Theory of Union Bargaining Goals


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Wallace N. Atherton is concerned with a single but very important facet of the behavior of labor unions—the ways in which their bargaining objectives are determined. He begins by reviewing the existing literature and briefly sketches the conceptual structure of the union.

The analysis starts with a theory whose form and substance are close to existing theories, and then is altered by adding unfamiliar elements. An eclectic “economic” model is built with two provisional assumptions: complete internal homogeneity of preferences about bargaining objectives, and perfect knowledge and foresight of everything relevant to the attainment of these objectives. The main innovation at this stage is the inclusion of anticipated strike length as a variable which affects union preferences of goals to be pursued.

In Chapter IV the first provisional assumption is dropped and the model becomes “politico-economic.” Allowance is made for diversity of goals within the union and for the leaderships’ concern to stay in office. The theory is then restated in axiomatic terms, enabling the author to dispense with the second assumption, that of the union’s perfect knowledge and foresight. The theory is now adapted to deal with a union faced with probabilities rather than certainties, and additional adaptations deal with the effect of internal threats to the leaders’ control of the organization.

Originally published in 1973.

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