Peter CarrRemarks from Sir Peter Carr - 2017 LERA Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient
LERA 69th Annual Meeting, Anaheim, CA, 2017
[Sir Peter Carr was not able to be physically present in Anaheim to accept the Lifetime Achievement Award but he sent us his acceptance remarks, which detail his involvement with colleagues in America and the Washington LERA chapter.]

It was an immense privilege to receive this Lifetime Achievement award from LERA.  I am really sorry that I cannot be there in person to thank you.  My friendship and work with LERA and American colleagues has been an enormous pleasure over the years.  

I started my working life when I left school at fourteen and took an apprenticeship as a carpenter and joiner, working in the building industry.  This early working experience shaped my future career.  It has been a lifetime of studying, teaching, organising, regulating, mediating and managing, in support of the wider public interest.  
My early industrial relations work was in key British government institutions, as well as extended work in the United States and Sweden, as well as evidence gathering in many other countries.

From the 1950s to the late 1970s Britain suffered from a chaotic bargaining structure and deep antipathy between unions and employers.   With hindsight we might now judge that it was an impossible task to successfully engage in a consensual reform of the system as it was.  But for a group of us who left the teaching of industrial relations to engage in the reform programme of the late 1960s, the opportunity to be directly involved was a dream come true.
I came into industrial relations practice from the Oxford School, under the tuition of Alan Flanders and Hugh Clegg. Back then, we nurtured the concept of rational structures, encouraging a more articulate and effective contribution by trade unions, and an adherence to mutually agreed procedures. Central to this philosophy was the idea that collective bargaining was the best means of determining relationships between management and labour.

The main institution that came out of this Oxford School thinking was the Commission on Industrial Relations (CIR). The CIR took me on as a director and we set out to produce effective procedures and conflict resolution methods in companies and industries with the most disruptive histories.  I had previously been employed part-time at the National Board for Prices and Incomes (NBPI), which attempted to reform pay determination and aimed to spread the practice of productivity bargaining to the benefit the employer, the majority of employees and to the consumer. The pay bargaining experience gained at the NBPI provided skills that we deployed in other national reform initiatives at the CIR.  It was a rational, researched and liberal approach to industrial relations. Although it may have had only a partial success, I believe that it could provide vital lessons worth considering today, as we move into a new era of disruptive technologies that are again set to radically change the world of work and working relations.

The introduction of a legal framework in Britain, in many ways mirroring the American system, dominated all our agendas in the 1960s and early 70s. Back then, national strikes could erupt on matters of fine principle. Yet we established a significant methodology to deal with the problems. For example, with a team of researchers I spent over a year in the national newspaper industry for the Royal Commission on the Press, to form a new agenda for industrial relations in that industry. The thorough nature of that study continues to receive praise to this day.  The case study methodology we used in union recognition cases was reviewed in a recent study. In the end, a changed political environment enabled the newspaper employers to sort out their industry in their own way, and in their favour.  

My keen interest in Worker Participation led me to travel to six European countries to study their various organisational forms. We took some elements of that learning through the UK Parliament, including the introduction of standards applying to the provision of information for union representatives.   Of course, such provisions have no legal effect these days.
In the 1970s I was repeatedly drawn to America as a country from which to learn from the experience of free collective bargaining within a strong legal framework. In 1976 the American Ambassador in Britain, Ann Armstrong, provided a generous opportunity to undertake a study tour in America to broaden my experience of the way the American systems operate.  

I learned a lot in that period from the experience of American academics, trade unions and employers. During that tour I had a memorable meeting with George Meany and developed a relationship which we retained for many years. We also held several interesting debates in Oxford with Walter and Gladys Gershenfeld. I even attempted, but failed, to recruit Tia Denenberg to the UK during Richard Denenberg’s study period in Britain. I had more success later with Eileen Hoffman’s recruitment into the UK Conciliation Service (ACAS) who came on an exchange scheme that I established with the FNCS.

My appointment as Counsellor for Labour with the British Embassy in Washington came in 1978. By the time I arrived in Washington I already had many American friends and colleagues. The job took me to every state and brought me into contact with many of the great figures in American labour history. I met A. Philip Randolph, whose organising skills had established the rights of sleeping-car porters. I was also able to meet Bayard Rustin who told me about his role in organising the Great March on Washington. I also learned a great deal from Victor Reuther of his and Walter Reuther’s organisation of the autoworkers.  

A major task I undertook during my Washington British Embassy tenure involved me going into American Universities, from which I produce a series of papers on the functioning of collective bargaining in the US.  Those papers, in turn, re-shaped the British government’s thinking of its own industrial relations system in the early 1980s. Altogether I think that I must have produced over two hundred papers on aspects of the American Labour market. Looking back through those papers recently, it is clear how much has changed since then. They were written before the profound effect of new technology on the labour market. However, some pivotal assumptions continue to be relevant. I am convinced that the relationship of employer and employee remains a pluralistic process, and that to remain healthy this requires effective employee representation, whatever the technology. We should now be experimenting with new ways for employee views to be articulated in the modern workplace.

In 1982, during my time in Washington, the American Labor Department persuaded me to participate in a collective bargaining conference they were sponsoring in Rio de Janeiro. This was before the fully democratic elections in Brazil.  It had been arranged for me to talk to a shop-stewards group at the Volkswagen car plant, to which the Brazilian security police raised objections. I came back from Brazil reinforced in the conviction that trade unions are an essential component for a truly democratic society. A senior shop steward called Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was a participant on that course. He later went on to become the democratically elected President of the Brazilian Republic.

On completion of the Washington diplomatic post I returned to Britain to head a team to deal with the impact of the 1980s recession and its consequent devastation of the industrial infrastructure, supporting the regeneration of the North-East economy. My experience in America provided many lessons for establishing effective community responses to such rapid industrial change.  

I took retirement from government service  around twenty years ago but was soon encouraged back to work again, this time with the British National Health Service (the NHS), and in turn headed up five major health organisations. I am proud to say that at one point the North-East health system received the accolade of being the best operating part of the National Health Service. In my work for these health bodies, the discipline and constraints acquired from my industrial relations experience have been essential.

Finally, I would like to thank LERA for its friendship over the years, including Janice Bellace who brought this wonderful award over to the UK for me. In particular, I would like to extend a personal thanks to Greg Bamber in Australia who has been a constant sounding board for many years since we first worked together at the Commission on Industrial Relations.

LERA stands in a good position to help define the boundaries and the processes that will be needed for the challenging new economy ahead. As a forum for exchanging experience and ideas it has a unique and vital role to play. Long may you continue with your important work!

Sir Peter D. Carr, CBE
May 2017

Sir Peter Carr passed away October 2017, his obituary can be found here: