Analysts are struggling to keep up with current changes in the American factory as automation and computers become more and...


WORK TRANSFORMED: Automation and Labor in the Computer Age

Analysts are struggling to keep up with current changes in the American factory as automation and computers become more and more dominant. Some see the new trends as liberating, others as harbingers of deskilling, unemployment, and greater managerial control. There's no question where MIT research associate (Program in Science, Technology, and Society) Shaiken stands. A Detroit native who spent some time as a machinist, Shaiken believes that some of the new technology can free the creative potential in workers, but that under current conditions the bottom line is profit and the motivation is domination of the workplace by management. A chapter on the uses of computers highlights the PATCO strike, where the air traffic controller's union was broken because computers made possible the use of less skilled people with little training. As a way of emphasizing the removal of control from the shopfloor, Shaiken describes the ""global factory,"" symbolized by Ford Motor Co.'s $10 million computer center in Dearborn, where worldwide production is coordinated. Especially important, in Shaiken's view, are design functions--because the new technology has taken ""redesign"" out of the hands of shopfloor machinists, whose experience and ingenuity constituted a final contribution to design. At Ford, design has become something worked on simultaneously world-wide, leaving no space for machinists' innovation. Shaiken also discusses management information systems, robots, and other new factors, and includes a ""Technology Bill of Rights"" drawn up by the Machinists' Union (IAM) which seeks to increase the say of workers in the further development of the new technologies. But after Shaiken's run-through of management interest in control, that sounds utopian. A lot of this, particularly on the introduction of ""numerical control"" in the machine industry, has been investigated in much greater historical and theoretical depth recently by David A. Noble (Forces of Production); still', Shaiken's brief overview is a useful, knowledgeable introduction to a wide range of new systems and old power struggles.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 1984


Page Count: -

Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1984