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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 2. 13th March 1974

Don't say Class Conflict, say Industrial Relations

page 12

Don't say Class Conflict, say Industrial Relations

One part of the University which students don't hear very much about is the Industrial Relations Centre. And among those that have heard of it, even fewer people know what it does or why it exists. For this reason it is planned to run a series of articles in Salient, examining the activities of the centre, and its role in Industrial Relations. It is also intended to have a look at the whole Industrial Relations field in an attempt to counter some of the myths which are typically propogated by the daily newspapers and such other such right wing groups.

From the point of view of the University, the Industrial Relations Centre is merely an appendage of the Economics Department which specialises in the teaching of Labour Economics.

The centre's purpose is to educate trade unions and management how to promote good industrial relations. The centre has four staff members, who, in their role as University teachers, do the equivalent workload of about one and a half ordinary University staff. The rest of their time is spent fulfilling the role set out for them by the National Development Conference back in 1969. Good industrial relations are seen to be vital to the continued growth in productivity in the economy—or, from the point of view of workers, so that their bosses can get more profit out of them.

It would appear that the University does not get a very good return in terms of the amount of teaching done, from the money that it puts into the IRC. The most recent annual report of the Industrial Relations Centre stated that a mere $ 15,000 of the Centre's financing came from outside the University which is rather less than the five-eighths which you would expect to be coming from beyond the university on the basis of teaching returns. Perhaps that is why Departments like Anthropology cannot afford sufficient staff and have to restrict entry to classes.

It is also interesting to look at these outside sources of funds to see where it is that they come from. There is a sizeable contribution from the Department of Labour, and predictably, healthy contributions from various business organisations. However, there are also contributions from various trade union organisations. Thus all these groups are paying out money for research into the causes of industrial conflict—paying so that industrial conflict may be minimised in New Zealand.

But what is all this stuff about "industrial conflict"? This is a topic that will be dealt with in greater detail in a later article in this series, but it is necessary to make a few introductory comments on the subject now. As we interpret it, industrial conflict is merely a manifestation of class struggle. That the IRC accepts this interpretation of industrial conflict is unlikely, but certainly much of the industrial relations theory that they reach is consistent with such an interpretation, but told from the point of view of the bosses.


What they are doing is adopting the usual "double-talk" practised by so many social scientists in our form of capitalist society—subtly rephrasing reality through their ideological faith in the permanence of the present capitalist order of society.

When one does believe that industrial conflict is a manifestation of class struggle, however, the role of IRC in New Zealand society becomes much clearer. It may be noted that the Centre does not say that the only way to resolve industrial conflict is through the termination of class struggle by the completion of a socialist revolution. Instead, they advocate all the processes of what is sometimes termed "class collaboration". Essentially they are advocating all the processes of social democracy to eliminate a few of the injustices' of the capitalist system, while allowing the system to entrench itself in power. But this will be a topic for a later article.

One question not yet considered is that of whether or not students can do anything about the Centre. At the beginning of 1973, the University Council invited the Students Association to appoint a representative to the Committee of Council responsible for the IRC. The person who was elected was Peter Franks, who intended to expose the Industrial Relations Centre for what it is. He was, however, considered to be unsuitable for the position, and therefore was not allowed to take up his position as student representative on the committee. In his place, An Economics Honours student was appointed to the committee by the IRC (he was, we presume, doing the relevant Honours paper in industrial relations). It is to be presumed that the University will not allow such dangerous abuses of democracy (i.e. elections, particularly of such as Peter Franks) to occur again. The Industrial Relations Centre seems ready to continue unperturbed.