Management of Industrial Relations

Theories of Trade Union

Theories of Trade Union

(1) Revolution Theory – The Marxist explanation or analysis, known as the revolutionary explanation or Revolution Theory is considered the most classic theory of unionism. According to Marx, trade unionism represents a prime instrument of class struggle between proletarian workers and capitalist businessmen. To Marx, a trade union was, first and foremost, an organising centre that provides the locus for collecting the forces of working classes.

(2) Non-Revolution Theory (Webb’s Theory) – The Webb’s theory (a non-revolutionary theory of industrial democracy) considers trade unionism to be the extension of the principle of democracy in the sphere of industry. Webb also recognised permanency of class conflict but they thought that a solution could be found out through equality and collective agreements.

Therefore, according to Webbs, trade unionism is a vital instrument of the evolutionary process; it is not an instrument for the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist order but, on the contrary, it is a means of equalizing the bargaining power of labour and capital and thus encouraging the adoption of common rules which are practical and humane.

(3) Cole’s Theory of Union Control of Industry – Cole’s views are given in his book “World of Labour”, 1913. His views are somewhere in between Webb and Marx. He agrees that unionism is class struggle and the ultimate is the control of industry by labour and not revolution as predicted by Marx.

(4) Common’s Environment Theory – He was skeptical of generalizations and believed only that which could be proved by evidence. He agreed that collective bargaining was an instrument of class struggle, but he summarised that ultimately there will be partnership between employers and employees.

(5) Mitchell’s Economic Protection Theory of Trade Unionism – Mitchell, a labour leader, completely rejected individual bargaining. According to him unions afford economic protection too.

(6) Simon’s Theory of Monopolistic, Anti-Democratic Trade Unionism – Simon denounced trade unionism as monopoly founded on violence and he claimed monopoly power has no use, save abuse.

(7) Perlman’s Theory of the “ Scarcity Consciousness” of Manual Workers – He rejected the idea of class consciousness as an explanation for the origin of the trade union movement but substituted it with what he called job consciousness.

According to Perlman, “Working people in reality felt an urge towards collective control of their employment opportunities, but hardly towards similar control of industry”. Perlman observed that three dominant factors –

  • The capacity or incapacity of the capitalist system to survive as a ruling group in the face of revolutionary attacks (e.g., failure in Russia).
  • The source of the anti-capitalist influences being primarily from among the intellectuals in any society.
  • The most vital factor in the labour situation was the trade union movement. Trade unionism, which is essentially pragmatic, struggles constantly not only against the employers for an enlarged opportunity measure in income, security, and liberty in the shop and industry, but struggles also, whether consciously or unconsciously, actively or passively, against the intellectual who would frame its programs and shape its policies.

But, Perlman also felt that a theory of the labour movement should include a theory of the psychology of the labouring man.

(8) Tannenaum’s Theory of Man versus Machine (1951) – According to Tannenaum, Union is formed in reaction to alienation and loss of community in an individualistic and unfeeling society. In his words, the union returns to the workers, his society, which he left behind him when he migrated from a rural background to the anonymity of an urban industrial location. The union gives the worker a fellowship and a value system that he shares with others like him. “Institutionally, the Trade Union Movement is an unconscious effort to harness the drift of time and re-organise it around the cohesive identity that men working together always achieve”.

(9) Hoxie’s Theory – This regards unions as providing opportunities for members to satisfy a wide range of basic human wants and needs. Giving a socio-psychological interpretation to trade unionism, Robert F. Hoxie believed that trade unions have emerged owing to group psychology –- a trade union constituting a common interpretation and a set of beliefs concerned with the problems confronting the workers and generalised program of amelioration. He established the idea of functional types of trade unions and found the essence of unionism to be “a social philosophy – an interpretation of the social facts and relationship which bear upon the particular group of workers”.

According to him, “workers similarly situated economically and socially and closely associated with similarity in temperament and training tend to develop a common interpretation of the social situation and a common solution of the problem of living and thus unionism is not so much an outward organisation as a like-minded group”. Hoxie further states that while unionism in its ultimate effects on industrial organisation and conduct of industry is democratic in the sense of its effort to take from the hands of employers autocratic feudalistic control and put a share of the control and conduct into the hands of workers tending to democratic industrial revolution – unionism in its own organisation and conduct is hardly to be called democratic.

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