Manufacturing in Europe, 1995-2010: Reconfiguring Interests and Institutions

Friday, 3 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW2.2.04 (Tower Two)
Amy Erbe Healy, NUI Maynooth, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland
Sean O Riain, Maynooth University, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland; Maynooth University, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland
For many decades analysts looked at the politics and social organisation of manufacturing workplaces as the key sites where differences between national capitalisms were to be found. Studies of the working class and its newly ‘affluent workers’ in the 1960s sought these workers in the factory, while the rise of Japan sent scholars in search of different models of manufacturing work

However, as a smaller percentage of workers are employed in manufacturing, the sector is now examined in comparative political economy and industrial relations in terms of its legacy. The sector looms large in the conceptual core of ‘varieties of capitalism’ (Soskice and Hall), and in recent analyses of the politics of institutional change within those varieties (Thelen).

In this paper, we revisit the question of national diversity in the organisation of manufacturing work. Although it has declined it remains significant in employment, especially in Germany, and even more so in wages and profits. Manufacturing remains the object of vigorous attempts to improve productivity and often plays a key role in setting terms of pay and conditions for other sectors. Furthermore, while significant variation appears to remain in the organisation of work, it is not stable but has seen significant shifts in interests and institutions. It also offers a useful methodological opportunity to examine organisational change in workplaces in different worlds of capitalism, avoiding the issue of the differing rates of transition to post industrial sectors.

We analyse data from the European Working Conditions Survey for the EU15 from 1995 to 2010. We use latent class analysis to identify a range of ‘workplace regimes’, formed through the interaction of working time, worker autonomy and control, forms of compensation and learning and training at work. We identify the workplace regimes in manufacturing in each time period and how they emerge, change and disappear over time, and how these regimes are linked to particular clusters of countries.

We find that while the dominant frame in analysing manufacturing has been Fordism, Europe was never particularly Fordist, at least in its manufacturing heartlands where it was characterised by craft, diversified quality and socio-technical production. While ‘standard employment’ remains important, it is combined with different organisations of work – often including significant flexibility and worker autonomy. Furthermore, there is a wide range of non-standard forms, including in the ‘social market’ economies. The ideal typical Fordist work model rarely exists, and where it does is lacking in dynamism. Each workplace regime involves a distinctive trade-off.

Significant internal diversity in the organisation of manufacturing remains, especially in the ‘continental’ capitalisms. The Nordic and Mediterranean capitalisms are based on a narrower set of work regimes, and there is no distinctive liberal set of workplace regimes. There is significant stability within country clusters, but a small number of countries regularly move between country clusters (e.g. Belgium, Ireland). 

Finally, we find that typologies of regimes are shifting somewhat over time in their internal structure. We find evidence of creeping work intensification within a relatively stable organisation of work in Europe.