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

By David Fairris | Go to book overview

7

CONTEMPORARY EXPERIMENTS WITH NEW SYSTEMS OF SHOPFLOOR GOVERNANCE

Over the past few decades employers have engaged in numerous workplace experiments designed to alter various aspects of the postwar approach to industrial relations. The shopfloor, and shopfloor governance in particular, has been the focus of many of these experiments. Quality circles are an attempt to reduce the adversarialism between labor and management in production and to foster greater dialogue between shopfloor actors concerning ways to eliminate shopfloor inefficiencies. Teams of production workers and lower-level supervisors have been granted greater autonomy in shopfloor decision making in the hopes that they will use this autonomy to implement changes that improve productive efficiency. The focus is on enhanced labor-management cooperation and improved shopfloor labor productivity.

In part, these shopfloor experiments can be linked to such causal forces as technological change, innovations in the philosophy of human resource management, and increased international competition (e.g., Piore and Sabel 1984; Kochan et al. 1986). It is often claimed, for example, that new technologies and new approaches to the management of workers make it possible to move beyond the postwar system of industrial relations—a system which is seen as having promoted labor-management adversarialism, prevented flexibility in the allocation of labor, and hampered productivity and product quality. Increased international competition, on the other hand, has made it necessary that this postwar system be replaced.

However, there are deeper causal forces lying behind these employer-initiated shopfloor experiments, forces rooted in the crisis of shopfloor governance during the 1960s. Adversarialism and inflexibility were not universal features of postwar institutional arrangements. Adversarialism in labor-management relations became most problematic during the late 1960s, with the crisis of shopfloor contractualism. Inflexibility in the utilization of labor resources increased during this same period, as a result of workers’ growing frustration with the ineffectiveness of the contract-andgrieve model of shopfloor governance. Workers’ lack of devotion to productivity and product quality also originated during these years and resulted from the same source.

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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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