Thursday, November 5, 2009

Different Trends in American Labor Force Organization

This paper will discuss the development and evolution of modern mass production. The framework for this discussion will discuss three different periods of mass production, first the drive system, second the system of high-wage mass production during the WWII era, and finally the current period of deindustrialization in which our contemporary economy is being transformed. To help guide the depth of this discussion, certain concepts of each system will be explored, such as hiring and job security, means of eliciting consent and effort, importance of ethnicity and race, the various advantages for the worker and or employer, and lastly how and why each system has changed and transformed into the current era of deindustrialization. The most influential concepts that affected these labor organization transformations were structural changes in society. These changes included the rise of the modern bureaucratic American government and increased college education; these changes transformed the drive system by the first half of the nineteenth century; the contemporary period of deindustrialization is largely caused by the opening of previously closed markets, such as China and the former Soviet Union. The labor in these markets are serving as a comparative disadvantage for American labor and have caused the change from the high-wage labor system in America to contemporary deindustrialization. (Friedman, 51)
What have been the major changes in American society? Claude S. Fischer asserts that a major difference for the labor market in the twentieth century was the rising importance of education. (Fischer, 19) Discussing specifically changes in American labor Fischer asserts, “employment moved from farm to factory to office, and jobs became increasingly specialized. Most of the novel, growing occupations involved coordinating the work of others and analyzing abstract information.” Fischer also discussed wage inequalities:
“Pay disparities narrowed from 1929 to about 1970 and then widened again. In 1950 high earners those at the eightieth percentile in earnings, made four times as much as low earners, those at the twentieth percentile. The ratio declined to three-to-one in 1970, but the rose back to four-to-one in 1990 and reached 4.35 to-1 in 2000. How much workers earn depends on their job and their education; both increasingly influenced earnings after 1970. Pay also depends on a worker’s gender, race, age, and region, but those differences became less important over the century…….There was more inequality in American’s paychecks in 2000 than had been there in 1970.”
(Fischer, 97,117)
The workforce also shrunk and expanded over the century. It shrunk because young people increasingly went to school, and people also began to retire around age sixty-five; it expanded because of the increasing numbers of women joining the workforce. Fischer discusses increasing education thus:
“men younger than twenty-five and older than sixty were much less likely to have a job or to want one. The expansion of secondary schooling in the first decades of the century and of higher education after 1940 kept ever more young men (and women) in school and out of the workforce.”
(Fischer, 102)
Married women even with young children who worked became normal toward the end of the century, this was because of the increasing independence of successive cohorts of women. (Fischer, 104-105) Unionization increased with the high-wage high production system transition, then decreased with deindustrialization. (Fischer, 113) Fischer also illustrates a “nearly linear” increase in greater specialization of American jobs throughout the century. (Fischer, 108) Fischer also recounts dramatic changes in “How Americans Worked” during the twentieth century,
“In 1900, 11 million Americans --one third of the workforce--farmed their own land or worked someone else’s farm; in 2000 farmers and farmhands were barely 1 percent of the workforce…. [twenty-first century American workers] make fewer and fewer things at their jobs; instead, they boss, teach, and take care of one another (and they go out and buy things from elsewhere). In more formal terms, this “service economy” employs people to work with other people-- in healthcare, education, food services, and the like--and to work with information in telecommunications, entertainment, research, financial services, insurance, and real estate….From 1935 to 1985, manufacturing grew, but services grew faster, overtaking manufacturing in 1970.…By 2000 making things was a thing of the past.”
(Fischer, 107)
The transitions described above mirror the time of the transitioning systems, from 1900 to the late 1930’s the drive system was in place; as our nation came out of the depression, a new system of high-wage and high production occurred; then lastly as more and more people began to compete globally for manufacturing jobs, the US economy became more about what services can be provided rather than manufacturing specific things. What specific governmental policies affected these transitions? Well the GI Bill in 1944 helped expand higher education, also in 1937 the government instituted the first minimum wage legislation, it was equivalent to $3.10 in 2000 dollars, it reached its maximum purchasing power in 1968 at $8.00 in 2000 dollars, and by 2000, it was $5.35 which was less than anytime after the late 1950’s. (Fischer, 119) Other legislation like the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 made “job sharing a national policy.” (Fischer, 122) The government also helped facilitate a modern society in four other ways: by providing low interest loans for homes, the Employment Act of 1946 in which the goal of the economy became maximum employment instead of full employment, and lastly the National Defense Highway and National Defense Education Acts. Our government had just applied principles of mass production to infrastructure, education and individual stability. Because of more government intervention, “recessions became less frequent and painful after the first third of the century.” (Fischer, 126) What effects can be seen that support that American society was transitioning toward more service based labor often requiring greater education? Well Fischer discusses two things, first that compounding the effects of the shrinking blue collar jobs was that they increasing lost the ability to work long hours to compensate for low wages; Fischer also described a trend of educated “homogamy,” college educated men tended to marry women like them (working and more educated). (Fischer, 124) Thus society was beginning to value more globally competitive jobs, and increasingly we double our labor force by opening previously closed opportunities to women.
We will first discuss aspects of the drive system. When it came to hiring, accounts in our class record that it was very informal and that the pre-existing connections of an individual (such as members of one’s family already working in a job) can help one obtain a job. Job security existed as long as one did not injure themselves, they contented the foreman, and that the product they were selling was in demand. Consent was taken by management-- thus management controlled most if not all of the labor process. People needed a wage to live in this new consumer society. As far as one needed their job and had no or few alternatives, management could do whatever they wanted. There are accounts of variation of jobs by race. The influx of successive cohorts of Europeans such as Irish people slowly replaced some jobs largely reserved for African-Americans. Generally both did lesser valued work than people identified as traditional whites. Largely the factory was run under the guidance of the foreman. The advantages for workers were that they worked at a job and got paid. There was little or no government regulation in favor of the workers at this time. The readings from our class help more fully inform our understanding of the drive system. Sanford M. Jacoby asserts, “the foreman was given free rein in hiring, paying and supervising workers. To the worker, the foreman was a despot-rarely benevolent…. The foreman’s control began literally at the factory gates.” Sinclair recounts of a worker named Jurgis who observed this aspect of the drive system,
“[the factory] owned by a man who was trying to make as much money out of it as he could, and did not care in the least how he did it; and underneath him, ranged in ranks and grades like an army, were managers and superintendents and foreman, each one driving the man next below him and trying to squeeze out of him as much work as possible. And all the men of the same rank were pitted against each other; the accounts of each were kept separately, and every man lived in terror of losing his job, if another made a better record than he. So from top to bottom the place was simply a seething cauldron of jealousies and hatreds; there was no loyalty or decency anywhere about it, there was no place in it where a man counted for anything against a dollar.”
The advantage for employers was strict control of a worker, but a growing level of conflict emerged. The dehumanization that typified this system could not be permitted to continue in a democratic society that was become increasingly connected. The need for workers to express themselves and be treated more humanely is was what transformed the drive system into the high-wage mass-production system.
This new high-wage system helped create government bureaucracy and societal mass consumption. The drive system was simply too dehumanizing and inefficient. Because workers had no way to express control over the product they created, the previous situation could be described as an innately “Them or Us” atmosphere. With the application of Taylorism or “scientific management,” Management desired to make up for the dehumanizing atmosphere with higher wages and the creation of personnel departments to help deal with conflict. These high wages helped create a larger version of the “Tupelo” model, in which the principles of reciprocity are somewhat executed into large scale societal empirics. Because worker’s had more money, the society in which they lived thrived and they consumed more and many other people in their local, regional, national and eventually international community benefited. By giving more prosperity to more individuals more people could consume because increased consumption required new jobs to support consumption. Hiring and job lay-offs depended more on the economy and whether there was economic growth in the specific sector of the economy to which the factory belonged. Job security became a little more legitimized through the extensive growth of labor unions, even in the public sector. Consent had to be bargained for by management, particularly through processes like collective bargaining. In exchange for all these new advancements for workers, one might think that they would work harder. This was not the case. Many workers found loopholes to help extend their new earned power. Consent was more egalitarian and increasingly the situation was viewed as every member of the process was part of a team. Ethnicity and race still mattered for non-whites. For Italians and Irish for example they began to be assimilated into the label white. Unfortunately for non-whites, race still mattered and determined advancement, pay and equality of opportunity, though the Europeans with different English accents were increasingly viewed as white. (Fischer, 56) This new system was largely a win-win situation. Management saw an increase in their wages, though percentage wise it was not as great as could be. The workers saw an increase in their value, expressed through more organization, higher wages a more open environment, the atmosphere could be described as though it was not a great job we appreciate you. The assigned readings recount the increasing application of the scientific method to the labor process. Two key leaders have work systems named after them, Henry Ford and Frederick Taylor. Speaking on Fordism, Fischer states that Henry Ford’s employment revolution made it so many workers could keep a job indefinitely. (Fischer, 128) Harry Braverman described Taylors’ scientific management. Braverman states, “the practitioners of “human relations” and “industrial psychology” are the maintence crew for the human machinery.” To Taylor, control over the worker had to be absolute so that management could control every aspect of the process, hopefully standardizing products and increasing efficiency. A quote from Taylor helps illustrate this,
“The only thing I ask of you, and I must have your firm promise, is that when I say a thing is so you will take my word against the word of any 20 men or 50 men in the shop. If you won’t do that,
I won’t lift a finger toward increasing output of this shop.”
Taylor also introduced the idea of “a fair days work,” or “all the work a worker can do without injury to his health, at a pace that can be sustained throughout a working lifetime.” This concept of a “a fair days work,” though noble was often taken to an extreme as the worker loading 47 ½ tons of pig iron per day illustrated. Taylor’s method was rather simple and was aimed at progressively de-skilling the workers, so that they can be interchangeably replaced quickly and efficiently for any reason-- just like the machinery they worked. Taylor had a three part method, first the “dissociation of the labor process from the skills of the workers,” second, “separation of conception from execution,” and third use of this “monopoly over knowledge to control each step of the labor process and its mode of execution.” Knowledge is indeed power. The Rivethead and Efficency: the fix articles also helped us increase our cognizance of this new high wage system. Rivethead begins by describing a period of prosperity at a GM plant. The trucks being built were in such high demand that many workers frequently got overtime. These benefits were not enough, eventually the narrator deviates by having a double lunch time, and then “doubling up” (only working half of a shift). He eventually takes time off and then is rehired in the axel department and in the end is transferred back to the rivet line where he is content. His whole account is full of alcoholism and the rationalization thereof, racial integration, fraternal bonding and getting by. I mention this article because it shows how good the times were for relatively uneducated American Workers. The Efficency: the Fix article not only recounts observations about “gravy,” but also the observation of many different shifts in rules that management implemented to improve efficiency. Obviously he felt these rule changes accomplished nothing and his quotes from co-workers like hank show a cult of this attitude among his level of workers. He concludes with this quote, “Do we see, in the situation studied an economically “rational” management and an economically “nonrational” work group? Would not a reversal of the labels, if such labels be used, find justification? Essentially the ways management acted to increase efficiency did not work and were irrational, the way the workers circumvented and avoided new rules were rational. How interesting? Historian Alex Keyssar summarizes the high wage era thus,
“The policies and reforms implemented in the 1930s did not solve the problem of unemployment…The state, tacitly recognizing the permanence of a reserve army [of workers], offered financial suppot to its members, taxing citizens who were employed in order to underwrite the expense of maintaining pools of surplus labor. Indeed, it was precisely the thrust and function of this political economy to perpetuate the existence of a labor reserve while minimizing the suffering, the anger, the anxiety, and the threats to political order that the presence of a reserve army inescapably engendered.”
(Fischer, 128)
Thus the work became more human in nature than the drive system, this was because of increasing bureaucracy and organization of society and the economy. Unfortunately this system that expanded the middle class would be replaced by deindustrialization.
As America grew and the rest of the world industrialized, the power in the world system became unstable and a new hegemonic war occurred. America was the victor and until the beginning of the end of the Cold War, the new high-wage mass-production system would remain in place. As the Cold War ended and nations like Japan and Germany reindustrialized, new labor markets like Russia, China and even Mexico began to compete for American jobs. This comparative disadvantage became a force with which American companies based domestically could simply not compete. This lower cost of labor globally (because everyone now wanted to work in the capitalist system) created a major structural change and caused deindustrialization.
Deindustrialization is typified with a decrease in factory or routine labor jobs. These jobs can be done anywhere in the world. The products can then be shipped back to the U.S. market for cheaper than manufacturing it within the U.S. market. Hiring largely depended on competition. For white collar jobs such as “symbolic-analysts” which develop our bureaucracy, employment is stable and well compensated. As already mentioned, a job that can be done by any labor force in the world will be done where it is cheapest. Job security was dependent on two things. First, whether it is competitively worth manufacturing the product in that location, and whether there is a contract stating what the company is responsible to provide to its workers. As we learned about at the once radical “Lordstown” GM plant, techniques like attritionary outsourcing occured. Attritionary outsourcing is when people are not laid off but replacements are not hired. Vallas also discussed the different work systems by using the concepts of despotism and hegemony. Eliciting consent largely depended on the level of organization of workers and employers and whether or not there were contractual specifications between the two interests. Generally employers tried not to take an adversarial approach with employees and preferred to use management tactics to trick people into doing what they wanted. Vallas discusses the introduction of the “team system” in which management tried to introduce norms to every level of production. Unfortunately this system did not generally work because of the application of the “lean system,” workers did not like two competing concepts so the team system usually ended as a “Trojan Horse” for management. To the contrary, the process known as “whipsawing” did sometimes occur. Because of the civil rights movement and the government legislation such as the Civil Rights Acts, discrimination in the work place was illegal. The implementation of Affirmative Action programs guaranteed employment for minorities through the use of quota systems. Conditions by the late 70’s into the 80’s improved for non-whites. Deindustrialization had many advantages for company profits, which inevitably increase with a decrease in cost. For the workers, whether times are good or bad is largely determined by how competitive they are in the new global economy. For many blue collar workers, times are becoming rough and now people are becoming more protectionist in tone and some new government regulation may occur. This system is interesting and must be studied more closely. If we continue on our present course, then things may become much worse. The author of The Work of Nations, presents a paradigm shift, he advocates it is not important where a product was made, but how the work enabled the worker to work on different tasks. As the world becomes ever increasingly connected, foreign and domestic corporations are converging, and national competitiveness is more dependent on skills than investment. The author states, “that the strength of the American economy is synonymous with the profitability and productivity of American corporations is thus an axiom on the brink of anachronism.” To the study of jobs we view three categories business class, labor class, and service workers. Of the kinds of service workers, there are two important ones: Routine service and in-person or not particularly skilled and the last category are symbolic-analytic services which are more skilled such as lawyers and engineers. As deindustrialization began, factories known as Maquilladoras in Mexico sprang up as Sallaz recounts. These were the first step to outsourcing American jobs.
Essentially the evolution of these three systems are because of the social evolution of man. As logistics, the related development of technologies (most importantly space transcending) mass communications, and levels of organizational development both public and private, occurred the world was transformed. Each system is just the same system but with different rules. As the drive system became increasingly inhumane and hated, because of our democratic system the government and corporations changed themselves and the system. The government increased regulations and protections, while corporations tried to increase efficiency and lower costs. Eventually though, as the nation-state became more integrated into the global system, concepts like comparative advantage have destroyed the old system and created a new one. The future of the global system will be on bureaucratization and mediating inherent conflicts between the two sides of labor and management each with seemingly increasing power.
In conclusion, as human society evolved, efficiency and profit were naturally sought by elites. This quest for more profits inevitably changed the world around us.


Fischer, Claude S. and Michael Holt. Century of Difference: How America Has Changed in the Last One Hundred Years. Russell Sage Foundation. New York, New York: 2006.

Friedman, Thomas L. The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century.
Version 3.0. Picador. New York, New York: 2007.

1 comment:

  1. Great article carles, also glad we got to kick today in akron. Good luck with finals see ya when you get home bud.