Nowadays, freedom of association represents a reality and in every industrialized country, collective bargaining has become an important part, more exactly a cornerstone for the industrial relations (Flanders, 1969). Given the large number of union-management contracts it comes with a certain degree of difficulty to speak precisely about the process of collective bargaining. Each of these relationships has evolved in its own way, with a certain background, certain conditions and certain particularities. In spite of these, there are still generalities that characterize the process of collective bargaining. This process is considered to be somehow difficult and unpleasant in many cases (Henderson et al., 1965). Furthermore, Flanders (1969) considers it a dynamic process that is exposed to change over time.
There are several views over what collective bargaining is. Both Dubin (1947) and Kahn Freud (1956), a sociologist and a lawyer, consider it as a response to conflict in industrial relations. Dubin (1947) perceives it as offering stability and order, while Kahn Freud (1956) associates it with social norms that regulate group conflict. Goodman (1984:145) defines collective bargaining as being ‘a process which representatives of employers and employee organisations act as the joint creators of the substantive and procedural rules regulating employment’. Flanders (1970) sees the collective bargaining process as belonging to the political side more than the economic side because a collective agreement only sets the terms and conditions that will govern the relation between employer and employees in case the agreement will bind. Edwards (2003:198) defines collective bargaining as ‘the term used when employers deal directly with the trade unions representing their employees in order to regulate the conduct and terms of their work.’
As mentioned before, collective bargaining is not a homogenous and simple process. Walton and McKersie (1965) emphasized the difficulties and trials of structuring attitudes that take place during this process. Collective bargaining implies compromise and is not necessarily a solution for conflict. Chamberlain, professor at Yale University, observed that conflict is inevitable and dealing with it leads to one party winning more than the other. Furthermore, collective bargaining cannot help to avoid conflict; it is just a way of dealing with conflict easier.
According to the above evidence, the process of collective bargaining represents not only an agreement over payment, but also over other details that contribute to the relation between employers and employees. This process, even though complex and dynamic, comes as a solution to the possible conflict of interests between the employing side and the one that has labour to offer.
Until the 1980s, in Britain, collective bargaining had official support. Ever since the 1980, coverage of collective agreements has decreased (Edwards, 2003). Several million employees still rely on collective bargaining, but, for many others, this mechanism does not represent a possibility anymore. Overall, a decline in collective bargaining can be observed. This decline has been caused by two factors: the large number of workplaces where unions are not present and thus collective bargaining is not an option and even where trade unions are present, collective bargaining has steal declined (Blyton and Turnbull, 2004).