This essay will be examining the conceptual framework of both Fordism and Post Fordism alike. It will be examining how Fordism began, and how through many different changes, both within the industrial sector as well as Society as a whole, there was a switch to Post Fordism. It will incorporate my own experiences of working in retail, in order to demonstrate how I perceive the way in which Post Fordism is evident in the workplace, in addition to demonstrating that, Fordism has not been totally replaced and is still present in more ways than one.
Fordism refers to the system of consumption and mass production characteristic of highly developed economies during the nineteen forties, right through until the nineteen sixties. Under Fordism, there was mass consumption combined with mass production, which produced sustained economic growth and widespread material advancement. The 1970s-1990s however have been a period of slower growth and increasing income inequality. During this period of time, the system of organisation of production and consumption has, almost, undergone a second transformation.
This new system is often referred to as the “flexible system of production” or the “Japanese management system. ” On the production side, the flexible system of production is characterised by remarkable reductions in information costs and expenses, total Quality Management, just-in-time inventory control, and leaderless work groups. On the consumption side: by the globalisation of consumer goods markets; faster product life cycles; far greater product/market segmentation and differentiation. Henry Ford, (born 1863- died 1947) founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903.
In 1908 the company initiated the production of the Model-T, of which the company sold 15million. It was the first car of its kind to built using a new type of production. Fordism involves the mass production of consumer durables, which are made on moving assembly line techniques operated with the semi-skilled labour of the mass worker. Before cars were produced by hand which was both time consuming and very expensive. The actual physical production of the car was also a problem due to numerous parts involved, the Model T took only 12. hours per car to be built from start to finish, a build time which would have been impossible to sustain on a continuous basis before. It was from this new process of the production line that Fordism took its name. Henry Ford had come up with a way of producing cars that broke the overall production process down into hundreds and sometimes thousands of small, individualised, highly-specialised, parts. By introducing a complex division of labour, Ford reasoned (correctly) that costs could be lowered and profits increased.
The production was a new way of thinking and doing, helped made possible by new advances in machinery. Fordism, or Henry Ford’s new ideas of manufacturing, came about as a solution to a problem: that of how to increase the amount produced and decrease the time needed to produce it. He saw the existing methods of production as being slow, laborious and inefficient. Previously, workers had been highly skilled and because of these specialised skills, they were highly paid. This however, was all about to change.
Ford’s main contributions to mass production/consumption were in the area of process engineering. The hallmark of his system was standardisation. Standardised components, standardised manufacturing processes, and a simple, easy to manufacture and repair, standard product. Ford had done this by employing a workforce that needed the minimal training, and had little skills. Ford’s first factory was at River rouge in Detroit. The management principals that were in place at that time were that of intensive work-planning and close supervision of the workers.
The job involved very little training, and involved the employee to insert a car part into a machine, to which the machine carried out the work, not the employee. Ford regulated how the employees worked, in the sense that he would calculate the speed at which an employee took to carry out a particular task, and then a standard was set. He carried out “Time and Motion” studies in order to ensure that there was maximum efficiency on the production line, in order to minimise waste.
Anyone who didn’t comply or couldn’t keep up with the times set was dismissed. Ford took great pleasure hiring and firing, often replacing older employees, with younger, faster, more efficient employees. He also had many rules, such as no talking and whispering with fellow employees, as he felt that this distracted them from their work. Others however believed that due to his paranoid nature, he did not want his employees conspiring against his work ethics.
Because the job was so repetitive, and restrictive to the employee, morale was also low and the staff turnover was high. This prompted Henry Ford to introduce ‘the Five Dollar a Day’. This was a relatively high wage level, however it could only be obtained when the worker had worked for a continuous six months and complied with all the rules that were in place at that time. Henry Ford decided that this was the best way to get the workers to work at the speed, and in the way that he wanted. And so Fordism began.
It basically meant that the workforce should be recognised as a valuable, integral part of the production of a product, rather that being treated as a commodity to be kept at arms length. If the workers feel valued and appreciated, then they are much more likely to work harder, with a lot more thought put into their work However, during the great depression in the States, during the nineteen twenties and thirties, there was very little disposable income. Therefore, this meant that there was no longer a great demand for the Ford car.
Furthermore, people had become tired of owning the same car as their friends and neighbours, and longed for a change, and a break from the norm. After the depression, during the ‘Long Boom’ (1945-1970+), the Fordism way of working was no longer seen as a way of treating employees, as well as a way of working and managing working production. After this period, the white collar professionals replaced the assembly line worker in totally new line of work. This was done through the introduction of hi-technology companies, and a great influx in communications and marketing.
Scientists, academics and university graduates, who had the skills to invent new information technologies, took the power away from the industrialists and bureaucrats, who for so long had dominated with economic power. “The post-Fordist division of the work-force between a skill-flexible core and a time-flexible periphery, which is now replacing the old manual/non-manual distinction, underlies a shift from the post-war vision of a one-nation mass consumption system to a two-nations model based on the affluent flexible worker plus a social security state” (Jessop et al. 1987: 109-10)
The period of Post-Ford has also witnessed the introduction of better-paid jobs, which, unlike Fordism, also hold better job security. Skilled workers were also better paid and as such a far greater amount of people were taking up places at university, where the end result of an Honours degree meant that many were employed by large companies to design and build robots, which would slowly take over the work of previous employees. Many Functionalists would say that this change, from Fordism to Post Fordism was a momentous step, in the sense that things are changing for employees, and employers for the better.
Through ‘perks’ at work such as work incentives, as well as extra pay for working unsociable hours etc, workers nowadays, in all lines of work, feel that they have received a ‘better deal’. From the bin man, who is now referred to as the “refuse collector”, to the shop worker, who is now referred to as a “sales advisor”, most would agree that not only standards in the workplace have went up, but also morale, and how people view their jobs. But is this the case? Through examining my own experiences of work, it is apparent that yes, things have changed for better, but also for worse.
And that often, the unsuspecting employee is being exploited and demoralised by Post Fordism, all in the name of profits. Whilst working in Marks & Spencer before beginning university, employees were subjected to both indirect as well as direct forms of conformity, in every aspect of work. From the first day of work, employees had details of themselves taken ‘for Marks & Spencer’s uses only’. These included broad details of Address, and bank account, right through to personal details about health and fitness. At which, on receipt of these, the company knew practically every detail about the employee, and therefore could run checks etc. n them without their knowledge. Employees were then initiated into the company by means of videos, depicting other employees who were so appreciative to Marks & Spencer for the conditions and perks that they have in their job. In addition to this was a video in which the Managing Director thanked the new employees for deciding to work for the company. They were also told that their work would be well valued and appreciated, and that anything positive they do within the company would go towards prolonging the quality of the company.
New employees were then given new, identical uniforms to each other and sent down to work on the shop floor where the policy is “The customer is always right”, and after watching the videos and being in receipt of the numerous “pep” talks, each felt they owed a duty to the company.. The Sales Advisor job, to many, is a more sophisticated term for shop worker, however most employees take the term seriously. Contracts were given strictly on a temporary basis. In that there was never any job security, because, employees were employed under the agreement that they would receive a trial run, so-to-speak.
And when the period of employment that they had worked was up, they would be graded accordingly, in terms of how they spoke to and listened to customers, and managers alike, the employee’s appearance and attitude to working, and also most importantly, how hard they worked. Most contracts were given for a maximum of 8 to 10 weeks, and in this time, any employee that had three days of absence was told that their contract would not be renewed, regardless of how they performed in the other criteria of how they worked, i. . timekeeping and appearance. As mentioned previously, the employees wear identical uniforms to each other; this is to suppress individuality and to promote a sense that everyone is equal. Managers however wear smart suits, and show their superiority over the shop floor workers, making them aware that although everyone is important in their own way, some are a lot more important than others, and therefore should receive more respect, in terms of how they are spoken to and treated.
During the Marks & Spencer revamp during 1998, it was customary for the ‘top’ managers to come down to the shop floor to engage in conversations with the floor workers about what they thought of the overhaul, giving the impression that the floor workers opinions counted. When in actual fact, the plans had already been drawn up, and so basically, what the managers were doing was to try to boost staff morale, with little impact.
New staffs were unable to join the Union as it was thought that they should be on a permanent contract before they joined up, therefore it was hard for someone to voice concern or a complaint. Sales advisors are kept under close guard, in the sense that, there were hi-Tec CCTV cameras, strategically placed around the store, with extra cameras placed in front and behind every till, to record every move. Talking to fellow employees was discouraged, and only permitted if it was work related and relevant to that particular point in time.
Although employees were initially welcomed and made to feel like an asset to the company, very soon this appreciation, turned to suspicion and distrust. However, through the intervention of CCTV and Managers, employees and their actions are scrutinised at every move, without them realising it. Overall, this essay has aimed to explain how social relations within the workplace are a result of Fordism and also post Fordism. It is evident that although Fordism proved not to be an acceptable or effective way of treating employees, it wasn’t totally off tract.
Now days, where Post Fordism is evident almost everywhere, it is apparent that the conceptual framework of Fordism still plays a major role in the company policies of many workforces, from the corner shop, to the large corporations, where keeping the employee on their toes and scrutinising their every move ensures that profits and sales remain high. Employees are ideologically conditioned into believing that they are working for the good of a company, who respects and values what they do. In some cases this is true, but in most cases employees are there merely to boost profits, and are easily replaceable, as they are more than aware of.