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

By David Fairris | Go to book overview

5

INSTITUTIONALIZATION AND DECLINE IN WORKERS’ SHOPFLOOR POWER

Industrial relations after World War II in manufacturing are generally viewed as containing a brief period of initial turbulence followed by an extended stretch, beginning in the late 1940s, of relative stability, during which time a “web of rules and regulations” and a set of “mutual understandings” are seen as guiding the actions of employers and organized workers towards the maintenance of industrial peace through the receipt of mutual prosperity. To the extent shopfloor governance is considered in conventional accounts of the period, it is treated in one of two ways: (1) shopfloor conditions are viewed as subject to joint labor-management regulation through the “web of rules and regulations” encompassed in collective-bargaining agreements and grievance procedures (e.g., Brody 1992); or (2) shopfloor conditions are seen as being the sole terrain of management under a “mutual understanding” or “accord” in which workers abdicate control of the shopfloor in exchange for wage increases tied to productivity growth, employment security, and improvements in fringe benefits (e.g., Bowles, Gordon, and Weisskopf 1983).

The appearance of shopfloor governance offered by these accounts does not square with the reality of shopfloor practice. The postwar industrial relations system may have offered a stable set of institutional arrangements for determining wages, hours, and fringe benefits, but it never encompassed a similar set of arrangements for determining shopfloor conditions. A closer look at postwar shopfloor practice reveals that collective-bargaining agreements and grievance procedures were initially underutilized and ultimately inadequate mechanisms for shopfloor governance and that any mutual understanding concerning management’s prerogative in production was struck between employers, the government, and the labor leadership, without the consent of rank-and-file workers. Within this rather loose set of institutional arrangements there was a struggle for control over shopfloor custom and practice by labor and management.

The postwar period witnessed first the institutionalization, and then the decline, of workers’ shopfloor power in the organized manufacturing sector. The informal system of shopfloor governance that emerged in the early years,

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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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