Fordism And Post Fordism

Does it matter whether we are in a Fordism, neo-Fordism or post-Fordism society?

Answer for question 8

As the economic changed significant over the past years, many people argued that there was a transition from Fordism to post Fordism. Both systems have a close relationship with people’s life because they have a great impact to our society. In this essay, I’m going to clarify the differences between these two systems by using several authoritative theories.

In the early twentieth century, the American engineer Frederick W. Taylor inspired the notion of scientific management. His key argument was that failures in production were the result of bad management, Taylor argued that management needed to seize control of the work process, and to do this they needed a scientific understanding of that process. He believed the use of productivity incentives to encourage a higher work rate. Taylor desired to break jobs down into the simplest tasks, so reducing the level of skill required and therefore the wage rate.

The manufacturer Henry Ford from 1908 most famously developed Taylor’s approach in car- maker onwards. The origin of the term ” Fordism” lies in the method of production of the Ford motorcar. Fordism was based on standard mass production techniques. It involved the use of moving assembly line and workers performed repetitive tasks which required little training or skill. The parts used were designed so that they could be assembled easily. Machines were used to produce mass products. The result was that cars were produced more cheaply, though without any great level of choice. (the famous ‘ any color as long as it is black’) Labour costs were held down because there is little need to employ skilled labour even anybody can do the job. Because of the mass production, the capital costs and overheads were very low so that the price for consumer was relatively low. However, there were some problems of this model in the later development. For example, the dependence of Fordism on economic stability was exposed by the growth of competition in the 1920s and the later economic depression of the 1920s and 30s.

From Braverman’s point of view, such production methods that combined with scientific management do indeed deskill work and make it easier for management to control the labour process. Skill content of work reduced to a minimum by breaking the down tasks in to simplest components and therefore unskilled workers can carry out the parts of production. Braverman saw deskilling as the product of management decisions rather than technology. Consequently, his views are called into question therefore there are many arguments about Fordism is outdated and is being replaced.

The Fordist system fell into crisis in the 1970s and the possible consequences of this led to talk of a transition from Fordism to post-Fordism. The proponents of post-Fordism argue that the economic changes in the 1970s signaled the end of Fordism. This was partly because the economic stability it required was undermined such as on the 9th December 1973, the oil price quadrupled and The Russian grain harvest failed in 1971 and 1972 leading to high inflation. It also because consumers were no longer happy to put up with the mass- produced range of goods Fordism offered and were looking more choice. Furthermore, living standard of working class has changed significantly since 1950s. The idea of embourgeoisement appeared in the society while the economic gains from rising home ownership and also rising of standard of living. There were many better educated workforce and they felt that they could make a decision on the work because education became as a first right. Therefore the Fordism system was no longer able to operate either as a mode of production or as a mode of regulation. (Shorter)

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M.J. Piore and C.F. Sabel, The Second Industrial Divide: Possibilities for Prosperity (1984), popularized the idea of a change from a Fordist to a Post-Fordist era. Most commentators agree that there have been important changes, but they do not all agree that this is the best way to describe them. (They argued it is largely a response to consumer demand for more varied products.) Post-Fordism is often referred to the principles “flexible specialization”. Many of these principles originated in Japan but have been adopted by employers in other capitalist countries because of the success of Japanese business. According to Piore, manufacturers have used new technology, particularly computers, to make manufacturing more flexible. For example, computer numerical- controlled machine tools can be reprogrammed to produce different tasks. This enables manufactures to make goods in small batches economically. It no longer costs a lot as using the assembly line. Moreover, Piore saw that new techonology helps industry to meet changing demands. Consumers are demanding more specialized products and the demand for mass-produced goods is decreasing. The prices of goods are relatively high compares with the cheap mass-production. Furthermore, Piore believes that these developments have resulted in changes in patterns of work and management. As companies become more flexible, they require more flexible and skilled workers and therefore a more flexible organizational structure. Firms are organized less hierarchically with more communication between departments. Managerial practices also change. Many companies have adopted the Japanese just- in- time system whereby large stocks of parts are no longer held in reserve. Instead they are delivered just before they are needed. Apart from cutting costs, this also allows the product to be changed very quickly. In addition, as works become increasingly varied, the workers need to be more broadly trained. Because of their long training and the importance of their skills to their companies, they enjoy more job security. Some firms have adopted another Japanese technique called quality circle that groups of workers and managers meet together periodically to discuss how the production or performance of the company can be improved. As we can see the suggested levels of skill required, the implication is that Braverman was perhaps wrong about the deskilling of work.

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(Flexible specialization increases the skills needed by the workforce and unlike industries where scientific management techniques are used. Workers may corporate with management in organizing the labour process and not as autocratic as under the Fordism. By implication, job satisfaction increases and industrial conflict decreases.)

The British economist John Atkinson in his theory of the flexible firm has developed similar views. He saw a shift towards functional flexibility through the employment of core workers and a shift towards numerical flexibility through the employment of peripheral workers. The functional flexibility refers to the ability of managers to redeploy workers between different tasks. The core workers tend to be permanent, full-time, well-paid, white males meeting predictable needs of the organization. They tend to be multi-skilled and to cross traditional job boundaries. (Production workers) Atkinson believes that core workers benefit from the changes. They learn a greater variety of skills and increase their functional flexibility. On the other hand, the peripheral worker may not be required to broaden their skills and employers may give them little opportunity to do the decision-making. The peripheral workers are disproportionately female and black; they are easily hired and fired by management at will. Peripheral works will tend to lose from the changes. Some of them are full-time jobs but have limited security such as short term contract. (Peripheral workers) The others are sometimes referred to as the reserve army of labour. These workers may work part-time, on short-term contracts and with less well paid. (Secondary workforce)

Theories about the increasing flexibility of work have been controversial and criticised by several writers. Anna Pollert is one of the strongest critics. She believes that in so-called fordist society there was small batch production as well as mass production. The Japanese success was more a result of cheap, well-design and reliable products rather than so-called post-fordist methods. Moreover, she questioned the view of flexibility and says that the effect on levels of skills is very varied. Besides, she attacks Atkinson’s claim that the company are making increasing use of a peripheral workforce and argues that this is not the case. Stephen Wood also criticised Piore and Atkinson regarding their theory of changes in flexibility. Basically, he argues that improvement is technology has not increased the overall level of skill. Furthermore, he accuses supporters of the theory for exaggerates the extent to changes in flexibility. Additionally, he attacks that Piore & Sabel for ignoring the consequences/disadvantages of changes in the British workforce such as unemployment, tightening of performance standards etc. Lastly, Paul Thompson accepts to some degree that work became more flexible. However, he thinks that the extent and novelty of flexibility has been grossly exaggerated. Moreover, he argues that jobs have not been reskilled, but have been expanded and involve now more tasks each which still requires little skill. Finally, he looks at how people were monitored and recruitment and basically found that the workers in general had to work harder.

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In conclusion, as we can see from above, there are significant differences between Fordism and post- Fordism. Workers under Fordism perform repetitive assembly tasks that require little training or skill and therefore anybody can do the jobs. By using the scientific management principle, machines were used to produce mass products. The result was that the products were produced more cheaply and consumers had no great choice. Such system required economic stability and mass consumption changed other aspects of society such as notable government economic policy and marketing on a mass level. As the Fordism system fell into crisis in the 1970s, many people argued there was a transition from Fordism to post- Fordism. According to Piore and Sabel, they suggest that post-Fordism often refer to the principles of flexible specialization. Manufacturers have used new technology that the machines can do many different tasks. This enables manufactures to make goods in small batches economically. Consumers are demanding more specific products so that the prices are relatively high than the past. There developments have resulted in change in the work and management. As companies become more flexible, they require more flexible and skilled workers and therefore a more flexible organizational structure. As works become increasingly varied, the workers need to be more broadly trained and they enjoy more job security. As we can see the suggested levels of skill required, the implication is that Braverman was perhaps wrong about the deskilling of work. In Atkinson’s point of view, he does not imply that most workers have their skills increased or broadened in flexible companies. Perioheral workers usually require less skill and have their work more closely controlled than core workers. (Shorter)

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