Taylorism, Fordism & Post-Fordism
For nearly a century, Taylorism and Fordism combined to construct the predominant rules of production and manufacturing employment in America. This formula created not only affordable products for the American market but also the consumer class that these products needed to be profitable. This article gives an overview of Taylorism, Fordism, and Post-Fordism. Each is presented in chronological order and contrasted with the preceding ideologies. The scientific approach of Taylor, Ford's division of labor, and the global marketplace of Post-Fordism appear to be enduring influences of these movements. An understanding of all three is essential in understanding the modern economy and the changes and ideologies that lie ahead.
Keywords Assembly Line; Contradictions of Capitalism; Mass Production; Piecemeal; Post-Industrialism; Scientific Management; Specialization; Vertical Engineering
In 1878, a young American engineer named Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856–1915) moved his apprenticeship to the Midvale steelworks on the industrial fringes of Philadelphia. The Midvale workers were paid piecemeal. Ideally, this meant that the more a worker produced, the more they got paid. In practice, this meant that each time a worker earned too much, in the eyes of the employer, the piecemeal rate would be cut for all workers (Donkin, 2001). The result was that workers began to harmonize their efforts to limit production and produce only enough to prevent further cuts and stay out of trouble. Taylor was amazed at the level of creativity, expertise, and labor that went into achieving this golden mean of un-productivity. At first he began to address the problems at Midvale in a traditional manner: he fired unproductive employees. When the new employees were equally unproductive, he cut the piecemeal rate. This only entrenched the Midvale workers deeper into the behaviors Taylor was attempting to break down. When Taylor turned to management for support, he found he could not convince them that his new ideas would work (Donkin, 2001).
If Taylor was going to change the behavior of the workforce, he had to better understand the work processes in order to sway management. With the approval of the owners, he began a series of scientific experiments in which he broke down the processes of the plant into smaller, simple tasks and used a stopwatch (the latest technology) to record the time necessary to perform each task in various ways. These experiments, though not the first of their kind, would become the basis of new work practices at Midvale, two books of scientific management, and the beginning of modern business management.
Henry Ford (1863–1947) was the founder of Ford Motor Company. His big idea was that work, previously conceived of as only a sustenance act, could be improved with technology to become the mechanism that set people free to live their own lives (Donkin, 2001; Ford & Crowther, 2005). At the core of this thinking was the idea that manufacturing should be efficient enough and workers paid enough that a worker could afford to purchase the products they produce. Ford believed a degree of prosperity should come from a worker’s "honest effort" (Ford & Crowther, 2005). How Ford developed the practice of mass production did make it possible for a Ford assembly line worker to purchase a Ford automobile. It also changed how products were produced, how workers were trained and worked, and how management functioned.
For nearly a century, Taylorism and Fordism combined to construct the predominant rules of production and manufacturing employment in America. Large companies used well-paid employees performing repetitive, fairly simple tasks on assembly lines to produce complex, though largely standard, products. This formula created not only affordable products for the American market but also the consumer class that these products needed to be profitable. American prosperity, previously isolated to the industrial barons of the late nineteenth century, was extended to more people than ever before, and the American middle class expanded rapidly.
Unfortunately, capitalism and the Taylorism/Fordism paradigm did have its shortcomings. As Marx predicted, capitalism has its periods of crisis. Some of these crises are recessions and depressions. The American Great Depression was devastating to manufacturers and workers. It really is not surprising that the Depression was followed by an era of regulation. American employers and workers wanted some assurance that such a total collapse would not happen again. Another crisis emerged when large manufacturing companies started to back-track on Ford's idea that workers should be paid well. The response to this crisis was the rise of the American worker's unions. Unions helped workers ensure a living wage and job stability. However, with the demise of unions in the late part of the twentieth century and the interchangeability of low-paid unskilled workers, the American economy faced another crisis, one of the contradictions of capitalism that Marx warned of. As companies cut back on workers' wages in order to make greater profits, workers became less capable of purchasing the products they produced. This meant the market for the goods being produced would shrink. The response to this crisis has been to globalize production. In this way, lower wages are moved to another consumer market, one in which the wages are relatively high.
In turn, America and other Western postindustrial countries have developed new service industries, including the enormous financial industry, to provide new jobs and strengthen the consumer pool. In a very real sense, this is just a way of deferring the contradiction of capitalism until a time when the rest of the world's labor markets mature. Today, regulation, the rise of globalism, and the rising service sector in Western economies are all part of a prevailing economic system known as Post-Fordism.
Taylorism, also called scientific management, was an approach to management that replaced management-worker conflict and low worker productivity with a scientific redesign of supervision and work. Taylorism was the beginning of the systematic study of work in industry. Taylor championed the role of the engineer, who could study processes by breaking them down into smaller tasks, observing them, and timing them, then reengineer work in order to develop the single best way to accomplish a task. Since the process was arrived at through a scientific approach, Taylor believed it would reduce friction between management and workers (Marshall, 1998). Taylor successfully implemented scientific management in a number of places. Perhaps his most famous successes came at Bethlehem Steel, where he reengineered the process for shoveling coal and loading steel. Not only did Taylor strive for better productivity, he also argued that workers should be given periodic rests in order to keep productivity high and that workers should be paid better (Donkin, 2001). Ultimately, Taylorism is direct control of production labor through incentive pay, controlled movements, time studies, and standard setting (Krier, 2006).
The basic elements of Taylorism are:
• Performing scientific analysis of tasks in order to develop a standard process and standard level of performance for each task
• Hiring and training the employee with the right abilities for the job
• Enabling workers to be successful by planning, training them, and providing them with the rests and tools needed to do their jobs
• Providing wage incentives for increased productivity
• Putting engineers in charge of the processes that managers supervise and workers perform
Standardization includes rules, job descriptions, chain of command, work processes, documentation of processes, and expected levels of production. Taylor believed that written documentation of each task helped created a "joint effort" between management and worker (Taylor, 1911). The written instructions also included time limits and incentive pay to be received when time goals were met. Taylor was careful to state that the time limits should not be unreasonable and that the instructions were only to prepare the worker to succeed so he or she could enjoy long, productive, and prosperous years of not being overworked. Taylor also was concerned about jobs being passed from one employee to another. He described how a "green employee" could come into a business and pick up the essentials of a new job with the guidance of management because of the history and memory that good work documentation supplied.
The practice of documentation has remained in place in business. In addition to enabling the standardization, productivity, and memory that Taylor envisioned, documentation also provides standards for treating employees fairly and a degree of legal protection.
Hiring the Right Worker for the Job
Taylor believed that scientific management provided an unequaled structure for training and supporting...
(The entire section is 4024 words.)