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

By David Fairris | Go to book overview

3

THE RISE OF AN EMPOWERED SHOPFLOOR VOICE

Although workers in the more progressive manufacturing firms had been granted a voice in the determination of certain shopfloor conditions during the 1920s, shopfloor discontent had by no means disappeared from the industrial scene. Liberal labor policies, including company unions, were confined in their reach to a subset of the manufacturing base; even such notables as the Ford Motor Company and US Steel did not possess company union representation for their workers on the eve of the depression. While the cost to workers of exiting had risen significantly in many of these firms, in some cases due to the maintenance of high wages, and in others due to the sluggish growth in employment opportunities elsewhere, plant-level mechanisms for the expression of worker voice remained nonexistent.

Moreover, even among the more progressive firms that possessed company unions, worker voice was limited in scope to a subset of workers’ most pressing employment concerns. Wages and hours were rarely the subject of discussion in company-union meetings to be sure, but even with respect to shopfloor conditions—the terrain within which company unions had achieved their greatest success—there were important limitations. By most accounts of the period, mechanization and wage incentive schemes placed increased pressure on the pace of production, an issue company unions had difficulty regulating to the mutual advantage of labor and management. And the decentralization of shopfloor decision making during the late 1920s meant that the company union’s influence in the area of the behavior of foremen had been severely circumscribed. The 1930s depression exposed the limited reach and scope of the company-union movement of the 1920s.


SHOPFLOOR SETBACKS DURING THE EARLY DEPRESSION YEARS

During the early years of the depression, aspects of the drive system of production returned to many industries that had abandoned this approach in the 1920s. Speedups were the most common worker complaint. Rubber workers in Akron, Ohio, for example, complained bitterly of the increased

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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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