In 1913, Henry Ford had an assembly line built in his Detroit plant where T-Ford cars were manufactured. This marked the beginning of a new era in production called Fordism. It was a pattern of industrial organisation and employment policy that occurred in the early twentieth century. Its high point was the period after the Second World War. This essay will be describing the main principles of Fordism, post-Fordism, their advantages and limitations. It will also discuss the break-up of Fordism and argue that it was inevitable for such an organisation of work to fail. Moreover it will offer some insights into consequences of post-Fordism and its impact on people’s personal and family life.
There are four main principles, which can be used to describe Fordism.
Firstly, products and their components were standardised. This means that the tasks performed by workers could also be standardised. Secondly, because the tasks were the same, they could be mechanised. Special-purpose machines were built for different models. These machines could not be switched from product to product. Thirdly, Taylorism, or scientific management, was employed to break down the manufacturing process into simple tasks that could be performed by individual workers. Fourthly, rather than having machinery at the centre of the factory and workers moving to and from the product, assembly lines were used. This meant that the workers remained stationary and the product flowed past them. (Murray, 1989)
The industrial organisation involved detailed division of labour, intensive management work, planning and close supervision. This was combined with mass production techniques and intensive deskilling of workers.
However, unlike Taylorism, which treated labour strictly as commodity, Fordism recognised workers as part of the potential market for the product. It recognised that workers are also consumers.
As a consequence of such production processes, Ford was able to cut down the price of his Model T to one tenth of a price of the standard craft built car.
Fordism was a strategy based on cost reduction. However, it is important to distinguish between fixed and variable costs in an organisation using these principles.
Fixed costs were very high whereas variable costs were very low. This meant that there was a strong drive for volume. Mass advertising was crucial to make consumers willing to buy standardised products. These products were advertised as a lifestyle symbol. (Murray, 1989)
Fordism is often associated with protected national markets. For example in the USA, the national market could have been filled with standardised products such as Ford’s model T car, but French cars had little chance of success.
By explaining the nature of a working day and conditions, in which workers had to work, it is possible to see why Fordism as a method for the industrial organisation of production failed. Workers did not move during their shift, their tasks involved standing next to an assembly line and performing repetitive movements. There was a strong division between mental and manual labour. Workers got bored very quickly, there was no initiative or challenge in any of their working days. There was no prospect of going up the hierarchy ladder and therefore no motivation. Additionally, the managers could control the speed of the assembly line, therefore the tasks always required high levels of concentration. One of the few advantages appeared to be that workers were getting paid a family wage, which was enough to support their partners and children. Even though their job was tedious, they had a sense of security, especially with a system of industrial unions bargaining for their wages. The obvious majority of disadvantages led to high labour turnover and strikes between the workers which in turn led to a fall in productivity.
One of the problems with Fordism was, that it was very difficult to forecast demand. If too little was produced, the company lost market share. On the other hand, if too much was produced compared to the quantity demanded, stock had to be stored at high cost or sold at discount.
There were also new firms, trying to expand their market share, who offered new and most importantly, customised goods. Demand became more unstable and fragmented. With lower productivity as a result of workers’ resistance and lower profits and investments as well as changes in demand, it came to the point, in late 1960s, when Fordism started to break up. A new era, called neo- or post-Fordism in the industrial organisation of work started to take the place of Fordism.
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Discuss differences between Fordist and post-Fordist work
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Zdroje: Bonefeld W, Holloway J, (1993) Post-Fordism and Social Form, Macmillan, Kumar K. (1995) From post-industrial to post-modern society . - ch.3 : Fordism and post-fordism, Blackwell, Murray R. (1989) New Times, Hall S., Jacques M. , Sennet R. (1998) The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism, London, New York, Norton, Watson T. J. (1995) Sociology, Work and Industry, Routledge: London