AUTO WORK AND ITS DISCONTENTS by B. J.--Ed. Widick

AUTO WORK AND ITS DISCONTENTS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Five academies with auto plant experience conclude that ""the feelings of most workers about their jobs tend to form a continuum between job satisfaction and alienation""--i.e. they are not as a group subject to the dehumanization, powerlessness, isolation, etc., that social critics attribute to them. Their chief grievance, rather, is the contemptuous attitude of a middle-class society that considers them so many Archie Bunkers. Neither is Chaplin's robot-run Modern Times characteristic of the auto industry: only 20% of auto workers work on assembly lines; even for them, the pace of work is but one of many problems; and assembly-line work, however taxing, has its lighter side (""There is a spontaneity about the play on a line that is unmatched by skilled work,"" writes Bill Goode). Two contentions contra the negativists are paramount: ""that workers show a great deal of initiative in developing ways to get satisfactions out of the work situations rather than the product itself"" (Robert Reiff); that ""the very militancy for which the assembly-line worker is justly known"" operates through the union, the UAW, to protect his interests and, moreover, attests to his autonomy. Patricia Cayo Sexton, whose ""Feminist Union Perspective"" is one of the meatier sections, suggests that the union's most important contribution to the shop may lie in enlarging the ""profoundly humanizing interactions"" of the workplace. In an afterword, Ivan Berg takes note of work reforms in Western Europe and fails to find comparable nurturing conditions here. The book's handling of its material is spotty, repetitious, and in some respects (e.g. black discontents) quite deficient; it treats both the UAW and the market economy tenderly. But, like Richard Balzer's Clockwork (p. 282), it makes a tentative contribution to an ongoing reappraisal.

Pub Date: Aug. 9th, 1976
Publisher: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press