Structures of control : the changing role of shop floor supervision in the U.S. automobile industry, 1900-1950

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Coopey, R. (Richard)
  • Subject: HD

The thesis is based on a longitudinal study of the automobile industry\ud in the U.S.A. from its inception around the turn of the century, to the\ud 1950s. Charting the changes in methods of production, organisational\ud structure, demography and skill configurations among the workforce, and\ud institutional and political formations at the workplace, the study focuses\ud upon the meaning of these developments in terms of the control of work and\ud the personnel directly involved in that control - the changing role of\ud foremen in 20th century industry.\ud Using a range of sources including contemporary governmental and\ud industrial surveys, company and trade union records and oral histories, a\ud picture is built up of the way in which methods of production, and the\ud control of that production, are mediated through a series of social,\ud demographic, spatial and ideological factors, in all of which the foreman\ud is a central character.\ud In examining the role of shop floor supervision in shaping workers\ud experience and actual structures of control at the workplace, and showing\ud how the experience of foremen, individually and as a group, in turn are\ud affected by changing patterns of work, the thesis constructs a historical\ud modification to accounts of the labour process which stress a progressive,\ud teleological exodus of control from the shop floor. The study points out\ud for example, that the role of shop-floor supervisor during the inter-war\ud period, largely supposed to have been proscribed and marginalised by\ud technological and bureaucratic developments, remained in fact the focal\ud point of control over hiring, firing, wage levels, production levels and\ud methods of work, in short almost all aspects of the industrial workers'\ud experience of factory life.\ud Having established the boundaries of power and control surrounding the\ud foreman in pre-war mass production, and discussed the meaning of these\ud boundaries in terms of class, ideology and divisions among the workforce,\ud the thesis then examines the origins and effects of unionisation on the\ud role of supervision. Following an account of the restructuring of power and\ud control which comes with the establishment of production workers unions in\ud the industry, the advent of the unionisation of foremen themselves is\ud examined. The Foremen's Association of America (FAA), which saw its genesis\ud and principal area of recruitment in the automobile industry, represented\ud the most serious attempt to organise supervisory workers in the USA this\ud century, and marks a pivotal point in the spread of unionisation,\ud managerial response and state intervention in industrial relations.\ud Building on earlier sections outlining the position of foremen in terms of\ud power and ideology, the thesis proposes a complex, multi-level dynamic\ud behind the formation, growth and decline of the FAA as a corrective to\ud previous accounts which stress the primacy of legislative and institutional\ud explanatory frameworks.\ud Finally the thesis charts the post-war response of management in the\ud industry to the threat of foremen's unionisation, locating ensuing attempts\ud to restructure the role, status and prestige of foremen in terms of the\ud historical impact and progress of competing managerial theory, in\ud particular that of the human relations school.
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