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Pluralism Approach to Employment Relationship

Employee relations have been a pressing issue in Sociology for a long time. The way managers should approach power, decisions, and interact with the front-line workforce is the main focus of the philosophy known as Industrial Relations (IR). Unitarism, pluralism, and radicalism have been defined as the three main conflicting IR frameworks, and researchers argue which theories work best. This essay will discuss whether pluralism is the most viable approach to the modern employment relationship by comparing it with other structures and exploring the emerging neo-pluralism.

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Firstly, the strengths of pluralism can be discovered when comparing it to other theories. The power dynamic is the main difference that separates the frameworks. The unitary approach views the employees as a cohesive and universal workforce with identical needs, desires, and interests, which makes conflict an anomaly (Ackers, 2002). Employers with a unitary outlook execute decisions with no consideration of the employees since unitarism claims that everyone should agree. As it concerns radicalism, the class conflict between managers and employees is inevitable and fundamental (Ackers, 2002). When comparing these theories with pluralism, their one-sidedness becomes clear. Unlike the unitary method, pluralism addresses the social aspect of the IR and acknowledges that there are multiple interest groups within the workforce (Ackers, 2007). At the origins of the theory, it was “synthesized as a new IR pluralism grounded in the postwar social democratic realities and trade union power” (Ackers, 2007, p. 99). As a result, pluralism distributes power between managers and subordinates and creates an environment where conflict is a natural step toward progress. Conclusively, pluralism is better because, unlike other structures, it introduces the social dimension and allows more employee freedom.

On the other hand, while pluralism entails numerous advantages, an emerging phenomenon of neo-pluralism proves that the original concept is not flawless. As a comparatively independent and new development in IR, neo-pluralism naturally addressed some of the misconceptions and fallacies of the original framework. For instance, Ackers (2002) acknowledged the fact that pluralism in modern IR “lacks a firm anchor in the employment relationship, while IR has lost sight of family, community and the wider society” (p. 4). Consequently, the outdated framework had to “adjust to this new public policy agenda while recovering its original sense of ethical and social purpose, and retooling its conceptual apparatus for a very different employment world” (Ackers, 2002, p. 4). As opposed to the original structure, neo-pluralism pays more attention to ethics and the democratic dimension. In addition to multiple interest groups, it recognizes different values and cultures, as well as adds more importance to social cohesion, morals, and ethics. After examining how neo-pluralism advances the initial concept of the IR theory, pluralism appears to be an outdated framework in terms of addressing values, morals, and the needs of a democratic society.

Thus, it can be concluded that although the pluralism framework is comparatively better in employee relations than unitarism and radicalism, it is subjected to improvement as seen in the advances in neo-pluralism. Pluralism is more effective in terms of recognizing and suiting the interests of multiple groups of employees. On the other hand, it fails to correspond to the democratic and ethical dimension of the modern workforce. Therefore, while pluralism is a valuable theory when compared with unitarism and radicalism, neo-pluralism is arguably a more useful way of thinking about the employment relationship than pluralism in its outdated sense.


Ackers, P. (2002). Reframing employment relations: The case for neo-pluralism. Industrial Relations Journal, 33(1), 2-19.

Ackers, P. (2007). Collective bargaining as industrial democracy: Hugh Clegg and the political foundations of British industrial relations pluralism. British Industrial Relations Journal, 45(10), 77-101.

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