Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

The Political Apparatuses of Production: Generation and Resolution of Industrial Conflict in Canada and Britain

Document type Thesis
Author Haiven, Larry
Degree Ph.D., Industrial and Business Studies
Publisher University of Warwick; Warwick, UK
Date 1988
Pages 373 pages


This study explores the subject of cross-national variations in industrial conflict, looking specifically at a 'matched set' of factories in Canada and Britain. The comparison between these two countries is intriguing. Since 1943, Canadian governments have sought to regulate industrial conflict by a distinct formula whose three pillars are a) legally enforceable collective agreements meant to circumscribe disputable issues, b) the outlawing of strikes during the term of the collective agreement, and c) the substitution, for industrial action, of a well-defined grievance and arbitration procedure to settle the disputable issues arising during that term. Dispute resolution is formal, collective agreements are comprehensive and arbitral jurisprudence is encyclopaedic. In Britain, on the other hand, dispute resolution has been left almost entirely to the parties themselves. Collective agreements are not enforceable and sketch the barest details of co-regulation. An ill-defined body of 'custom and practice' still governs in most day-to-day disputes. Strikes are legally possible for all groups of employees at any time on any issue related to the workplace. And arbitration, though available, is voluntary and widely shunned by both parties. Dispute resolution is highly informal. While one might, from this comparison, predict a higher level of strike activity in Britain, Canada has equalled or surpassed Britain over the past twenty-five years in industrial conflict. Why might this be so? The study reviews several sets of theories on cross-national variations in industrial conflict and finds that the Canada-Britain comparison does not fit any of them. Suggesting a synthesis of the "institutional" and "political economy” theoretical approaches, it proposes to concentrate on the political struggle over production at the shop floor in a "politics of production" approach. Defining four "political apparatuses of production" (interests, rights, adjustments and enforcements), the study examines how these "microinstitutions" for conflict-handling articulate with three key loci on the frontier of control where conflict can erupt (discipline, the structuring of the internal labour market and job control). Through the use of intensive interviews in four workplaces (two in each country) in the brewing and aluminium fabrication industries and the analysis of general data on industrial relations in the two countries, the analytical framework is applied to examine the generation and resolution of industrial conflict.