is the largest national union in the United States. Labor federations, like the AFL-CIO, serve as umbrella

organizations for national unions and provide overall direction for the labor movement, as well as services like training and government lobbying. However, the lack of advancement of organized labor in recent years has caused some national unions to leave the AFL-CIO and attempt to form a competing labor federation.

Industrial relations have changed substantially in the United States since 1980; there has been a change in the shared ideology among the three players. Prior to 1980, all three parties acknowledged the legitimacy of the others' roles. Employers kept their relationship with unions at a distance, neither embracing unions nor aggressively seeking to destroy them. This produced some level of stability within the industrial relations system. However, since 1980 employers have moved away from an arms length relationship with unions and have either pursued greater collaboration with labor or sought to aggressively suppress unionization, even to the point of intentionally violating U.S. labor law.

The percentage of workers represented by unions (i.e., union density) in the United States decreased from a high of 35 percent in 1945 to 12.5 percent by 2005. By 2007, this number rose again and nearly 16 million workers were registered with a union. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, membership between 2006 and 2007 rose by 311,000. Interestingly, union density is substantially greater in the public sector than in the private sectornearly five times higher as of 2007. In the public sector, unions represent approximately 37.2 percent of government workers, with the highest density being in local government (41 percent). This level of unionization in the public sector may decline in the future; however, given the trend toward privatizing government services. In the private sector, unions represent only 8 percent of workers, with the transportation industry and utilities maintaining the highest level of union density (25 percent). Union density in the private sector is approximately half of what it was in 1983.

Union membership rates vary considerably by state. New York, Hawaii, Michigan, and Alaska have the highest membership rateswith 25 percent, 24 percent, 22 percent, and 20 percent, respectivelywhile North Carolina and South Carolina have the lowest rates (approximately 3 percent). As of 2007 full-time wage and salary workers who are represented by a union make more than those workers not represented by a union ($781 versus $612). Workers between the ages of forty-five and fifty-four make up nearly 16 percent of union members, and those between the ages of fifty-five and sixty-four make up a similar 16.1 percent. Interestingly, much younger workersbetween sixteen and twenty-four years of agemake up less than 5 percent of union members.

There are many reasons for the long-term decline in union density other than the change in management attitudes toward unions. Employment has moved from manufacturing jobs and other jobs that have traditionally been represented by unions (e.g., railroads and mining) to more service-oriented and high technology jobs. There are more white-collar and part-time jobs now than ever before, which have contributed to the decline in union density, because it is harder for unions to organize people in these jobs. Furthermore, employers have learned that using positive human resource management practiceslike installing formal grievance systems, comprehensive benefit plans, and worker involvement programssuppresses union organizing activity. Finally, in the past several decades the government has increasingly provided for the protection of workers's rights by passing a variety of legislative actions, including the Civil Rights Act (1964), the Occupational Safety and Health Act (1970), the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), and the Family and Medical Leave Act (1993).

Workers of the twenty-first century may not be as enticed to join a union because they may not see the benefit. With an economy moving toward globalization and the workforce trend moving into home offices, more and more workers are stay-at-home moms, telecommuting professionals, and contracted employees who pay their own taxes. Most likely, these trends will diminish the numbers in union members overallunless unions change to take these kinds of workers into account more often.

The number of strikes by unions has declined in the last two decades due to the fact that employees have a greater understanding of the impact of globalization on competition. Also, more employees are shareholders now than ever before. Some of these same factors appear to be reducing union density levels in other developed nations, although Canada is an exception; it has twice the union density of the United States.

In 1993 the Dunlop Commission was established by the Clinton Administration to propose ways to reform the labor policies set forth in the National Labor Relations Act. In general, the Commission concluded that labor law needed to be altered to make it easier for workers to seek union representation and to remove the constraints upon worker involvement. However, these recommendations have not been adopted, even though both labor and management acknowledge the need to change the antiquated labor laws that prevent closer, more trusting relations and hamper the flexibility needed by businesses to compete in the global economy. Consequently, there is a continuing need for labor law that reflects the changes that have occurred since the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935.

SEE ALSO Employment Law and Compliance; Human Resource Management


Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Joel, and Thomas Kochan. Taking Stock: Collective Bargaining at the Turn of the Century. Industrial & Labor Relations Review 58, no. 3 (2004).

Godard, John. Do Labor Laws Matter? The Density Decline and Convergence Thesis Revisited. Industrial Relations 42, no. 3 (2003).

Katz, Harry, and Kochan, Thomas. An Introduction to Collective Bargaining & Industrial Relations. New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2007.

Kreisberg, Steven. The Future of Public Sector Unionism in the United States. Journal of Labor Research 25, no. 2 (2004).

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