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The industrial technology of the American automobile industry had its origins in the American System of Manufactures that evolved through the second half of the nineteenth century. In many ways, the new mass production technology that evolved in the Ford Highland Park plant from through represented a culmination of this unfolding technical system.
It is to the twentieth century what the Lancashire cotton mills were to the nineteenth century: the industry of industries. Instead of requiring the highly refined mental and manual skills of the craft worker, the new industrial processes called for simple tasks repeatedly done over and over again.
Yet, despite numerous and varied technological advances, work became generally more monotonous and more degrading for countless auto workers. For American automobile workers, one relatively constant feature of their daily factory lives was this simplified, monotonous, and degraded work.
Although work tasks, work situations, and work routines varied considerably from automobile firm to automobile firm and from one shop or department to another, the work tasks of assembly line workers were the simplest, most boring, and most degrading. At the dawn of the auto-industrial age, such a work regime was not the typical one. The first automobile firms were small-scale producers who either assembled parts and components manufactured by others or, less often as the firms grew in size, manufactured and assembled their own parts and components.
Most important, a craft system resting on the varied and multifaceted skills of tradesmen prevailed in the foundries, machine shops, and carriage- and wagon-making shops that evolved into the American automobile industry. To be sure, the workers of this craft system were not all highly skilled. Many others were largely unskilled laborers or helpers who fetched and carried for or assisted their more skilled workmates.
The skilled workers—the iron molders, machinists, and body builders—in the early auto shops and plants possessed highly refined work skills that often required several years of training.
In their apprenticeships, these workers acquired a wide range of discrete mental and manual skills of the all-round craftsman. Since the skilled craftsman rarely performed backbreaking labor, the unskilled workers did the difficult work and literally labored or sweated on the shop floor.
They moved and trucked materials, parts, and components from work station to work station in the early workshops. If a skilled workman required a heavy piece of work at his workbench or machine, a laborer or helper would often do the moving and lifting.
The craft system also established a specific array of social characteristics of the early auto workforce. For the most part, the auto workforce was overwhelmingly male. Only as auto production increased did a few women appear in the auto shops, most commonly in the cut-and-sew departments that worked on fabric to produce convertible tops or seats. They also worked in the light assembly departments of the larger factories or in the small parts plants, such as AC Spark Plug or Delco.
In addition, the workforce was overwhelmingly white, since few African Americans entered the auto plants until the labor shortages of World War I. With the exception of the Ford factories, black workers toiled only in the dirtiest, most arduous, and most dangerous job categories.
In the new auto shops and plants, an ethnic division of labor prevailed that relied on assumed stereotypical traits of different ethnic groups. The most skilled positions were reserved for native-born Americans and for Germans, British, and northern European immigrants, workers from the more industrialized nations of Europe.
The laborers and unskilled workers were mostly the newer immigrants from southern and eastern Europe: the Poles, Italians, Russians, Greeks, Syrians, and others. From the s, the new semiskilled category of worker appeared in American shops and factories. In the early shops, the skilled craftsmen ruled the workplace, because they best knew how to do the work.
Workers, he believed, used their knowledge to control the pace of their work and to regulate the amount of their output. The all-round machinist was the prototypical craftsman in the formative years of the emerging auto-industrial age. The skilled machinist often served a five- to seven-year apprenticeship during which he learned the varied and multifaceted mental and manual skills that constituted the arts and mysteries of the craft. He learned the reading of blueprints, the various uses of multiple-purpose machine tools the drill press, the lathe, the planer, the milling machine, etc.
The measuring and the marking of rough castings transformed ideas from two dimensional blueprints into three-dimensional parts, often meeting exact standards. Based upon years of experience, a skilled machinist often judged the feel, the smell, or the color of the metal being cut to assess the progress of work on the machine. In the assembly process of an automobile engine, for example, the skilled machinist effectively put together the many parts of a three dimensional jig-saw puzzle.
Sometimes parts needed to be filed and fitted in order to complete the assembly process. The skilled machinist made many small decisions about how to produce and to assemble the final product and dexterously manipulated the tools, the parts, and the machines. For the skilled machinists and other craftsmen, their knowledge represented their power in the production process and resulted in the powerful shop traditions of the autonomous craftsmen. All of these constituted the foundation of skilled craft unionism.
Auto body builders, for example, comprised an important group of skilled workers who created their independent and autonomous shop-floor culture. Joseph Brown, a labor journalist, maintained that the construction of automobile bodies was a highly skilled trade until the early s. One group of skilled body workers, the panelers, worked on piece rates, receiving a set amount of pay for each job completed.
As automobile production rapidly expanded through the s, their skilled work was in high demand and merited high piece rates. Other body workers, Brown noted, received equally high wages. These highly skilled body builders created an independent work culture that they alone controlled. It was none of their business. As with other skilled craftsmen, the body builders were a privileged labor elite whose shop-floor autonomy and independence rested on their sorely needed skills.
These workers were very independent and knew that if they quit that they could get equally good jobs elsewhere. Increasingly, the piece rates were reduced and the labor became more and more sweated.
Later, with the introduction of all-steel frames and bodies, new methods and new technologies seriously eroded the independence of these highly skilled craft workers. As the late nineteenth century American system of manufacture evolved into the early twentieth century, the Fordist system of mass production—the standardization and interchangeability of parts, the increased use of machinery, the substitution of less skilled labor for skilled labor, and high volume production—gradually reshaped and transformed the shop traditions and work cultures of craftsmen in American shops, plants, and factories.
Encapsulated in the popular image of the assembly line, the Ford system was the culmination of this transformation in the theories, practices, and methods of production. As it evolved in the new Ford Highland Park factory from to , the essence of Fordism involved several important principles. First was the rigid standardization of a new product — the Model T Ford — which enabled the rigid standardization of work tasks. Effectively, the principles of Taylorism enabled the extensive division and subdivision of labor.
The simplification of work tasks allowed Ford engineers to adapt and design special-purpose machines that would duplicate the simplified work operations. Finally, the concept of progressive or line production viewed the factory as an integrated system where each part and component followed its predetermined path through the Ford Highland Park factory. After the rearrangement of people and machines, the work-in-progress moved from foundry to machine shop to assembly department, seemingly flowing from tiny streams to small rivers and ultimately to the final assembly line.
The organizational and technological transformation at the Ford Highland Park factory drastically reconfigured the work routines and shop-floor lives of American automobile workers. First, it completely transformed the various work tasks and work routines of Ford workers and created the repetitive, monotonous, and alienating work of the modern industrial world.
Second, it altered the traditional social relationships of the workplace as the role of skilled craftsmen declined and the role of the deskilled or unskilled specialized workers increased. Third, the mass production system instituted new forms of control over the new unskilled workforce that now labored at the single-purpose machines or on the new assembly lines. In both machine and assembly operations, the work tasks and routines of automobile workers became more specialized, more repetitive, and more automatic.
In the words of industrial engineers, the skilled dimension of the work task was designed into the machines. The worker simply inserted a piece into the machine, turned a switch, and the machine performed its operation and automatically stopped. Then the worker removed it and passed it on for the next machine operation. The cycle of the machine determined the work tasks and the pace of production. In the s, one harried auto worker described how his machine paced his work.
The machine is my boss. A similar situation existed on the new assembly lines. Shortly after the development of line production and the announcement of the Five Dollar Day, John A. Fitch, a Progressive Era journalist, described how workers performed only small fragments of work in the motor assembly department:.
One man fits the parts together, so that the bolt holes come right. The next man fits the bolt holes into place. The next has a pan of nuts before him and all day he scoops them up and with his fingers starts them on the thread of the bolts.
The next man has a wrench and he gives the final twist that makes them tight. There are always more bolts to be capped. So great was the early demand for labor that the technical solution became the massive substitution of expensive and sophisticated machines for skilled or semiskilled workers. This substitution also meant the replacement of American-born and northern and western European craftsmen with southern and eastern European laborers and unskilled workers for the new mass production jobs.
By , foreign-born workers, and especially southern and eastern European workers, represented the majority of the 14, workers in the Highland Park factory. The industrial journalist O.
In fact, slightly over half of the Ford workforce came from the least industrialized nations of Europe and lacked the work skills and work discipline for a modern industrial society. Since the reorganization of work and the adoption of new technologies removed skill from ordinary work tasks and routines, the installation of work discipline and the control of workers became a priority of the modern system of mass production.
Since industrial managers and engineers arranged both machines and assembly sequentially to follow the necessary operations, they could readily monitor, supervise, and control the men on the shop floor.
At the machines, the operators passed the finished work from their work station to the next. On the assembly lines, the situation was similar.
And, where the assembly line moved, the pressure to maintain a specific pace of work was even greater. Many industrial engineers and journalists noted the advantages of these forms of organizational and technical control over the workforce.
Since a machine had a predetermined cycle, their ratings or standard output set the volume of production for the machine operator. Ultimately, the most significant means to control the Ford workforce was the famous Ford Five Dollar Day, especially when connected to the welfare programs of the Ford Sociological Department and Ford English School.
A unique experiment in industrial paternalism, this was a comprehensive effort at the social and cultural control of the workforce, especially the large numbers of immigrant workers.
The Five Dollar Day attempted to address important labor problems which appeared in the Ford Highland Park factory with the creation of mass production system.
Despite extensive technological innovations in the production process, the new factory had much lower than expected levels of output in all shops and departments. Many factors contributed to this shortfall in production: mainly a largely preindustrial and unskilled immigrant workforce and a deep-seated worker discontent expressed in high rates of absenteeism and labor turnover and in shop traditions to regulate the pace of work through soldiering and output restriction.
In , the rates of absenteeism and labor turnover, or quit rate, were staggering. Daily absenteeism averaged 10 percent per day, which meant that around 1,, extra workers needed to be hired to keep the integrated production system in operation. Another indication of worker discontent was the flurry of union activities when both the radical Industrial Workers of the World and the more conservative American Federation of Labor threatened to capitalize on this deep auto worker disaffection to organize auto workers inOnce Ford officials solved their labor problems, the powerful new production system proved hugely successful and profitable.
As a measure of the success, consider the enormous amounts of money Ford invested for Model T production.
Biden’s Buy America electric vehicle rebate scheme will destroy the Canadian auto sector
This copy is for your personal non-commercial use only. That provision would go into effect inThe burgeoning EV industry is counted on to rejuvenate a Canadian auto sector in decline. That hope is pretty much snuffed out if Canada is denied access to the U.
A look back at how Canada secured auto investment in the past shows British preferential rules that encouraged the U.S. manufacturers to.
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Five global OEMs assemble more than 1. Their plants are supplied by a vibrant ecosystem of nearly parts suppliers, including homegrown Tier 1 companies like Magna, Linamar and Martinrea.
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Tesla to open Canada battery equipment factory outside Toronto
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Ontario is home to a unique ecosystem of world-leading vehicle assemblers, parts manufacturers and research centres that have been meeting the needs of international customers for more than years. And breakthrough technologies from Ontario research labs are shaping the future of connected-car technologies, driverless vehicles, and electric-hybrid powertrain systems. Ontario allows you to plug into our innovation ecosystem to expand your business or simply purchase high quality, competitively priced parts. Along the mile km corridor that stretches from Detroit to Ottawa lies the richest concentration of auto-related resources anywhere in the world.
Monthly Survey of Manufacturing, September 2021
The tax-credit scheme that President Joe Biden is proposing to encourage U. Our award-winning journalists bring you the news that impacts you, Canada, and the world. Don't miss out. It would amount to what the federal government in Ottawa calls a 34 per cent tariff on vehicles built in Canada. The imbalance would brand foreign-made cars with a scarlet letter and send auto manufacturers and their roughly , jobs scrambling over the border. It's a worst-case scenario triggered by what Anastakis calls a "deintegration" of more than half a century of trilateral automaking, with companies abruptly pulling up stakes and cancelling plans they're already making to spend billions on their Canadian and Mexican operations.
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China’s BYD Opens a First Plant in Canada
Lear Corporation is headquartered in Southfield, MI and has office locations across 38 countries. It's not clear if employees will be paid. Working on two different project life phases serial and launch of new programs presents a rich experience in terms of acquiring knowledge and Lear Corporation is ranked on the U. The primary role of the Production Assembler is to manufacture quality products in a safe manner. Lear was founded in in Detroit, Michigan as American Metal Products, a manufacturer of tubular, welded and stamped assemblies for the automotive and aircraft industries.
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