Organised labour in a market economy : a study of redundancy and workplace relations as an issue of power-conflict in the British motor industry
It is widely appreciated that redundancy and the question of job security remain among the most central issues confronting contemporary industrial societies. In particular, redundancy is possibly the most important single issue that an individual worker is likely to face, and more especially manual workers, in the course of their working life. Therefore, the control over redundancy decisions is of considerable importance to individuals and their organisations, which seek to defend their position in industry. Though redundancy, and redundancy provision as part of manpower policies has been widely viewed as being a cornerstone of public policy, the orientation of redundancy research has largely focused upon its implications for the workings of the labour market. Even though public policy has defined worker resistance, arising out of fears of job insecurity, as being a central source for opposition to managerial change, redundancy research in the UK has shown little interest in the impact of redundancy upon workplace relations, and more particularly, workplace organisation. The object of this study is to attempt to draw attention to the impact which redundancy, (and recessions) have had upon the exercise of power in the workplace. The study is based upon the historical experiences of redundancy in the British motor industry. The approach has been to present redundancy as a 'key issue' in the determination of power in workplace organisation. The research is introduced by an account of the contemporary evidence of the affect of redundancy, job loss and unemployment, upon the status of the manual worker in modern society. It is maintained that this condition is underpinned by decisions over the exercise of power. In the first part of the study, the review of redundancy literature reveals a general failure to consider redundancy either in terms of workplace relations or as a question of power. The remainder of the research, therefore, undertakes an examination of redundancy as a central issue in power relations. The approach adopted has been to maintain that while power remains a central concept in workplace relations, an approach which seeks to analyse the concept of power needs to explore the interactions of the principle parties engaged in power struggles, though the selection of a key issue over which there exists a clear division of interest. It is in this respect that the study explores the ways in which the handling of redundancy has been of major importance in the strategies adopted by management, to the changing power of workplace organisation. It is concluded that the transformation of the redundancy question in the British motor industry is indicative of the changing allegiances towards workplace leaderships within the increasingly elaborate framework of industrial relations practices.