Fordism as a labour process and as a social model

This article looks at Fordism and the underlying themes of Fordism as a labour process and as a social model. It analyses Fordism by presenting Terry Wallace’s opinions whilst drawing on a variety of sources. In the paper’s first section it begins with a review of the evolution of the Fordist factory production system and moves on to discuss the application of Frederick Taylor’s ideas to manufacturing; Fordism as a labour process.

Wallace encapsulates Fordism as a labour process in three statements; “standardised production and interchangeable parts; the use of dedicated single purpose machine tools and mechanised flow line mass production . ” Each of these statements is discussed in turn with great depth. The article next examines how Ford and Taylor sought to bring order onto the hectic and rapidly growing early twentieth-century factory floor.

Fordism concentrated on routinizing the flow of production and Taylorism on the control of production through the use of administrative and bureaucratic structures. As Wallace states ” Ford incorporated aspects of Taylorism such as the disaggregation of planning from the execution of work, task fragmentation and the timing of specific operations and enhance them through the introduction of the flow-line principle in the form of the moving assembly line and new forms of labour control. Over the first half of the twentieth century, output expanded through a focus on manufacturing processes (Fordism) and the use of methods of shop floor control (Taylorism). The first section continues describing how the evolution of the assembly line and mass production diminished the need for time consuming set ups and the skilled workers required to perform them. This in turn increased the levels of labour turnover and so therefore Ford introduced the five-dollar day to attempt to combat this situation.

The second section that look at Fordism as a social model, it concentrates on the $5 day to workers who would put up with the alienated regimented work conditions, and how Fords motivation behind the innovation was to move the consumption of consumer goods away from the domination of the upper classes of society. A good salary helped to permit the mass ownership of cars and Ford was acutely aware of the potential mass markets available for those who might produce the affordable car.

Wallace also looks at the effects of the increase of wages on the economy as a whole and the increase in living standards that it brought about as more people had added disposable income that could be spent on luxury items. Also analysed under the social model is the statement of how post 1945 Keynesian economics had been adopted throughout the United States which stabilised the theories of Fordism and brought it to maturity.

Fordism has many positive strengths to its management style such as it enabled managers to regulate production and preserve their own position within firms as well as meeting the efficiency criteria set by owners. Fordism was particularly suitable to manufacturing in a mass consumption economy that required only occasional innovation of new products and used machines that only made specific goods. On the other hand Fordism also had negative elements to it.

Wallace depicts the mass production process as “long runs of standardised products made on dedicated special purpose machines by semi-skilled workers. ” This process of mass production lead to a massive increase in productivity which was a positive boost for the economy although there was a expense, the effects were that the pace of the line was increased and the intensity of the labour effect required was controlled by the machine and not by the operator, but the human cost was significant resulting in a high labour turnover; the workers were alienated and dehumanised.

Ford allowed no creativity and was after minimum discretion between management and workers with fragmented work and minimal tasks for employees. An interesting point of this article is the story on ‘nut number 58’ which is a good example of how the workers were deskilled although some failed to acknowledge this. Any skills that were required were firm, product or even station specific and unlikely to be transferable either within the firm or from firm to firm. The worker in ‘nut number 58’ believed he was skilled erector of automobiles until he applied for another job in another car factory.

The decreased skill levels due to the mechanisation has a positive effect in the fact that a number disabled people could be employed who would have probably not had many opportunities of work. Ford was said to be one of the first to employee people with disabilities although he was probably able to exploit them more than other workers. Fordism was also very controlling towards the lives of his workers as Wallace confirms ” Ford sought to control not just the behaviour of his employees at work but also outside of the factory. Regulations such as no consumption of alcohol and tobacco, and satisfactory personal habits were brought in to place when the 5$ day was introduced. Workers became part of a culture when they were employed at the Ford factories. The increase in wages did benefit the economy as a whole. The increase in wages meant that employees had more disposable income that increased consumption of goods, this increased taxes, which were invested back in to the general public through the health service and other public services. Some of the wages would also be invested which the government would use to put back in to the economy.

With the increase in consumption production had to increase which gave a greater profit and paid the increase of wages therefore completing the circle. Overall Wallace provides a clear picture of Fordism that is neither over uncritical nor celebratory, defining its positive aspects and negative aspects of the management style. The article also provides a picture that demonstrates there is much more to Fordism than the invention of the assembly line although it did have a great influence on mass production then and now.


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