Shopfloor Matters: Labor-Management Relations in Twentieth-Century American Manufacturing

By David Fairris | Go to book overview

1

FROM EXIT TO VOICE IN SHOPFLOOR GOVERNANCE

Factory workers in late-nineteenth-century America possessed numerous shopfloor discontents: cleanliness was at a minimum, lighting was horribly inadequate, ventilation was poor, and the temperature was dictated by either the nature of production or the season. Each industry had its special problems. Work in the iron and steel mills was hot, dirty, and physically exhausting. Meat packing work was cold and wet, with floors so filled with slime and grease that moving about the factory floor was treacherous. The foundries of metal-working plants were dark and dank, with bitterly cold temperatures in the winter, except, of course, at casting time when the heat was almost insufferable.

Technological and organizational developments which took place around the turn of the century led to improvements in some shopfloor conditions. Mechanization was often attributed with reducing the physical strength required for a day’s work, as happened for example in steel production. And the new, larger plants of the early twentieth century were generally acknowledged to be cleaner, better lighted, and better ventilated than the older factories. Conditions of production also improved as a result of conscious efforts at progressive reform. By the turn of the century almost every northern industrial state had passed legislation requiring that factories be clean and well ventilated, and that safety guards be used on dangerous equipment (Nelson 1975).

However, the very same technological and organizational developments that brought forth improvements in some shopfloor conditions led to deterioration in others. Among the worst of the worsening conditions were the capricious and dictatorial behavior of foremen, the heightened pace of production, and declining health and safety.

The economies of scale associated with the new technology and organization of production led to the construction of larger plants. Apart from the textile mills, factories with over 500 wage earners were virtually nonexistent prior to the 1870s. By 1900, there were roughly 1,500 factories of such size, almost a third of which contained over 1,000 wage earners (Nelson 1975:4). Growth approached epic proportions during the next two decades, so that by the early

-17-

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Shopfloor Matters: Labor-Management Relations in Twentieth-Century American Manufacturing
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - From Exit to Voice in Shopfloor Governance 17
  • 2 - The Amoskeag Plan of Representation 47
  • 3 - The Rise of an Empowered Shopfloor Voice 57
  • 4 - Labor-Management Disputes in Meat Packing, 1936-41 89
  • 5 - Institutionalization and Decline in Workers’ Shopfloor Power 99
  • 6 - Postwar Collective-Bargaining Agreements 139
  • 7 - Contemporary Experiments with New Systems of Shopfloor Governance 146
  • 8 - A Visit to Saturn 168
  • 9 - The Future of Us Shopfloor Governance 175
  • Appendix Tables 191
  • Data Appendix 198
  • Notes 204
  • Bibliography 219
  • Index 230
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