[OPE-L:8305] Re: Electronics and Value

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Fri Jan 10 2003 - 18:45:32 EST

Re Jim Davis's [8303]:

> The Ford River Rouge plant at it's peak in the 1930s employed some
> 100,000 workers;
(I think 60,000 would be a more accurate figure.)

> today UAW Local 600, which represents the Rouge plus
> additional areas, has 14,000 some members. Granted this is something of
> apples and oranges, but obviously whatever process was begun in the
> 1930s in the area of automation had a long-way to go in squeezing out
> labor from the production process. The Rouge plant is now being re-cast
> as a showcase for modern "green" manufacturing:

I think this is not the best example.  The original idea behind the River
Rouge plant was a vertically-integrated production facility.  At one time,
this meant that coke was shipped in on barges and sent to the on-site
steel foundry and there were many parts manufacture plants as well as
a final assembly plant, of course, on site.  In other words,  at the River
Rouge plant at one time at one location raw materials were shipped in
and (basically) all of the parts that went into the production of an
automobile were all produced on location.  What is interesting is that
Ford later determined that this extreme form of vertical integration
was not successful and they -- and other automakers -- moved away
from the River Rouge model.  Of relevance to the contemporary trend
re just-in-time production, auto corporations realized that they could
obtain inputs and intermediate goods at a lower cost if they purchased
the commodities on the market rather than via internal production.  One
reason for this is that they can exercise leverage against their suppliers
and thereby exact lower prices than they could if they produced those
commodities internally. Also, wage and benefit rates tend to be higher
for workers working for the auto companies than for workers at the
supplier firms.  This, as well, can mean lower costs for the auto
corporations when "outsourcing."   In the current international context,
since many parts are imported, international variation in wages and
benefits,  intensity of labor and unionization and militancy are also
important considerations (this is also used by 'domestic' auto
manufacturers as leverage in trying to get 'their' Unions to make
'concessions').  OTOH, with a vertically integrated production facility,
the corporation is vulnerable to direct action by workers in a way that
they wouldn't be as vulnerable if they produced cars and parts at many
locations internationally -- this was a major reason for the trend
towards the "world car"  and redundant international production
facilities beginning in the 1970s.

It is also worth noting that one reason the recent shift (beginning
in the easily 1980's) to  transform auto plants with programmable automation
production technologies is so dramatic is precisely because there was
_so little_   technological transformation happening there in prior
decades.  Indeed, if one looks at photos and descriptions of Ford's
production facilities in the 1920s,  the only major visible changes through
the 1970s was in the clothing worn by the workers and the appearance
of the cars!  (many of  these photos and descriptions are in a book called,
if I recall  correctly, _Ford's Production Methods_).   Virtually all of
the tools and machinery (and the line) were unchanged. Still photographs
are,  however, misleading.  If one also views film from the 1920s and
30's and compares it to the 1970's, then one can see that the intensity
of labor was dramatically higher in the earlier period before unionization.

Solidarity, Jerry

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