Sector level conflict in the public sector and the resilience of workplace labour-management relations

Nana Wesley Hansen, Department of Sociology, University of Copenhagen

Labour conflict is costly for both employers and employees and often entails poor relations in the immediate aftermath (Lehr et al. 2014: 643). However, we know little about how labour conflict at sector level effects relations within political systems nor about how labour-management relations at workplace level are affected after mobilization.

This article uses longitudinal case study evidence from the public school sector in Denmark examining labour-management relations at sector, municipal and school level before and after a major sector level conflict over the issue of working time.

The conflict entailed massive mobilization of shop stewards and teachers within the schools and ended with a complete redistribution of power from labour to management concerning the regulation of teachers’ working time.

The evidence show that the conflict resulted in deteriorating relations among the bargaining parties at national and sector level for the years to come. With real effects on political sector relations. However, in spite of a highly strengthened management prerogative, school managers at local level continued to include the local union and shop stewards in the regulation of teachers’ working time even in cases when labour-management relations had been strained prior to the conflict.

The article discusses the potential of the classic unitarist, pluralist and radical frames of reference in Employment Relations (ER) to understand this outcome of conflict and change in power relations across regulative levels (Fox 1974, Tapia et al. 2015). The study find shortcomings in all approaches for understanding labour-management relations after conflict and suggest engaging with a renewed understanding of conflict in public sector IR and resilience in labour relations.


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