Ethical Socialism and the Trade Unions: Allan Flanders and British Industrial Relations Reform, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Ethical Socialism and the Trade Unions

Allan Flanders and British Industrial Relations Reform, 1st Edition

By John Kelly


246 pages

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Allan Flanders was one of the leading British industrial relations academics and his ideas exerted a major influence on government labor policy in the 1960s and 1970s. But as well as being an Oxford academic with a strong interest in theory and labor reform, he was also a lifelong political activist. Originally trained in German revolutionary ethical socialism in the early 1930s, he was the founder and joint editor of Socialist Commentary, the leading outlet for ‘revisionist’ social democratic thinking in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. He was also the leading figure in the influential 1950s ‘think tank’ Socialist Union and played a key part in the bitter factional struggles inside the Labour Party. The main argument of the book is that Flanders’ ethical socialist ideas constituted both his strength and his weakness. Their rigor, clarity and sweep enabled him to exert a major influence over government attempts to negotiate labor reforms with the trade unions. Yet he proved unable to explain the failure of the reforms amidst rising levels of industrial conflict, as his intellectual rigor turned into ideological rigidity. The failure of negotiated reform led to Margaret Thatcher’s neo-liberal assault on trade union power in the 1980s.


"Kelly's book on Flanders and ethical socialism is a valuable addition to the literature of industrial relations. It offers a detailed account of the political philosophy and policy activism of one of the founders of British industrial relations and in this way considerably illuminates an important historical chapter in the history of our field." -- Bruce E. Kaufman, Georgia State University, USA

"The book is the product of an intensive process of research, involving a comprehensive reading of Flanders’ published and unpublished writings, extensive archival work, and interviews and correspondence with many of his key associates…" -- Richard Hyman, London School of Economics (English Book Reviews for RI/IR, Relations industrielles/Industrial Relations)

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Industrial Relations and Social Democratic Politics 2. Revolutionary Ethical Socialism in Interwar Germany 3. Revolutionary Socialism in a Cold Climate 1932-1939 4. Trade Unions under Planned Capitalism 1939-1946 5. Democratic Socialism in the Cold War 1946-1951 6. The Recuperation of Ethical Socialism 1951-1959 7. Ethical Socialism and Industrial Relations Reform 1959-1973 8. The Limits and Failings of Industrial Relations Reform 9. Conclusions: Allan Flanders, Ethical Socialism and the Reform of British Industrial Relations. Epilogue: Industrial Relations Reform and Social Democratic Politics after Flanders

About the Author

John Kelly is Professor of Industrial Relations in the School of Management, Birkbeck College, London University. His main areas of research are comparative labor relations, labor unions and industrial relations theory. Recent publications include Varieties of Unionism (co-editor, 2004), Union Organization and Activity (co-editor, 2004) and Rethinking Industrial Relations (1998).

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Industries / General
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Industrial Management