Historical Studies in Industrial Relations

The Donovan Commission: Were We in the Trade Unions Too Short-Sighted?

Historical Studies in Industrial Relations (2016), 37, (1), 222–228.

Abstract

The ‘Oxford School of Industrial Relations’, centred at Nuffield College, was one major instance of academics entering the ‘corridors of power’ and attempting to resolve national problems of unofficial strikes, inflation, and restrictive practices, most notably via the Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations (Donovan), 1965–68. For historians today, there are two reasons why this mattered. First, because, in effect, they had created a new social-science field of industrial relations. Oxford was not the only industrial relations centre, but during the 1950s and 1960s it was the strongest and most politically influential. Second, and more important at the time, the Oxford School addressed a central policy moment in the development of social-democratic ‘bargained corporatism’ and the role that trade unions might play in this. In many respects, the Oxford School were representative figures of the post-war progressive generation, dedicated to ‘reconstruction’. It had had a powerful impact on public policy because its pluralist underpinnings were consistent with the needs of social-democratic public policy, sympathetic to trade unions, and could be translated into practical, applied public-policy solutions.

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Author details

Edmonds, John