More with Less: Work Reorganization in the Canadian Mining Industry

Article excerpt

More with Less: Work Reorganization in the Canadian Mining Industry

University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1999.

ISBN 0-8020-4354-2 (hbk) MO.00

ISBN 0-8020-8178-9 (pbk) 14.00

Two competing discourses have recently emerged within the labour process literature, each offering different interpretations and languages to explain the reorganization of work. One argues that changes in the workplace in the name of 'flexibility' benefit capital and further entrench the fordist organization of work leading to the intensification of work for the working class. The other accepts the transcendence of the fordist organization of work and argues that post-Fordism means 'empowering', and 'challenging' workers by re-combining conception and execution and validating their experiences and tacit knowledges of the organization of work. Moreover, a new and harmonious relationship between capital and labour is evident as each has something to gain in the new workplace. The postFordist workplace is a `win-win' political climate where cooperation between labour and capital has replaced confrontation. Where does Bob Russell locate himself in this literature? What evidence is there in the Canadian mining industry to support his own contribution to this paradigm?

Russell sets out to investigate the changing labour processes in the mining industry in Canada since the 1960s. At the same time, he empirically evaluates the post-industrial thesis that workplace change entails the introduction of more challenging and enskilling work leading to a workforce capable of diagnostic and analytical skills in the reorganized production process. Finally, Russell seeks to ascertain the extent to which new industrial relations protocols corresponds to the reorganization of work in the mining industry.

The book contains seven chapters. Chapter one reviews the literature on the (re)organization of work, provides a rationale for the study, and describes the methodological approaches used to collected data. Russell investigates four companies at five different sites with three, rather solidarity-lacking, unions representing workers. Site visits, surveys of mining and mill workers, interviews with union leaders and managers, and observations of union meetings discussing change in the workplace are the methods used. What surely must be an oversight, he forgets to inform the reader of the total number of interviews carried out.

Chapter two describes the market share of the Canadian Potash and Uranium industries, and the characteristics of their workforces. It is largely a (white) male workforce, with the exception of the crews at Key Lake in Northern Saskatchewan. Here, 37% of the workforce (147 of 399 workers) are Aboriginal. Women of Aboriginal descent are numerous here as well, and 13% of Russell's sample at this mine includes them. Typically, Aboriginals work in the mining department as heavy equipment operators (61% of them). In chapters three and four, Russell identifies two `cultures of employment'. By this he means the `specific strategies that are directed to managing workforces and influencing the work effort bargain' (p.28). Across the companies, two cultures of employment are identified-fordism and post-fordism. Chapter five evaluates the findings in chapters three and four with an eye to the literature. Chapter six examines the extent to which industrial relations protocols follow suite with the introduction of new work reorganization. The study is briefly concluded in chapter seven.

Russell begins his argument by stating that capital accumulation is primary and its achievement can take different forms in the capitalist organization of production. Thus, there is nothing inevitable about the choices management makes in securing profit, and by extension, it need not take specific form. More specifically, he concludes that the introduction and implementation of work reorganization is not due to arguments put forth by proponents of post-Fordism, (contradictions of fordism; concerns over monotony of work process; etc) but instead by managerial strategy of reducing workforce and making the remaining workforce do `more with less'. …

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