Tough channel crossings

European Journal of Industrial Relations (three times a year)
February 21, 1997

With its long distribution list within the Trades Union Congress offices at Congress House, the European Journal of Industrial Relations takes time to complete the readership round. From economic and social affairs through equal rights to organisation and services, let alone our external campaigning work, European developments affect them all.

European industrial relations are not, and have not been for a while now, an extraneous phenomenon to be observed from this side of the Channel to provide the occasional good idea to be adapted for UK consumption - the ubiquitous Swedish model of 20 years ago comes to mind. It is, rather, a bread-and-butter subject not only for full-time trade union officials but also for lay members, for example the growing army of a thousand or so British trade union members of European Works Councils. Managers I speak to tell the same story.

Expressions like trans-sectoral dialogue or social partnership do not trip off the tongue of their actual practitioners in Britain. But to be fair the jargon is used sparingly and with discernment by contributors.

The Government's cordon sanitaire seeking to cut off the continent and its social practices - which really means labour market when translated from Eurospeak - is failing miserably. The United Kingdom's opt-out from the Maastricht social chapter went against the logic of industrial and commercial integration. As Mrs Thatcher nearly said: you can't buck the labour market.

Political posturing is behind much of the ministers' message. Their reaction to the European Court of Justice's ruling on the working time directive by threatening to block all progress in the intergovernmental conference is out of all proportion. They certainly must be aware that the so-called threat from Brussels to impose alien industrial relations structures and practices on the UK is wide of the mark. After all, the social chapter excludes from its scope questions of pay, the right of association and the right to strike. Decisions relating to co-determination and social security require unanimous agreement between governments.

European social legislation has had a civilising effect on the philosophy of "neoliberalism run amok", as a senior commissioner once described the Government's approach. The space afforded to the social partners - or management and labour as the British government, apparently clinging to old class war concepts, insisted they should be described in official texts - to negotiate within a legal framework, and with possible legal sanction being afforded to their agreements, is a central aspect of the European view of subsidiarity in the industrial relations field.

But the European legal framework is only a minor part of the whole picture as drawn from last year's issues of the European Journal of Industrial Relations. The European works councils directive figures with a prominence commensurate with its status as the only piece of European industrial relations law in force.

The Journal is published in March, July and November and carries half-a-dozen substantial articles, plus abstracts and listings of books received per issue. Its advisory panel contains an imposing number of academics ranging much more widely than the (Gaullist as I recall) definition of geographical Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals that it has adopted as its field of coverage. Nevertheless, many articles focus on the European Union under the journal's objective of fostering cross-national comparative analysis.

Editor Richard Hyman of Warwick University is a stalwart participant in the British industrial relations scene and committed to the integration of theory and practice. He keeps a tight rein on quality control.

Contributors are mainly drawn from the academic field, but reflective pieces from practitioners are also welcomed. All are enjoined to make their work accessible to those practically engaged in industrial relations, and where possible show the practical significance of their analysis. The formula works well. The house rule that authors should eschew footnotes and keep to end notes is a welcome relief from the practice in some other publications in what has become a sizeable niche market.

John Monks is general secretary, Trades Union Congress.

European Journal of Industrial Relations (three times a year)

Editor - Richard Hyman
ISBN - ISSN 0959 6801
Publisher - Sage
Price - £30.00 (indiv.) £88.00 (inst.)
Pages - -

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