SOCI235 final.docx - FILE 14 Mechanization and the...

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FILE 14: Mechanization and the Restructuring of the Workplace Dominant 19 th Century Economic Trends: Prices fell rapidly from 1817-1896 (except the Crimeran War 50-57) and 1857-73 where prices fell more gently. There were falling profits and interest rates. What Caused failing prices and profits? Innovation in a competitive environment. The core of innovation was mechanization – its use spread because: i. Power prices fell more rapidly than prices in general ii. A series of innnovations made machines work better Improved lubrication, substitution of steel for wrought iron, greater precision in the manufacture of moving parts, invention of ball bearings. Mechainization contributed to the development of a set of new assembly industries ex. Sewing machines, bicycles, small arms – these innovations progressively improved machinery and were generally added to existing plant. Technological innovations didnr usually lead to the wholesale scrapping of existing plant and equipment – consequently: logistical strangulation ** Should technology be used to help the worker or to replace the worker? Braveman: argues that replacing the worker was chosen because of the distrivutional motivations of employers/managers. Sequence of the development of the assembly industry: 1. Mechanization at first required skilled labour to operate the the machines and to adjust the parts that didn’t fit together “fitters” 2. As machinery improved, it became easier to operate which reduced the skill requirement and improved tolerances so that more parts fit together at the beginning (less need for fitters). 3. Machines performed tasks that used to be done by skilled laborers. Can we conclude that improvements in ease of operation of machinery were inspired by a concern to weaken the bargaining power of labour along Bravermanian lines? Case Study: industrial relations and uneven development: In the later part of the 19 th century the british steel industry had a long history, a small domestic market and a large but declining export marker – because of this background,
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the industry contained plants with a wide range of technological standards – some of them were using out of date technology – made it hard to reach a common front. In contrast, the US steel industry, although had long history too, had grown recently and rapidly and had a large domestic market (for steel rails) and consequently had pretty much uniformly, large, modern plants. The steel producers were organized into sporatically effective trusts – history of cooperation between producers. At the end of 19 th century both industries were organized by craft trade unions that imposed craft exclusivity (controlled the supply of labour and limited to capacity of employers to replace skilled and unskilled labour – for whatever reason).
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