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Chris Howell, PhD

Contributor, The Hopbrook Institute

    Chris Howell is the James Monroe Professor of Politics at Oberlin College. As an academic, he has written extensively on trade unions in Western Europe, the transformation of social democratic parties, and the liberalization of capitalist political economies. As as activist, he has served on the board of Policy Matters Ohio, and worked closely with labor unions in northeast Ohio and nationally. Professor Howell is on the board of trustees of the Ohio American Association of University Professors

    Publications

    Contact:

    Email: chris.howell@oberlin.edu

    Research Interests:

    • Comparative Political Economy of Advanced Capitalist Societies

    • Trade Unions and Industrial Relations

    • Social Democratic, Labor, and Left Parties

    Education:

    • PhD, MA, Political Science, International Relations, Yale University 

    • BA, History, Cambridge University

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    This book has both empirical and theoretical goals. The primary empirical goal is to examine the evolution of industrial relations in Western Europe from the end of the 1970s up to the present. Its purpose is to evaluate the extent to which liberalization has taken hold of European industrial relations and institutions through five detailed, chapter-length studies, each focusing on a different country and including quantitative analysis. The book offers a comprehensive description and analysis of what has happened to the institutions that regulate the labor market, as well as the relations between employers, unions, and states in Western Europe since the collapse of the long postwar boom. The primary theoretical goal of this book is to provide a critical examination of some of the central claims of comparative political economy, particularly those involving the role and resilience of national institutions in regulating and managing capitalist political economies.

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    The collapse of Britain's powerful labor movement in the last quarter century has been one of the most significant and astonishing stories in recent political history. How were the governments of Margaret Thatcher and her successors able to tame the unions? In analyzing how an entirely new industrial relations system was constructed after 1979, Howell offers a revisionist history of British trade unionism in the twentieth century. Most scholars regard Britain's industrial relations institutions as the product of a largely laissez faire system of labor relations, punctuated by occasional government interference. Howell, on the other hand, argues that the British state was the prime architect of three distinct systems of industrial relations established in the course of the twentieth century. The book contends that governments used a combination of administrative and judicial action, legislation, and a narrative of crisis to construct new forms of labor relations. Understanding the demise of the unions requires a reinterpretation of how these earlier systems were constructed, and the role of the British government in that process. Meticulously researched, Trade Unions and the State not only sheds new light on one of Thatcher's most significant achievements but also tells us a great deal about the role of the state in industrial relations.

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    In May and June of 1968 a dramatic wave of strikes paralyzed France, making industrial relations reform a key item on the government agenda. French trade unions seemed due for a golden age of growth and importance. Today, however, trade unions are weaker in France than in any other advanced capitalist country. How did such exceptional militancy give way to equally remarkable quiescence? To answer this question, Chris Howell examines the reform projects of successive French governments toward trade unions and industrial relations during the postwar era, focusing in particular on the efforts of post-1968 conservative and socialist governments. Howell explains the genesis and fate of these reform efforts by analyzing constraints imposed on the French state by changing economic circumstances and by the organizational weakness of labor. His approach, which links economic, political, and institutional analysis, is broadly that of Regulation Theory. His explicitly comparative goal is to develop a framework for understanding the challenges facing labor movements throughout the advanced capitalist world in light of the exhaustion of the postwar pattern of economic growth, the weakening of the nation-state as an economic actor, and accelerating economic integration, particularly in Europe.