Traditional Industrial Relations Focus
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For over the last two hundred years, the western ideology on labour has been encapsulated under the works of Adam Smith (1776) who suggested:

‘The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is anywhere directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labour’.

In essence Smith suggested under the ‘division of labour’ that by dividing up the tasks workers carry out, the overall output will grow greater. This is because by having several employees working on smaller parts of the production cycle, the quantity of output will be greater than all of them making the product from start to finish.

Of course Karl Marx as stated in Catephores (1989) also prescribed to this notion, but in the opposite direction arguing the exploitation , in terms of his ‘labour theory of value’ in which workers are continually paid sufficient means to live on, yet not escape the transition to being the owners o the means of production, and as such are only paid a fraction of what the goods are sold for.

The dominant production strategies of the 20th century, have been an extension of Smiths ‘division of labour’ theory. This theory has been applied in Fordism and Taylorism, both these production models prescribe to Smith’s model in that workers should be allotted the same tasks continually within the same roles in order to achieve growth in output, whilst maintaining strong leadership.

Although these approaches have worked well in terms of allowing manufacturers to produce goods cheaply. They were often criticized for treating workers as merely being ‘machines’ with little regard other than productive output.

During the 1970’s when a large slice of UK manufacturing began to decline, the philosophy of management was that a quick one off dose of corporate planning was seen as the remedy to resolving problems. This was obviously not the case, as successive shocks such as the collapse of the gold standard, the Opec oil crisis and trade union conflicts showed just how inflexible UK production strategy really was.

During the 1980’s through to the present day, UK manufacturing companies have been embracing Japanese and German production and personnel practices. 

In context of the HRM section of this website, we shall discuss different approaches to managing the most precious resources - people!

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(c)  Est 08/00 - Last Updated 28/05//2001