Conflict and Labour


Twentieth Annual Darwin College Lecture Series 2005

Lecture 7   :   4 March

William Brown

Darwin College, Cambridge University




This lecture will look at the changing nature of labour conflict. The relationship between employer and employee is both so unconstrained and so important to each that potential for conflict is unavoidable. The greater power of the employer has generally been much to the worker's disadvantage. But the rise of organised labour challenged this and, for much of the 20th century, trade unions used their strength to win improvements for workers, and to encourage governments to provide basic employment rights. In recent years international competition has profoundly undermined trade union influence. A consequence has been greatly reduced overt industrial conflict. But this does not necessarily mean that employment relationships have become more harmonious, nor employers more benign. We need to think afresh about how to moderate the suppressed conflicts of employment by upholding decent labour standards.


William Brown is the Master of Darwin College, and has been the Montague Burton Professor of Industrial Relations at Cambridge University since 1985. He went to Leeds Grammar School and after graduating from Wadham College, Oxford, he worked at the National Board for Prices and Incomes. From there he went to the new University of Warwick, moving to the SSRC/ESRC's Industrial Relations Research Unit when it was established there in 1970. Ten years later he became its Director. In Cambridge he has served as Chair of the Faculty of Economics and Politics, and is currently Chair of the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences. His research has been concerned with workplace bargaining, pay determination, and the effect of legal change and outside intervention on labour relations. For the past twenty years he has served as an ACAS arbitrator, was until recently a member of ACAS Council, and has been a member of the Low Pay Commission since it was established to manage the National Minimum Wage in 1997. In 2002 he was awarded a CBE for services to employment relations. 

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