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The labor-management cooperation debate: a workplace democracy perspective

Karl E. Klare, Northeastern University School of Law

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Originally published in Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, pp. 39-83, 1988.


Much contemporary debate in the field of industrial relations focuses on the wrong questions. Discussion is often framed in misleading terms or based upon unproductive assumptions. A prime example explored here is the current heated debate about whether we should replace "the adversary structure" of American labor relations with a "cooperative model." In my view we do not face such a choice. Rather, workplace democracy and economic prosperity alike require new forms of work organization combining adversary and participatory assumptions, institutions and practices. The challenge is to link the two approaches in ways that enhance the virtues and minimize the shortcomings of each.

The adversarialism/cooperation controversy illustrates the need to recast the terms of reference of industrial relaions debate. This Article attempts to provide groundwork for a revised approach. It does not purport to resolve the many dilemmas to which it calls attention. Rather, it is intended to clarify and reformulate some of the questions. Its perspective centers on the value of democracy in the workplace, and particularly on the goal of designing work so as to be an opportunity for human self-realization.

Suggested Citation

Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, pp. 39-83, 1988.