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Industrial relations is a general term referring to workplace relationships between workers and management. Industrial relations has become an important professional and academic discipline, since successful management of industrial relations is closely linked to workplace productivity and product quality. There have been many different approaches to the management of industrial relations in modern capitalism and capitalist societies, but they generally share the characteristic that they seek to discipline, motivate and engage workers in processes of production or administration without making any fundamental change to the structure of ownership or direction of the workplace.
Beginning in the 1920's and 1930's, a new movement in industrial relations began to focus instead on the management of human relations in the workplace after it was demonstrated that creation of a positive communicative atmosphere at work was capable of stimulating worker productivity. Industrial relations is about the complex interrelations between employers and employees, labor and trade unions, employer organizations and the state.
At the end of the 19th century scientific management of industrial relations became increasingly popular as a means of workplace direction and this approach relied upon close and systematic control of the work process and of the methods of work employed. In more recent years, the idea of quality control circles, where workers take direct responsibility as work groups for productivity and work quality has become popular following successful use of this approach in Japan.
According to Bruce E. Kaufman, "To a large degree, most scholars regard trade unionism, collective bargaining and labour–management relations, and the national labour policy and labour law within which they are embedded, as the core subjects of the field."
Industrial relations has frequently been concerned with employment relationships in the broadest sense, including non-industrial employment relationships. There have also been numerous schemes to increase worker participation in the workplace, either through enhanced workplace communication, consultation and co-operative worker-management planning or through worker representation and participation directly in management.