Major Perspectives in Industrial Relations

This essay focuses on the three dominant perspectives in industrial relations. These perspectives are unitary perspective, pluralist perspective and Marxist perspective as Dzimbiri (2008) suggests. The essay discusses each perspective in detail and further analyzes the one which provide an explanation of the employment relations in the modern work organizations. Having done that the essay finally gives a conclusion. It has to be mentioned that in the beginning, the essay starts by defining the term ‘Industrial Relations’.


According to Kochan in Dzimbiri (2008) Industrial Relations is defined as “all aspects of people at work as individuals and groups, organized or unorganized, the behavior of employer and union organization together with public policy or legal framework governing employment conditions.” On the other hand, Clegg in Blyton andTurbull (2004:29) defines industrial relations as “the study of rules governing employment, together with the ways in which the rules are made and changed, interpreted and administered.”

The two definitions imply that industrial relations involve regulation of the employment relationship between employers and employees. In both definitions, the employment relationship is based on the rules, procedures and practices which the concerned parties have to adhere to. Therefore, industrial relations can be defined as the study of relationships between employers and employees that is governed by a set of rules, procedures and practices for the benefit of either party. UNITARY


According to Burchill in Dzimbiri (2008:02) “Unitary perspective of industrial relations views a work organization as characterized by an integrated and harmonious whole existing for common objectives, values, interests and single centre of loyalty and authority.” It suggests that employees and employers work towards the achievement of the organization’s goals and objectives.

The assumption is that employees are always loyal and trustworthy to the management in order to ensure that organizational common goals are achieved. Armstrong (2006:758) holds the same view and contends that “unitary perspective extols the virtue of teamwork where everyone strives jointly, to a common objective, everyone pulls their weight to the best of their ability and everyone accepts their place and function gladly, following the leadership of the appointed manager or supervisor.”

Conflict is regarded as bad, destructive and counterproductive in unitary perspective and should not be allowed at all costs. Dzimbiri (2008:02) argues further that “conflict is pathological and caused by agitators and troublemakers, misunderstanding or personality clash.” In this case, the managers use their position power in an autocratic manner to deal with any problems. The working relationship is associated with strict adherence to rules, regulations and procedures.

Armstrong (2006:758) points out that “unitary perspective, which is essentially autocratic and authoritarian, has sometimes been expressed in agreements as management right to manage.” In unitary perspective, trade unions are considered as the hindrance to management and not very useful in the running of the organization. Dzimbiri (2008:02) alludes to this view and contends that “trade unions in unitary perspective are either viewed as obstructive and unnecessary to the proper management of the enterprise, or as instruments of communication with workers for the achievement of unity and control.” Management has control and power over the functioning of the trade unions. The trade union is used as a means of communication with the workforce by the management in instances where these trade unions exist.


Dzimbiri (2008:03) suggests that “pluralist perspective is based on the notion that the work place is a microcosm of society replete with diversity in social groups, social interests, values, and beliefs that generate conflict.” Pluralist perspective does not believe in what unitary perspective believes in. Pluralist suggests that the diversity of employees in the work places by nature should be composed of people with variety of ideas, goals and objectives. For example, the goals and objectives of the organization are most likely to be different to that of employees.

In support of Dzimbiri’s views is Fox in Armstrong (2006:758) who contend that “the pluralist view an industrial organization as a plural society, containing many related but separate interests and objectives which must be maintained in some kind of equilibrium.” Fox in Blyton and Turbull (2004:31) argues further that organizations are viewed as a miniature of democratic state composed of sectional groups with divergent interests over which the government tries to maintain some kind of dynamic equilibrium.

The predominant sub-groups in the pluralist perspective are the management representing the organization and trade unions that represents the interests of employees. The pluralist perspective considers that organizations and employees have multiple interests which have to be fulfilled through trust.

The pluralist perspective views conflict as unavoidable in an organization. Dubin in Dzimbiri (2008:03) argues that “industrial conflict is inevitable in modern organizations and that this conflict can be disruptive if left uncontrolled.” In pluralist perspective conflict does not matter but rather how the conflict is handled or resolved so that it does not generate into chaos leading to decline in performance or production.

The focus in pluralist perspective is on the resolution of conflict rather than its generation; Fox in Blyton and Turbull (2004). Pluralist perspective suggests that employment relationship by nature is full of conflicts which are depicted through the organizational structure, for example. Employers and employees do not have the same goals or objectives and it is therefore, a breeding ground for conflict.

The pluralist perspective welcomes the presence of trade unions in organizations. It is suggested that since the organization is represented by management, employees should also be represented by trade unions that represents their interests. Dzimbiri (2008:03) alludes to this fact and point out that “managers in this frame of reference would use various mechanisms for involving workers in decision making on issues affecting their working lives or those aimed at improving the productivity of the organization.”

This is also supported by Cave in Armstrong (2008:759) who contend that “pluralism involves a balance of power between two organized interests and a sufficient degree of trust within the relationship (usually) for each side to respect the other’s legitimate and, on occasions separate interests, and for both sides to refrain from pushing their interest separately to the point where it becomes impossible to keep the show on the road.”

It is however, important to note that trade union relationship with employers can be formal and informal systems in industrial relations as suggested by Gallagher (1984). For example, working rule agreement, company procedures and practice are some of the formal systems between trade union and employers’ relationship in industrial relations.


According to Dzimbiri (2008:03) “Marxist perspective views employer- employee relationships in the wider capitalist society which believes to be exploitative.” This perspective assumes that organizations around us exist in a capitalist. In other ways organizations exists in order to make profit at the expense of employees.

The reason is that organizations are powerful because of the economic resources that they own hence the misunderstanding that lead into conflict between employer and employee. This being the case, an employer is able to survive longer without labour than the employee can survive without work, Blyton and Turbull (2004). Dzimbiri (2008) emphasizes that “Marxist theory of society argues that class (group) conflict is the source of societal change without which society would stagnate.” The implication in the Marxist perspective is that conflict brings change in society.

This perspective allows conflict because it is through this conflict that societal imbalances can cease. Marxist perspective believes that societal imbalances can only cease through a revolution because the employer and employee relationship is exploitative as the employer want to reap more at the expense of employees.


Among the three dominant perspectives, the pluralist perspective provides an adequate explanation of the employment relations in modern work organizations. Industrial relations suggest that the major actors in the employment relationship are employers, employees and the state (Dzimbiri, 2008).

On the other hand, organizations achieve its intended objectives through and with employees (Armstrong, 2006). In the modern work organizations, the pluralist perspective takes centre stage because organizations realize the need to consider both organizational and individual goals. It brings trust between employers and employees in the organization.

Apart from achieving organizational goals, individuals have their own goals to achieve. The more those employees participate in the management of the organization and have the opportunity to fulfill them on the job, the more dedicated will be the work they perform (Sanders, 1992).

This results in the improved interpersonal relationship between management and employees. No wonder, organizations nowadays realize the importance of understanding employees from the pluralist perspective so that they should be able to achieve its intended goals.

Pluralist perspective leads to participative management. In this perspective, employees are involved in decision making processes in organizations. Many organizations in the modern world are interested in ensuring that employees participate in decisions regarding their jobs and employees own these decisions and reduce rate of resistance.

It is suggested that participation can lead to improved efficiency and effectiveness in delivering goods and services to customers, (Cole, 2002). Modern work organizations are moving away from rigid structures to flexible structures where participation becomes a major management issue in trying to improve industrial relations. Pluralist perspective results in confidence of employees in management and of management in employees.

The pluralist perspective provides for diversity and often-conflicting interests among people in society and workplaces, (Dzimbiri, 2008). It is undisputable that by nature an organization is a conflicting environment. Despite that organizational and individual goals vary, the pluralist perspective ensures that these goals are achieved simultaneously. For this to be possible there should be realistic working agreement and arrangements between the two parties.

Organizations design training programmes not only to benefit the organizations themselves in terms of production but also the individual employee in skill acquisition and employability. Many organizations create teams or groups that are empowered to make decisions regarding the tasks they are assigned. These teams or groups usually reach a consensus after debating or arguing on an issue. This is the reality of conflict in many modern work organizations.

Conflict is therefore, accepted and is a major component of the decision making process. Rarely can a decision be made without conflicts either constructive or destructive in a team or group. Turkman in Cole (2002:82) suggests that conflict is an important aspect in the stages of group development. It is therefore, without doubt that the pluralist perspective provides an adequate explanation of the employment relations in modern work organizations.

As for trade unions, the pluralist perspective argues that they are deemed as legitimate representatives of employees. In the modern work organizations, trade unions are almost in every organization. Employees are interested in dealing with groups rather than an individual.

In general, trade unions are accepted in many organizations to represent the interests of their members as Dzimbiri (2008) suggests. The pluralist perspective therefore, provides a forum where employers and employee are willing to work together in order to achieve both individual and organizational goals.


Industrial relation is about the relationship between employers and employees. This relationship is based on three perspectives namely; Unitary, Pluralist and Marxist perspectives. In unitary perspective, the assumption is that employers and employees have no dissenting views.

They all work for the common good. Pluralist perspective believes in diversity of ideas while Marxist perspective believes in revolution because the assumption is that employers exploit employees. However, the pluralist perspective provides an adequate explanation of the employment relationship in the modern work organizations.


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