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Today industries have undergone a great change in terms of the kind of personnel they deploy as they look for maximization of their production and profits. There is keen selection of means of production especially specialized labor and therefore this means that today’s employer is much more focused on what he needs in the process of production (Fredman & Gillian 1989, p.48). There are increased agreements and dispute procedures which used to be forced on the unions by employer association some time ago, but the bargaining ability and freedom has called for diversification of employers’ functions and restructuring of the pay agreements (Bach & Sisson 2000).

Management of the businesses has also changed with regard to today’s need and is being performed by board of governors (Guest 1991, p.153). There are two aspects of employer relationship namely; market relations and managerial relations. A market relation refers to terms and conditions on which labor is hired and is economic in character. Managerial relations refer to deployment of labor force by the management and how this deployment is to be done. Before trade unions, individual worker could chose to work or go elsewhere if he or she is not satisfied with employer’s terms of work. And because an individual worker was weaker than the employer, there came a regulated work market with trade unions where employees are allowed to collude with fellow workers for a collective bargaining. The primary justification of trade union is that it protects the worker in the economic aspect of his employment (Gintis 1987, p.68).

In job regulations, employers and employees adopt an agreement contract. These contracts have rules over a wide variety of work places. They contain an individual interest which necessarily ignores the economic reality behind the bargain because the parties are simply not equal (Wedderburn 1986, p.8). This one sided interest of contract of employment is the bone of contention in the workplace relationship.

The contract requires the employer to pay wages, provide work, exercise care and cooperate while employees are expected to obey reasonable order, exercise reasonable care and competence, maintain fidelity, honesty, protect confidential information, be accountable and not to sabotage employers business among other provisions. These provisions are just mere protection on managerial rights. However, the actual cooperation of legal rights in work places depends on the power, knowledge and organization of the parties as well as on the statute book (Edwards 1987, p.15).

The agreement of work must take into consideration that what is offered by the worker to the employer is the capacity to work, which only the capitalists make maximum use of, but the output benefits only the capitalists (Braveman 1998, p.37). This paper seeks to examine the three perspectives that have been a wide reference regarding industrial relations, their take on how these conflicts may arise and how they are solved under each system. In the discussion we will also seek to see how managers under these perspectives seek to gain control for effective management.

The perspectives

There are three perspectives on the employment relationship that can contribute in analyzing the nature of conflict in work place: Unitarism, Pluralism and Marxism. Most writers and theorists have written on these schools of thought and have used them from different perspective to analyze social issues. Here they will be used to test their take on the nature of conflict in the workplace and the way managers or human resource managers seek control and effective guidance in exercising their vested authority.


This is the system whereby a focus is placed upon one source of authority without negotiation. It assumes a kind of partnership teamwork in its operationalization. In a unitary system, members are expected to strive as a unit and pursue a common goal and every unit component does its part to the best of its ability (Fox 1966, p.2). Members are expected to exhibit discipline, royalty and effective communication because the organized body is supposed to be an integrated and harmonious whole. Following the centralized leadership members accept their place and function and this means antagonist groups and rivalry in leadership are not accommodated.

Unitarism holds the idea that conflict in the work place should be a two way because the Leaders, who expect loyalty and respect from members, must first exhibit and demonstrate the same to individual members. According to Fox (1966, p.3), the success and impetus of the team inheres from personal relationship and just like a football team there is no divided spirit especially with management authority. In this system also, it is believed that the structure and the organization of work and purpose is unitary and individual employees or trade unions are not expected to challenge the management. Worse still is that trade unions are perceived to be an illegitimate entity that sabotages the balance of the whole unit and. As Unitarism assumes that workplace conflicts are non existent due to the organization and symbiotic relationship among workers and managers, the idea of trade unions is conceived to be foreign.

Unitary system therefore denies conflict in workplace and just assumes that the conflicts are only due to personal differences, faulty communication and works of inciters from without. Managers in this system believe that workers conflicts can be managed within the system than involving trade unions (Fox 1966 p.10). Unions are seen as achieving nothing for employees but sabotaging progress, pushing up cost and constantly frustrating the owners of production enterprise in the guise of resolving workplace conflicts (Fox 1966, p.11).

The ideology also endeavors to integrate employees into organization based on employee commitment to quality production, customer need and job flexibility.

It therefore serves three purposes in the management; self reassurance as an instrument of persuasion and as a technique of seeking legitimization of authority. Adopting the unitary view of industrial organization is one of manager’s tactics. This gives a motivation that harmony of purpose exists. Ideology also is a persuasive instrument in which employers persuade their employees and public at large; that industry is a harmony of cooperation which only trouble mongers choose to disrupt (Fox 1966, p.5). This way they make their work easier by convincing their employees and winning public support, should management be challenged by their workers. Moreover, management creates a situation where their interest and those of other employees are similar and legitimizes the regime. Therefore drawing from this assumed legitimacy, their government sanctions and cruelty become legitimate (Edwards, 2003, p.34).

In their bid to gain authority under this perspective, managers are also likely to adopt measures that are aimed at debilitating trade union and favoring the company and this triggers further resentment from the trade union (Fox 1966, p.11). Moreover, Managers holding Unitarism perspective belief that collective bargaining, negotiation and reconciliation encourage the wrong attitude between the two sides in industry. They therefore term any resistance and conflicts to be due to stupidity, wrong headedness or outdated class rancor and they work toward inculcating such ideology to their subordinates who by following the ideology are easily controlled (Fox 1966, p.12). Managers also utilize conformist innovation whereby they focus on acquiring expertise that will enable them to demonstrate a close relationship between their activities and organizational success criteria (Thornley, 2003a, p.83). This is mostly attained through specialization in personal management. This influences the reaction of workers and their management becomes easier.

The assumptions of the unitary position, with its emphasis on managerial prerogative, and its attempt to deconstruct realities of divergent work group attitude and values in the interest of “strong unified team” renders it weak under modern conditions especially in their obsolete view on the nature of conflict in the work place. Unitarism’s view on the nature, cause and how to handle workplace conflict is utterly conservative and time tested. This organized labor is challenged when it comes to the process of organizing and assigning work to members as well as sanctioning the labor force. The failure to consider common interest leads to faulty communication or misunderstanding and at that time conflicts at workplace become a challenge.


Pluralist perspective is a system with a political analogy whereby many groups with divergent interests and beliefs act as one organization, and the government depend on their consent and cooperation. The final authority in pluralism lack moral bargain to arrive at final decision without relying on members’ unity (Clegg 1979, p.454). In this system, trade unions are legitimate institutions that represent collective interest of the workers and are granted powers to challenge management. There is therefore minimal authoritarianism because conflicts in the work place are viewed at as inevitable and as a phenomenon that is bound to occur without question.

Pluralism views Industrial relations as much stable and adaptable as a result of collective agreement and it is very difficult for the management to sabotage trade unions unlike in the Unitarism (Clegg 1979, p.454). In the regulation of pluralism, conflicts induced by the trade unions are indispensable so the question of how to contain them triumphs over how to constrain the unions operations.

In pluralist view, the organization is seen as a plural society with related but separate interests and objectives which should be tamed to a kind of equilibrium through conflict if workers are expropriated. Fox (1966, p.3) analyses that the running of a pluralism system is aimed at striking a balance of member’s activities of the group for the highest degree of freedom. This is done in line with general interest of the society as it is.

The system is kept alive by the fact that sectional groups with divergent interests aim for a common goal and are mutually depended. Under this view, managers are expected to deploy many tactics in their professional functions should they expect to gain any accepted authority. These involve organizing work people and technical resources, shareholders, customers, the government and the local community. Managers who hold this perspective dearly seek to acquire some control through acting in the best interest of all stakeholders.

Pluralist workers and other stakeholders, on the other hand, maintain their relations with managers as their source of information to deliver their goods and services to their satisfaction and to minimize work place conflicts (Clegg 1979, p.455). The effectiveness of managers under pluralism in their job is also, highly determined by their good relation with those who negotiate with them on behalf of the workers. Therefore it can be deduced that pluralism views workplace conflicts as indispensable and as a part of work relation hence trade unions are unavoidable institutions. Under this perspective the only way managers can be at ease is to strike a balance between their interest and that of workers by establishing good rapport with negotiators. In many organizations with pluralist approach, managers involve collective negotiations, procedures of dispute settlement, formal and informal consultation as tools of their power control.


Marxism in its proper form is a general theory of society and social change with implications for analysis and industrial relations capitalism. Marxism has since its inception served as a tool for social research into power relations and a discourse in which other phenomena and reality are examined.

Class conflict, a macrocosm of work place conflict, according to Marxists is there to stay within the system as far as profit is made out of exploitation of labor by the owners of production. Class divisions that inhere in society are closely intertwined with the bourgeoisie structure of industry and a wage labor (Hyman 1975, p.28). The capitalist, according to Marxism, has introduced social features that dominate labor process which is a property of the worker and this forces the worker to sell their labor power together with their interest. This alienates labor from the owner and makes it to be controlled by the capitalist. Karl Marx, the initiator of Marxist’s school of thought, noted that one’s labor is equal to his or her humanity and one would be dehumanized once someone else controls his or her labor (Braveman 1998, p.39). Since the owner of labor is powerless and the buyer powerful there is a possibility of expropriation of the worker by the employee and hence trade unions are formed.

Trade unions in Marxism are legitimate vehicles in challenging the excesses of property owners whenever they disrupt the distribution of national products as a result of power differences. Marxism therefore holds that workplace conflicts are bound to be there but measures should be put to tame them. Trade unions are therefore looked at as institutions that conjure up as a result of painful exploitation of employees by the owners of means of production and therefore as a collective bargaining person (Clegg 1979, p.455). A long history of conflicts has proved that they can be contained if positively perceived and handled. Marxism is the ultimate conflict theory that criticizes Unitarism and pluralism because of their leniency on handling workplace conflicts. Research demonstrates that Marxists and pluralists differ in their industrial relation analysis and further in their definition of its subject matter and nature (Hyman 1975, p.20). What is common in both schools of thought is that both are concerned with conflict and stability acquisition. This means in both perspectives conflict in workplace is unavoidable just as in any other sphere of social life.

In most work places management asserts its authority and control down wards from above while work groups assert their independence and control upwards from below (Coffey & Thornley 2009, p.93). This reverse expectation is the one that projects a conflicting point where balance has to be struck radically to the benefit of neither of the side. According to Clegg (1979, p.454) Marxist account of industrial relation has that, trade unions may become integrated in the institutions and operations of capitalist society.

This strategy, which managers under Marxism may deploy to gain authority, is the greatest evil that can bedevil trade unions under Marxism because once that is accomplished unions cease to act as instruments of social class welfare. This integration may assume terms as economism, incorporation and institutionalization. As much as this is not consistent with trade unions’ objective it does not favor the employee who is supposed to be represented.

Collective bargaining employs freedom for workers to organize independent trade unions to bargain independently and effectively with the employer. To get rid of persistent subordination, workers have freedom to organize autonomous trade unions (Wedderburn 1986, p.7).

Integration of trade unions into capitalist society, midwifed by managers, influences all representatives, who interact with managers and employers’ association, to forfeit their duty to serve employees. To avoid this trade unionists are not advised, under Marxism to make a binding agreement with their employers.

In Marxism it is expected that conflicting employee and employer prefer a settlement of their differences in an amicable manner close to each party’s objective. This settlement is mostly to be achieved after a series of meetings (Clegg 1979, p.453). As the two sides also push each other to the wall, they must keep in mind that they are mutually depended on each other and that collective bargaining is the backbone of their industrial relations.

This however does not imply that trade unions representatives always yield to the pressures of the enterprise. Marxism believes that workers’ ability to deliver their labor productively lies in the damage they cause to their employers whenever they strike. Further institutionalization of trade unions makes them not to be seen in the old goggles as tools of radical protest and revolt (Clegg 1979, p.454). Trade unions in Marxist setting are aligned to a political party with wider support, greater funds and more activists. Marxism therefore entrenches politicization of workers by action that workers must learn to deploy the mass power of the union as an instrument of revolt should a need arise (Clegg 1979, p.454).


However, debates on Marxism, pluralism and Unitarism no longer dominate in the labor market today but a new orthodox under the promising enterprise duped human resource management (Guest 1991, p.149) for managers to control power at the work place they adopt enhanced motivation and commitment at work that leads to high performance and therefore managers are expected to dig into it.

Rules in an employment sector are either procedural or substantive and do not just follow some theorized routes as those established in Marxism, Unitarism or Pluralism. This is usually found in the spirit of collective agreement that is usually constituted in a body of rules. The Procedural part of the rules deals with matters as which methods are to be used and the means that are deployed when settling disputes that arise from places of work (Flanders 1975, p.86). This very part also deals with facilities to be provided to the representatives of parties who enter the agreement.

Substantive part on the other hand pronounces the rate of wages, working hours among other terms of employment leaving exploitation as the last thing to be forced. The substantive rules of collective bargaining regulate the marketing interpretation and enforcement of such rules (Flanders 1975, p.87). However, each of the set of rules, whether substantive or procedural regulate different sets of relationships. Collective relations that involve representative organizations are under the procedural rules.

The worker is subject to managerial relation whereby authority and subordination come to play with respect of who is who in the work place. The employee is usually placed at a position where he will exercise his powers in a limited way with regard to the hierarchy of power (Flanders 1975, p.88).The powers are born of organization of the management with an aim of attaining the goals of the enterprise. Here the employees interact with fellow employees and management as they share interests, sentiments, beliefs and values for the common purpose (Flanders 1975, p.89).

In conclusion conflicts in the work place are indispensable but what should take precedence is how to solve them. Trade unions are meant to solve the conflict between the employer and the employee but there are other problems that management will have to deal with. The three perspectives offer their take on the industrial relation but their survival is depended on the culture of the society and how they will be interpreted by those involved. What is very important in this case is a balance that will maintain stability in the work place that every party will be satisfied.

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