Participation and Partnership in the UK: Progress and Prospects

  • Stewart Johnstone


This chapter provides an overview of the evolution of participation and partnership in the institutional context of the UK. The central argument is that while partnership at work only became government policy in 1997 as part of New Labour’s attempt to ‘modernise’ employment relations (Martinez-Lucio and Stuart 2005), it builds upon a long history of experiments and policies concerning employee participation. It suggests that identifying the antecedents of partnership depends very much upon how we define partnership. If we use loose definitions such as workforce cooperation, partnership can be traced at least as far back as the practices of ‘enlightened’ employers in the early twentieth century (Marchington 1998). Progressive employers recognised some of the basic principles which lie at the heart of the partnership debate, such as the view that it can be ethically responsible and good business sense to consider issues of both organisational efficiency and employee welfare. If we define partnership in terms of participation practices, however, then partnership can be traced to pluralist concerns around industrial democracy (Webb and Webb 1897) and the development of institutions of trade unions, collective bargaining and joint regulation of the employment relationship. It was generally assumed that trade unions were a natural part of organisational life, and that bargaining activity would occur in a conflict-oriented system of ‘arms-length adversarialism’ (Johnstone and Ackers 2015). However, there have also been various attempts at encouraging greater cooperation between unions and employers, especially around issues of productivity and efficiency, and often in response to particular political and economic challenges. However, it was when state support for unions was removed in the 1980s that union attempts to build legitimacy in the eyes of employers and notions of working together to support business success really began to take hold, and was to become official government policy in 1997.


Trade Union Human Resource Management Collective Bargaining Industrial Relation Employment Relation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I would like to thank Stephen Procter and Adrian Wilkinson for comments on an earlier draft of this chapter.


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Copyright information

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stewart Johnstone
    • 1
  1. 1.Newcastle University Business SchoolNewcastle UniversityNewcastleUK

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