Fordism

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Fordism

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Fordism and Post-Fordism
One of the most recent concerns of economically oriented Marxists is the issue of whether we have witnessed, or are witnessing, a transition from “Fordism” to “postFordism” (Amin, 1994; Kiely, 1998). This concern is related to the broader issue of whether we have undergone a transition from a modern to a postmodern society (Gartman, 1998). We will discuss this larger issue in general (Chapter 13), as well as the way in which it is addressed by contemporary Marxian theorists (later in this chapter). In general, Fordism is associated with the modern era, while post-Fordism is linked to the more recent, postmodern epoch. (The Marxian interest in Fordism is not new; Gramsci [1971] published an essay on it in 1931.)
Fordism, of course, refers to the ideas, principles, and systems spawned by Henry Ford. Ford generally is credited with the development of the modern mass-production system, primarily through the creation of the automobile assembly line. The following characteristics may be associated with Fordism:
??? The mass production of homogeneous products.
??? The use of inflexible technologies such as the assembly line.
??? The adoption of standardized work routines (Taylorism).
??? Increases in productivity derived from “economies of scale as well as the deskilling, intensification and homogenization of labor” (Clarke, 1990:73).
??? The resulting rise of the mass worker and bureaucratized unions.
??? The negotiation by unions of uniform wages tied to increases in profits and productivity.
??? The growth of a market for the homogenized products of mass-production industries and the resulting homogenization of consumption patterns.
??? A rise in wages, caused by unionization, leading to a growing demand for the increasing supply of mass-produced products.
??? A market for products that is governed by Keynesian macroeconomic policies and a market for labor that is handled by collective bargaining overseen by the state.
??? Mass educational institutions providing the mass workers required by industry (Clarke, 1990:73).

While Fordism grew throughout the twentieth century, especially in the United States, it reached its peak and began to decline in the 1970s, especially after the oil crisis of 1973 and the subsequent decline of the American automobile industry and the rise of its Japanese counterpart. As a result, it is argued that we are witnessing the decline of Fordism and the rise of post-Fordism, characterized by the following:
??? A decline of interest in mass products is accompanied by a growth of interest in more specialized products, especially those high in style and quality.
??? More specialized products require shorter production runs, resulting in smaller and more productive systems.
??? More flexible production is made profitable by the advent of new technologies.
??? New technologies require that workers, in turn, have more diverse skills and better training, more responsibility and greater autonomy.
??? Production must be controlled through more flexible systems.
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??? Huge, inflexible bureaucracies need to be altered dramatically in order to operate more flexibly.
??? Bureaucratized unions (and political parties) no longer adequately represent the in terests of the new, highly differentiated labor force.
??? Decentralized collective bargaining replaces centralized negotiations.
??? The workers become more differentiated as people and require more differentiated commodities, lifestyles, and cultural outlets.
??? The centralized welfare state no longer can meet the needs (for example, health welfare, education) of a diverse population, and differentiated, more flexible institutions are required (Clarke, 1990:73-74).

If one needed to sum up the shift from Fordism to post-Fordism, it would be de scribed as the transition from homogeneity to heterogeneity. There are two general is sues involved here. First, has a transition from Fordism to post-Fordism actually occurred (Pelaez and Holloway, 1990) Second, does post-Fordism hold out the hope of solving the problems associated with Fordism
First, of course, there has been no clear historical break between Fordism and post-Fordism (S. Hall, 1988). Even if we are willing to acknowledge that elements of post Fordism have emerged in the modern world, it is equally clear that elements of Fordism persist and show no signs of disappearing. For example, something we might call “McDonaldism,” a phenomenon that has many things in common with Fordism, is growing at an astounding pace in contemporary society. On the basis of the model of the fast. food restaurant, more and more sectors of society are coming to utilize the principle: of McDonaldism (Ritzer, 2000a). McDonaldism shares many characteristics with Fordism-homogeneous products, rigid technologies, standardized work routines deskilling, homogenization of labor (and customer), the mass worker, homogenization of consumption, and so on. Thus, Fordism is alive and well in the modern world, although it has been transmogrified into McDonaldism. Furthermore, classic Fordism for example, in the form of the assembly line–retains a significant presence in the American economy.
Second, even if we accept the idea that post-Fordism is with us, does it represent a solution to the problems of modern capitalist society Some neo-Marxists (and many supporters of the capitalist system [Womack, Jones, and Roos, 1990]) hold out great hope for it: “Post-Fordism is mainly an expression of hope that future capitalist development will be the salvation of social democracy” (Clarke, 1990:75). However, this is merely a hope, and in any case, there is already evidence that post-Fordism may not be the nirvana hoped for by some observers.
The Japanese model (tarnished by the precipitous decline of Japanese industry in the 1990s) is widely believed to be the basis of post-Fordism. However, research on Japanese industry (Satoshi, 1982) and on American industries utilizing Japanese management techniques (Parker and Slaughter, 1990) indicates that there are great problems with these systems and that they may even serve to heighten the level of exploitation of the worker. Parker and Slaughter label the Japanese system as it is employed in the United States (and it is probably worse in Japan) “management by stress”: “The goal is to stretch the system like a rubber band on the point of
breaking” (1990:33). Among other things, work is speeded up even further than on traditional American assembly lines, putting enormous strain on the workers, who need to labor heroically just to keep up with the line. More generally, Levidow describes the new, post-Fordist workers as “relentlessly pressurized to increase their productivity, often in return for lower real wages–be they factory workers, homeworkers in the rag trade, privatized service workers or even polytechnic lecturers” (1990:59). Thus, it may well be that rather than representing a solution to the problems of capitalism; post-Fordism may simply be merely a new, more insidious phase in the heightening of the exploitation of workers by capitalists.