Fordist society

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Our society has been changing all the time, bases on the fundamental innovations occurred at workplaces. Since 1970s, the UK society has been undergoing significant changes in many aspects, moving forward from a traditional industrialized society. As an important part of this process, methods of organizing production are also changing considerably. From a Fordist society to a post-Fordist society, our society has operated towards more scientific and flexible production regimes. This essay is hearted on assessing both types of production regimes and compares their differences. Fordist society started in early 20th century.

Fordism is named after its pioneer, the car maker Henry Ford. It is an “industrial system involved the mass production of standardized goods by huge, integrated companies. Each company was composed of many different, specialized departments each producing components and parts that were eventually channelled towards the moving line for final assembly. ” (Cohen & Kennedy, 2000, p62) The term Fordism, is coined by Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist, writing in his prison notebooks on Americanism and Fordism in the early 1930s. (Kirby, 1997, p340) There are inseparable linkages between Fordism and scientific management, or so-called Taylorism.

Fordism is considered as an extension of Frederick Taylor’s scientific management. In 18th century, Adam Smith, one of the founders of modern economics, identified advantages of division of labour in term of increasing productivity. More than a century later, Frederick Taylor, an American management consultant, further developed on this idea and applied it to management sciences. “Taylor’s approach to what he called scientific management involved the detailed study of industrial processes in order to break them down into simple operations that could be precisely timed and organized. (Giddens, 2001, p383) Taylorism had a widespread impact on the organization of industrial production and technology. Taylor focused on improving industrial efficiency, but not emphasizing enough on the results came out of it. Mass production needs mass market, and Henry Ford was the first to see this linkage and apply into real practice. In 1908, Mr. Ford designed his car manufacturing plant at Highland Park, Detroit, to produce the “famous single-colour, single-model, mass-produced Model T” Ford.

Although the idea of assembly-line production was not new, but it was Mr. Ford first employed the principle of the semi-automatic moving assembly line. The work of making a Model T had divided into 7,882 minor operations involved, however, within them, only about one eighth of these operations required “strong, able bodied and practically physically perfect men”, about half of these operations needed men of “merely ordinary physical strength”, the rest operations can be done by women and children, and even disabled workers such as legless, one legged, armless, one armed, and also blind workers. Read when is the only time to not use complete sentences in an essay

Every worker performed one simple and repeated task. By applying this strategy, the productivity had increased massively. A Model T Ford car could be manufactured and tested in one and a half hours in the new plant, which initially required twelve and a half hours. (Maltby & Kirby, 1996, p50) Although productivity could be increased largely under Fordism, there were still significant downsides related to it, which led to crisis of Fordism in 1970s.

Firstly, it was because during that time, “the economic stability it required was undermined, but secondly because consumers were no longer happy to put up with the mass-produced range of goods Fordism offered and were looking for more choices. ” (Kirby, 1997, p340) The joke ‘You can have any color (Model-T) you like, as long as it is black’ given by Henry Ford himself proved such weakness to some extents. In addition, from the prospective of employees, Fordist production regime had also raised the problem of alienation.

In the workplace, work was fragmented into a number of simply tasks, which did not require many skills. Every individual worker carried out one of those highly specialized tasks repeatedly. “This made work tedious and unsatisfying”. (Cohen & Kennedy, 2000, p63) “The division of labour and alienating work soon led to productivity problems due to absenteeism and high labour turnover. ” (Maltby & Kirby, 1996, p52) Failing for such adjustment will bring on over-stocking, cash flow crisis and other critical issues.

In reality, it was shown that during the Great Depression of 1930s, ‘Fordism survived largely as a result of state intervention in the form of subsidies to industry and policies to promote ‘full employment. ‘ (Madry and Kirby, 1996, pp. 54) As Fordism come down, soon the concept of post-Fordism or flexible specialization has become the main production regime in many developed countries. Along with the changed world’s political and economic atmosphere, especially in the 1970s when it was believed that Keynesian-regulatory model of regulated capitalism was running out of steam, those conditions were all seriously weakened.

It is believed that the process of deregulation, globalisation and privatization pushed the world economy to a much more competitive level and therefore empowered the market to determine the social production. The fatal defects of Fordism had thus been approached. Having lost the government protection as well as the stable and predictable mass demand, firms can only survive by rapidly adjusting their products to cope with the changing market demand. A market-led output became necessary no matter in quantity or quality.

Hence, the Fordist production method that only provides huge quantity of undiversified goods was suggested to be over and forced to transform to a totally different production method, the Post-Fordism. Post-Fordism, a phrase “popularised by Michael Piore and Charles Sabel in The Second Industrial Divide (1984), describes a new era of capitalist economic production in which flexibility and innovation are maximized in order to meet market demands for diverse, customized products. ” (Giddens, 2001, p385) The most remarkable feature of this new form of production regime is flexibility.

Alan Warde (1989) had identified this feature into four aspects: technology, products, jobs and contracts. (Taylor, 2002, p334) The first aspect of flexible specialization is technology. Technology, as the primary factor, drives the reorganization of production at workplaces. The development of CAD (Computer-Aided Design) and CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacture) allows machine tools to be reprogrammed so as to adjust the product’s designs, options and features more frequently. This also allows it move from mass production to batch production to be more efficient.

This aspect is essential to fashion-sensitive industries such as clothing, cosmetic and car making industries. The second aspect of flexible specialization is products. In order to response to quick changes in consumers’ demand and niche markets, “the flexible firms can now engage in customized or ‘tailor-made’, very short run products using the latest technology and craft labour” (Maltby & Kirby, 1996, p57) For instance, mobile phone companies have to response instantly to any change of trend in market or appearing of new niche markets in order to retain market share or survival.

The third aspect of flexible specialization is jobs. Alan Warde and John Atkinson (1985) happened to have the same view on this idea. Jobs, or functional flexibility, according to Atkinson, indicates that “workers are expected to perform a range of tasks and be prepared to change jobs during their time with an employer. ” (Taylor, 2002, p335) it implies a shift to multi-skilling of the core work force and increase in management control over workers’ jobs.

For example, a bus driver has to be able to drive a bus, collect bus fare and at the same time be capable to perform some minor repairs and first aid in order to deal with emergencies. The last aspect of flexible specialization is contracts. Unlike Fordism, most workers worked as a full time permanent worker; under post-Fordism, “the core workforce of full time workers is supplemented by a large number of temporary, part time, casual or subcontracted workers, providing a peripheral workforce which can be used as and when needed. (Taylor, 2002, p335)

Atkinson claims that such workers provide numerical flexibility in the form of additional workers who are required only for a short period. For example, cleaning staffs at office areas can be subcontracted with office cleaning agency rather to have them be full time workers. In today’s society, does a start of new and superior production regime spells elimination for the previous conventional production regime? The answer might be yes, BUT it does not necessarily mean an immediate substitution and a complete elimination.

It must be said that post-Fordist changes in some industries do not mean the end of Fordism everywhere. “There is still a market for many cheap, simple, functional goods that can best be produced by mass production techniques. In some industries Fordism is actually on the increase. ” (Fulcher & Scott, 2003, p616)

A case in point is the catering industry that fits into a Fordist rather than post-Fordist model. As Gabriel (1988) described in his book, Working Lives in Catering: Much of catering is still run along traditional lines; but rationalizing trends are evident everywhere. Sophisticated technology, standardized products, fragmented and routinized production, careful planning are dramatically changing the appearance of eating and drinking places. Frozen food processed in food factories, which at times resemble assembly lines and at times petro-chemical refineries, finds its way not only on fast-food trays, but also in school dining-rooms and hospital wards as well as in haute-cuisine restaurants.

Even the jargon begins to sound like that of industrial production – cooks re-classified as material handlers, waiter as interface workers, others as crew-members or thawers-outers. ” Source: Gabriel (1988: 8) Gabriel had observed and witnessed the survival of Fordism in catering industry, and indicated that even works in places such as restaurant had been re-classified into different names, yet they still retained their Fordist characters. Through critically accessing both Fordism and Post-Fordism we notice that the biggest difference is flexibility.

As we have discussed earlier that work specialization does increase productivity to a great extent, yet it also alienates worker form others. On the other hand, Fordism is inflexible with changes in economic conditions and consumer preferences. Post-Fordism has the flexibility to adapt changing environments, such as changes in technology, products, jobs and contracts. However, although Post-Fordism seems so much superior to Fordism, some industries today still continuously practicing Fordism. Both of them have their own strengths in different ways.

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