Vauxhall Workers Confront “Lean Production”

Organizing Work
By Paul Stewart, Jean-Pierre Durand, Wayne Lewchuk, Charlotte Yates, Andy Danford

This article assesses worker and union responses to the introduction of lean production in Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port factory near Liverpool. The British case intriguingly reveals a number of issues surrounding the relationship between new management methods and trade union power. On the one hand, at the national level, the unions, in practice, generally accept new management practices because they have had little choice due to the difficult situation facing the auto industry nationally. On the other hand, and contrary to accepted wisdom, unions in final assembly in the automotive industry retain an important element of power at plant level where they can have an effect upon workers’ understanding of the changes taking place. Moreover, the union in the workplace is actually able to have an impact on the work process in terms of work intensification and temporal flexibility. Furthermore, this has implications beyond issues of remuneration. Thus, significantly, it is the union, rather than management, that provides the main source of information in terms of management changes so that it is able to give a certain spin of its own to the meaning and reception of changes for workers. The union, in other words, has an important effect in the framing of information for shop floor workers. Finally, the vibrant local community life bears witness to the social interaction between everyday events, including activities such as football, where issues to do with the politics and social conditions of the automotive factory, including health and safety, are debated in a broader arena beyond the work place.


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