The increased interest in Comparative International Relations

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According to Strauss (1998), increased interest in 'comparative international industrial relations' is partly due to the growing interdependence of economics resulting from globalization. Similarly, Kochan (1998) asserts that 'the field of international employment relations has come alive again' as a result of the 'growing importance of world markets and regional trading blocs, the remarkable political transformations in Eastem Europe and the former Soviet Union, the advancing Asian economies and the speed with which organisational and technology innovations cross national boundaries'. The paper analyses, to what extent global employment relations have become more important than comparative employment relations?

Since the onset of neoliberal globalisation, labour has come under more and more pressure worldwide as a result of the increasingly transnational organisation of production and the concomitant deregulation of national labour markets, which have allowed capital to play individual national labour movements off against each other.

The evolution of the global market economy is most frequently offered as the rationale for the UK Government skills policy, and for similar policies adopted by many other national governments. The argument used explains that the best and most appropriate support that a government can offer its citizens is to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge to be employable (Leitch, 2005). This was clearly set out in the UK Government Skills Strategy White Paper with the claim that: The global economy has made largely extinct the notion of a "job for life". The imperative now is employ-ability for life' (DfES, Summary, 2003, para. 3) This suggests that global competition will determine the industrial composition of the world economy and consequently the types of jobs that are available (Leitch, 2005; DIUS, 2007).

The same global pressures are also exercising an effect on the size, the character and the practices (culture) of an increasing number of-workplaces. Workplace surveys in the UK and in Canada (Livingstone, 2007; Millward et al., 1999) identify a number of similar tendencies. Among the more obvious are:

i. There appears to be a global adoption of similar work process or

the way of doing things. Local culture is increasingly giving way

to global culture (Babson, 1995; Jarvis, 2007).

ii. The pressure to maximise financial returns in the private sector

is mirrored by the pressure to reduce costs in public services

(Blackburn, 2006).

iii. There is an increase in supervisory control, frequently through

changes in work organisation and the increased use of interactive

new technology (which interrogates the user) (Felstead et al.,

2002; Sawchuk, 2006, 2007).

iv. There is increasing insecurity of managers and employees because

of the growing influence of venture capital (Monks, 2006;

Blackburn, 2006, 2007, 2008).

The net effect of these developments is for the work process to be increasingly transparent (to managers and supervisors) and aided by technology.

The needs of industry

The dramatic growth in youth unemployment between 1978 and 1988 sharpened the debates about vocational preparation (Esland, 1991). A succession of quite different policy initiatives engaged young school leavers and young adults into schemes of work placement and work preparation. In 1983 Gleeson had described these schemes as 'educating young people for the social order' (Gleeson, 1983). This was echoed in a critical essay by Cathcart and Esland (1991), and paraphrased by Esland, which argued that:

…the impetus for the new vocationalism is sustained by an

intention to establish greater political control over curriculum

content, and suggest that the new educational principles being called

for to support the new vocationalism are captured in the concept of

the compliant-creative worker. The ideal workers of the future are

those who can be flexible and multi-skilled, able to work in teams,

and who are at the same time enterprising; but these same ideal

workers are not expected to direct this desired creativity towards

challenging the policies of the companies which employ them -

even when these are in conflict with their interests (Esland, 1991, p.

xiv).

The transformation of the UK economy during the late 1970s and early 1980s, which had precipitated the growth in youth unemployment, led to the creation of a rich body of writing by academic researchers. A sample of the contributions from that early research was published in two volumes (Esland, 1991). In retrospect these essays can be seen to be charting the emergence of a new set of employment relations driven by major changes in the world economy. The specific focus of each of the essays was different and their recommendations were equally diverse. The features they shared-in common were that their focus was bounded by when they were written, between 1979 and 1991, and their prescriptions were addressed to the development of public policy. A retrospective reading of those essays, in contrast with the lived-in world of over 25 years later, indicates the transformation that has taken place and suggests the origin for some of those changes.

Two of the essays in these volumes suggest that a liberal-humanist perspective was dominating public discourse and the writers saw this as a problem. Corfield focused on the mismatch, as he saw it, between education and industry (1991). He argued that the needs of industry should be more accurately reflected in the purposes and practices of education. The companion essay by Goldsmith (1991) offered a critical examination of the organisation of schools and suggested that they could be improved by the adoption of business practices. The overall context for these concerns was the decline of manufacturing industry (Judge and Dickson, 1991), and the process and consequences of de-industrialisation (Rowthorn, 1991; Murray, 1991). The concept of 'employability' was not explicitly discussed in the 1991 volumes of essays, but it has evolved out of the conditions discussed in those essays. It was noted by Moreau and Leathwood (2006) that the understanding attached to 'employability' has evolved to focus on the character of labour in a dynamic global economy. Particularly important in helping us understand 'employability' are the essays which discuss developments in labour flexibility (Atkinson and Meager, 1991), changing employer perspectives (Phillimore, 1991) and the role of public policy in skill formation (Keep and Mayhew, 1991; Finegold and Soskice, 1991).

The role of employers in the development of education policy has been one of the consequences of those schemes, influencing.current debates. Certainly since the 1970s, such policy has been designed and redesigned to meet ever more closely the 'needs of industry' (DIUS, 2007). The demands of employers drive policy, including the demand for workers with the appropriate skill and experience (pp. 21-35). They are also demanding a workforce that is increasingly flexible and responsive to the demands of the enterprise (pp. 53-68). Each of the many youth training initiatives of the earlier periods included elements of preparation with a focus on interpersonal qualities such as team working, personal initiative, personal appearance and commitment to the enterprise (Farley, 1989). These qualities have now become the typical features required by most employers when recruiting (DIUS, 2007, pp. 61-68).

A second consequence was that those of the generation which experienced youth unemployment (1978-1988) were, in effect, treated as laboratory rats subject to experiments in social engineering. They are now adults and form the core of the contemporary workforce. Incremental changes in cultural expectations have produced a workforce with different expectations to those which were dominant ten or 15 years previously. To be employable, therefore, presupposes the acquisition of vocational and technical skills that are continuously updated or renewed (Hillage and Pollard, 1998). However, it also anticipates a sense of orientation for work, in general, and for that employer in particular (Watkins, 1991). This has been described as a 'state of readiness' (Brine, 2006). This ideological priming presupposes a compliant worker who is consciously giving effect to the mission of the enterprise: 'The expectation is that workers will be creative in the furthering of capitalist goals but compliant towards the social relations and structures they find in the workplace…' (Cathcart and Esland, 1991, p. 135).

Renewing labour

For most of the post-war period, liberal-humanist values guided the development of educational policy; that is policy focused on developing the individual for their life experience, which would include work, and not simply for their future work experience (Halsey, 1986, p. 134). Voices critical of this liberal-humanism followed the lead of Martin Weiner and argued in favour of a curriculum which was narrowly instrumental and skill-led, built around 'capability' and 'enterprise' (Weiner, 1981). This led to the adoption of other values, captured in the notion of human capital theory. More recently, Coffield, in a liberal-humanist voice, has explained that the demands of 'policy' for employability do not require the worker to develop critical abilities: 'The Government's aim is a workforce which passively receives the training thought appropriate for it rather than a profession of experts capable of self-improvement' (Coffield, 2007, p. 12). This argument is also very similar to that developed by Braverman (1974) in the period under discussion. Indeed, Braverman quotes from Gilbreth to make the point that: 'Training a worker means merely enabling him to carry out the directions of his work schedule. Once he can do this, his training is over…' (p. 447). Writing some 15 years later Streeck (1989) appears to refute this claim by signalling the need for the 'polyvalent' worker who is multi-skilled, knowledge rich and technically aware, and capable of working at the boundary of an organisation engaged in global competition. However, these apparently quite different aims, suggested by Streeck and Coffield, may not be as incompatible as they appear. All but the smallest of employing organisations make full use of vertical and horizontal division of labour and therefore only a select minority of employees are likely to be operating at the boundary of their organisations. Using the insights offered by Braverman we can see that Streeck was not discussing all employees in an enterprise, but a segment of them - the professional workers with continuously updated skills and knowledge; thus employers and policy makers might consider that it might not be necessary for the other workers to have those skills and knowledge (Coffield, 2007, p. 10).

The contemporary origins of seeing labour as a resource can be found in the perspectives of human capital theory (Blaug, 1968; Becker, 1975). Human capital theory maintains that labour has a distinctive and productive contribution to make to capitalist production (Denison, 1964). Labour is seen as a form of capital that can be invested; it can be improved by attention or by its development. It is also the case that judgements can be made about which labour should receive investment to influence its formation. However, labour is described as both a category and as individuals. Investors with a business perspective may ask whether it is appropriate to prepare all potential labour to the same general level. The improvement of individual labour also produces a generalised improvement of the category. Employers are able to have their choice of individual labour from the generalised category (Rikowski, 2000). This improvement is achieved through learning and learning is the consequence of experience or of defined programmes of learning activity (Ball, 2002, pp. 117-120). It is the view of DIUS that education of the under-19 age group is the responsibility of government but that subsequent skill formation includes employers and individuals taking responsibility. 'We need to embed the value of skills in our culture in a way that it has never been before. We need individuals to feel that it is their responsibility to improve their skills throughout their lives…' (DIUS, 2007, p. 7).

Consequently, employers will recognise that some labour is more appropriate for their purpose than other labour. Labour requires preparation prior to employment and, in the meritocratic discourse, this is the responsibility of individuals. The employer chooses from the labour available and their choice will be influenced by the quality of that labour. The conditions for 'employablity', and for labour being 'fit for purpose', include a sufficient supply with work-ready skills, so that little or no time is spent in induction, and with cultural suitability, so that attitudes and expectations will be congruent with the host workplace and not 'disruptive' (Checkland et al., 1990; Wobdall, 1991). It follows that there will be the right labour, with the appropriate skills, knowledge or experience at an acceptable price. This is very similar to 'just in time' management approaches in which an employer is able to employ other resources as they are needed by the work process without the need to stock or store them (Babson, 1995; Heery and Salmon, 2000). Preparation for use includes the acquisition or renewal of work appropriate skills or knowledge. It also includes the acquisition and projection of appropriate attitudes towards its own renewal (Hempe, 2001).

Employability anticipates that employees with a positive orientation to the work process and its purpose (attitude) will also adopt a positive approach to the maintenance of skills development. Employees who are committed to their employer or workplace are more effectively supervised for the aims of the enterprise than if they had actual supervisors. The self-regulating and self-developing employee represents an 'ideal' employee. They are employees -who have adopted the values and ideals of the principal policy drivers. Furthermore, they are sufficiently mobile and flexible that they can move from one employer to another with little difficulty. The notion of hegemony offers a useful way of seeing that the adoption and employment of disseminated values is important to the notion of employability. Raymond Williams has argued that hegemony was not partial or sectoral but was '…lived at such a depth, which saturates the society…' (Williams, 1973, p. 8, emphasis added). Employability describes a set of employment-related practices, which function to the advantage of industry, but they are described in public discourse as socially beneficial. The values of industry are adapted and adopted throughout society. Such influence of dominant ideas has been referred to as 'the universal light' which illuminate all ideas and much activity. They are the light'…with which all other colours are tinged and are modified though its peculiarity. It is a special ether which determines the specific gravity of everything that appears in it.' (Marx, 1904, p. 302)

This discussion has been conducted within a framework of global capitalisms with a focus on the UK. It is recognised that over the recent history of the UK, capital has consolidated its dominant relationship over labour. The relative strength of UK employers has been buttressed by the growth and interconnection of global capitalisms driven by changing market demands.

Government policy on industry has evolved to incorporate a central role for lifelong learning with a focus on skills. This policy is expressed through 'employability' as a means for supporting the competitiveness of UK-produced goods and services. This has included making employers and the needs of industry into the driver of policy. The consequence for labour has been the consolidation, since 1979, of its weaknesses and a growth in insecurity. Labour has become a resource subject to the conditions associated with all other resources.

Integral to this sharpened role for labour, within the employability discourse is the role for learning. Lifelong learning has been moved from a peripheral place in debate about public policy to being a central feature of UK (and European) Government economic policy. In these new conditions, labour is encouraged to adopt new cultural attitudes and practices by locating learning at the centre of workers' lives. The role for 'learning' is to help workers fit the needs of industry by becoming work-centred, efficient and compliant employees. As the unspecified needs of industry change so, with the aid of 'lifelong learning', labour is required to develop or adapt its skills. Consequently, access to learning is governed by the priorities of employability. The most graphic illustration of this is the rejection of the unifying perspectives offered in the Learning Age. As a substitute we have witnessed the reintroduction of a distinction between new vocationalism, which is well funded and promoted by government-funded agencies, and informal adult learning, which is poorly funded and misunderstood.

Conclusion

Proofs from a different variety of comparative industrial and employment relations field recommends that national-institutional preparations remain outstanding. The inborn systems of a fussy state prolong to distinguish it from other nations. This would advise that, distant from considering the finish of national uniqueness or the ending of national guideline, it is in fact a constant course of social ingenuity. National regulation and fixed institutions are an outstanding textures of labour market structure.

This discussion has been conducted within a framework of global capitalisms with a focus on the UK. It is recognised that over the recent history of the UK, capital has consolidated its dominant relationship over labour. The relative strength of UK employers has been buttressed by the growth and interconnection of global capitalisms driven by changing market demands.

Government policy on industry has evolved to incorporate a central role for lifelong learning with a focus on skills. This policy is expressed through 'employability' as a means for supporting the competitiveness of UK-produced goods and services. This has included making employers and the needs of industry into the driver of policy. The consequence for labour has been the consolidation, since 1979, of its weaknesses and a growth in insecurity. Labour has become a resource subject to the conditions associated with all other resources.

Integral to this sharpened role for labour, within the employability discourse is the role for learning. Lifelong learning has been moved from a peripheral place in debate about public policy to being a central feature of UK (and European) Government economic policy. In these new conditions, labour is encouraged to adopt new cultural attitudes and practices by locating learning at the centre of workers' lives. The role for 'learning' is to help workers fit the needs of industry by becoming work-centred, efficient and compliant employees. As the unspecified needs of industry change so, with the aid of 'lifelong learning', labour is required to develop or adapt its skills. Consequently, access to learning is governed by the priorities of employability. The most graphic illustration of this is the rejection of the unifying perspectives offered in the Learning Age. As a substitute we have witnessed the reintroduction of a distinction between new vocationalism, which is well funded and promoted by government-funded agencies, and informal adult learning, which is poorly funded and misunderstood.

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