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

By David Fairris | Go to book overview

9

THE FUTURE OF US SHOPFLOOR GOVERNANCE

American industrial relations remain in a state of transition. For well over two decades now employers have engaged in experiments with workplace reorganization in reaction to the changing technologies of production, growing international competition, and smoldering discontent among workers over shopfloor governance. At present, these experiments appear to be relatively pervasive (Osterman 1994). They are also somewhat haphazard and incoherent. Appelbaum and Batt, arguably the single best source available on the nature and direction of recent workplace reorganizations, write:

Our review of 185 consultants’ reports and academic case studies of workplace change [lead us to the finding] that US companies have largely implemented innovations on a piece-meal basis and that most experiments do not add up to a coherent alternative [to prior practice].

(Appelbaum and Batt 1994:10)

Thus there appears to be an overwhelming sense among US employers that the older system of shopfloor governance needs replacing, and yet much ambivalence about what exactly to replace it with, suggesting that an opportunity still exists for coordinated efforts to affect the path of workplace reform.

Amidst the seemingly “piece-meal basis” of contemporary reform efforts, one can nonetheless identify the broad outlines of an emerging vision of industrial relations around which many employers seem to be coalescing—namely, a uniquely American version of the Japanese lean-production model. In this last chapter I argue that the lean-production approach to shopfloor governance is inferior, in terms of productive efficiency, to an alternative set of institutional arrangements that would grant workers greater participation rights in production. The lean-production model may offer limited improvements in certain areas of shopfloor governance, but it is not the best we can do.

The relative inferiority of the lean-production model stems from the fact that it fails to truly empower workers on the shopfloor. Worker shopfloor power affects the distribution of shopfloor rewards and the extent of managerial authority. Workers’ sense of justice in distribution and the legitimacy of

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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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