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Job control and the institutionalisation of labour relations in the workplace : a study of two engineering firms in England

By Jacques Bélanger


This thesis is based on observation and interviews carried out in\ud two engineering firms in the West Midlands between October 1978 and May\ud 1980. Besides presenting and analysing a core of empirical material, it\ud seeks to develop a general argument concerning the material and social\ud bases of control over labour in the workplace. In doing so, this research\ud points out some of the ways to link two major trends in the literature:\ud the institutional approach to the study of labour relations and the more\ud recent studies of the labour process.\ud During the 1970s, the two companies studied implemented a reform\ud of labour relations which appears to be typical of developments which took\ud place in engineering and, more generally, in the manufacturing sector of\ud British industry over the decade following the publication of the Donovan\ud Report. The problem under study is the impact of this institutionalisation\ud of workplace labour relations on the control workers have over the utilisation\ud of their labour power in the work process.\ud The fieldwork showed that, behind similar organisational and institutional\ud features, sharply different work relations had developed. The degree\ud of control imposed by manual workers over issues such as assignment\ud of labour, labour mobility, manning levels, job demarcations, immediate intensity\ud and distribution of effort, was significantly higher in one of the\ud two case studies. At Firm A, the institutional reform helped management\ud to confine job control within narrow limits while, at Firm B, similar changes\ud did not help management to reduce worker control over effort but rather\ud contributed to stabilise it.\ud In seeking to explain this social process, attention is given to\ud management strategies and to the strength of workers' organisations. It\ud is also argued that the nature and contours of the work process sets the\ud material basis for control over labour utilisation, the pattern of control\ud also being shaped by social relations in the workplace. The main implications\ud of the research for theory and policy are discussed in the final chapter.\ud It is suggested that although job control resisted changes in the\ud structure of labour relations, in a context of economic recession, it might\ud be more vulnerable to market pressures

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