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William T. Thornton on the economics of trade unions: an early contribution to efficient bargaining theory


This paper examines the writings of William T. Thornton on the economics of trade unions as exemplified in his treatise, On Labour. In contrast to many recent commentators, the paper takes the title of On Labour seriously by moving beyond discussion of the "exceptional cases" in Chapter 1 Book II to the relatively little studied material on trade union wage determination that comprises the bulk of the volume. The authors argue that Thornton articulated a theory of trade union bargaining that was both sophisticated and well developed. In addition to presenting a careful and well-researched discussion of the aims and methods of contemporary trade unions, he outlined an analytical structure in which successful union wage claims can be viewed as the redistribution of firm revenues from employers to workers. He also emphasised that unions bargains over both wages and employment levels, so that his model may lay claim to being the precursor to modem theories of efficient bargaining.



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