On the evidence of this balanced report, expatriate Japanese employers talk a far better game than they play. At any rate,...


WORKING FOR THE JAPANESE: Inside Mazda's American Auto Plant

On the evidence of this balanced report, expatriate Japanese employers talk a far better game than they play. At any rate, the Fucinis (Experience Inc., 1987--not reviewed) spent two years interviewing members of the work force at the passenger-car plant Mazda completed during the late 1980's (at a cost exceeding $800 million) in Flat Rock, Mich. Initially, the company cooperated with the authors. During the long, hot summer of 1988, however, they were summarily denied further access to corporate personnel and installations. The probable reasons for their exclusion become clear as the Fucinis recount the often harsh realities of life on the line at Mazda. At the outset, hopes ran high among Americans as well as Japanese that the state-of-the-art facility heralded a more conciliatory era in Motown's notoriously adversarial labor/management relations. As the plant was geared for capacity operations, however, the demands of Japan's vaunted just-in-time system became startlingly apparent. Among other difficulties, taskmaster executives from an island nation with a notably homogeneous and obedient population were ill equipped to deal with hired hands reluctant to surrender either their individuality or independence for the greater good of the company. Nor did most of the help buy into the alien notion that they had joined a family. The resistance that developed to pressures from peers and superiors was also partly attributable to broken promises on training, promotion policy, working conditions, assembly procedures, and allied matters. A relentless production pace that contributed to an appalling injury rate and mandatory overtime to meet output quotas, the Fucinis learned, created resentment as well. The UAW, they conclude, provided precious little help to those with grievances; as one result, dissidents ousted the union local's officials in a hotly contested 1989 election. While the newcomers have been able to improve conditions at Flat Rock to some degree, substantive change will not be possible until renegotiation of the plant's sweetheart contract next year. A credible, cautionary tale of commercial/cultural differences that suggests the twain still have a way to go before they meet.

Pub Date: July 9, 1990

ISBN: 1439106487

Page Count: -

Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1990