Historical literature on labour and industrial relations is broadly silent on theoretical questions; and management and industrial relations literature tends to overlook historical contingency. This article brings these different literatures into closer alignment, examining the concept
of pluralism in industrial relations, indicating that the embeddedness of non-pluralist values among employers shaped the erosion of pluralist realities — joint industrial bargaining mechanisms — from the 1970s onwards. The article explores Alan Fox's paper for the Donovan Commission,
Industrial Sociology and Industrial Relations (1966), with its emphasis on the manner in which competing 'frames of reference' generated contrasting interpretations of industrial relations and industrial conflict, and examines material developments in the sectors singled out by Fox: coalmining
and the docks. The article generally supports a central criticism of some pluralist approaches in industrial relations literature, concluding that broader forces — including macro-economic management and counter-inflationary wages policy, perceived by some workers as class injustice
— were the central contingencies shaping industrial conflict. As Fox emphasised in his later writings, attempts to reform the system of industrial relations — by both Labour and Conservative governments — were misguided, but reflected the subject's growing politicisation.