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Power Assisted Steering? - the Political Dimensions of Technological Change in the Australian Auto Industry
journal contributionposted on 2017-06-08, 07:01 authored by Cooney, Richard, Sewell, Graham
This paper addresses the organization of labour in the Australian automotive industry by examining the restructuring of production processes and the implementation of new forms of labour control. Contrary to the "convergence thesis" associated with the Lean Production model, the path of these developments has not been smooth and uniform in Australia. We will contrast the different experiences of Ford, GM-Holden, and Toyota. In particular, we will focus on the implementation of the Toyota model and contrast it with the approach adopted by Ford. We will then examine GM-Holden as an example of a hybrid form of the Lean model. Our argument will centre on Ford's use of "Normative" control processes (e.g. peer pressure through teamwork, the role of the company as a part of the wider community, and their "consensual" approach to industrial relations) and Toyota's use of "Rational" control processes (e.g. JIT, TQC, and their "adversarial" approach to industrial relations). Finally, GM-Holden will be presented as a company that is moving away from the "Normative" and towards the "Rational" model of control. We also argue that these contrasting approaches to Lean Production reflect long-standing preoccupations associated with the unique political considerations within each of the companies in question. Significantly for this theme, these cases reflect particular manifestations of "power assisted steering." This leads us to conclude that at the idea of a monolithic, epoch-making model of production belies a reality of diverse socio-technical strategies that can only be understood through a detailed study of the local political processes associated with organizational change.