Why the study of industrial relations matters

  1. In 1966-1967, I spent one day a week for an academic year studying at the then Salford College of Advanced Technology (now the University of Salford) sponsored by the then AEI (now GEC).
  2. In the following three years, I did a full-time degree in Management Sciences at the then University of Manchester Institute of Science & Technology (the department is now part of the Manchester Business School) and, in my final year, one of my two specialisations was industrial relations.
  3. The main part of my career – a total of 24 years in five positions – was spent as a national officer for what became and is still the Communication Workers Union.
  4. My younger brother Ralph is an academic in industrial relations who has taught at the University of Salford since 1991 and two years ago he was made a professor.

For all these reasons, this week I was pleased and proud to attend my brother’s long-awaited inaugural professorial lecture at Salford which had the title “Why the study of industrial relations matters”.

It was an eloquent and passionate address in which he reminded us that, for all the declining size and power of British trade unions, they still have 27% of the workforce in membership and still exercise an important role in advancing social justice at the workplace and in wider society. He was especially critical of the fashion for Human Resource Management (HRM) that assumes an identity of interest between employer and employee and argued that conflict in the workplace is often inevitable and needs to be negotiated by parties that have an asymmetry of power.

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