The State and the Evolution of British Employers' Organisations

Friday, June 24, 2016: 4:15 PM-5:45 PM
187 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Leon Gooberman, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
Marco Hauptmeier, N/A, United Kingdom; Cardiff University, Cardiff Business School, United Kingdom; Cardiff University, Cardiff Business School, United Kingdom; N/A, United Kingdom; Cardiff University, Cardiff Business School, United Kingdom; Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
Edmund Heery, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
Proposed for - E: Industrial Relations and the Political Economy

This paper examines the evolving relationship between the British state and employers' organisations (EOs) between the early 1970s and the present day.  It quantifies the decline of EOs over the period, and analyses their changing characteristics. The paper then explores the role of the state in facilitating these trends.  We combine quantitative data with those from two case studies to assess the changing relationships across at least three phases, provisionally identified as:

1: Pre-1979: Political economy was largely organised along tripartite lines, with representatives of employers (EOs), employees (Trades Unions) and the government collectively regulating pay and conditions.  However, this began to break down in the 1970s as their conflicting demands proved increasingly difficult to reconcile.

2: The 1980s: With government promoting market driven individualisation, collective bargaining's employee coverage declined.  Remaining EOs had to broaden their activities if they were to survive, with many placing a greater focus on lobbying government and providing services to individual members. A new type of organisation, employer forums, emerged.  These provided member services based on a single issue, such as aspects of equality.

3: The 1990s onward: Political change heralded partial re-regulation.  Collective bargaining's overall decline continued, covering 38 per cent of employees in 1998 compared to 70 per cent in 1984. Many EOs continued their refocusing, whilst employer forums grew to cover an increasing range of topics.

In terms of quantitative data, we will use archival material from the UK Government's Certification Office, held by the UK's National Archives. The office was established in 1975 to provide a voluntary registrar function for EOs and Trades Unions.  While not all EOs are covered by these data, sufficient exist to create time-series that can be analysed to illustrate the phases sketched above, with data including number of members and industrial sector of activity.  Importantly, a full analysis of these data has yet to feature in the literature. 

We will also use qualitative data from two case studies to illustrate the changing nature of EO's relationship with the state.  The first will focus on the EEF, one of the UK's most significant EOs.  In the 1970s, it had a largely 'traditional' role within collective bargaining. However, this role had ceased by the early 1990s.  Its activities broadened, with interaction with the state primarily taking the form of lobbying. We will also examine the operations, and relationship with the state, of the Business Disability Forum, an employer forum whose members currently employ almost 20 per cent of the UK's workforce.  Data will be drawn from interviews with current and previous staff as well as published and archival data.

The paper concludes by reflecting why the relationship has changed so dramatically, how government's views as to the roles of EOs evolved, and whether newer theoretical concepts such as countervailing power can be used to explain developments.