Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Hartmann: Taylorism

Kelsey Hartmann
Within all cultures and societies of the world there are underlying rules and traditions that should be of norm. One such aspect of society is the way of living and how one shall obtain the necessities of life to live. Within the United States of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries many people had to work positions held by others for currency, usually in factories and industrial positions. During this time a huge boom of industrial and factory work arose, leaving laborers to know little of their positions. Along with factory work came the concept of Taylorism, or scientific management, which caused great struggles for the workers and left them disconnected from their work, themselves and others.
During the industrial and factory work boom in the United States of the early twentieth century, the concept of Taylorism, or Scientific management of the workplace caused great struggles of exhaustion and injury to everyday workers. With the incorporation of Taylorism into industrial work it provided a feeling of alienation from ones work, better known as Marxism. Taylorsim affected the whole working population similarly for all the workers but also differently for lower class immigrants and racially different populations. Industrial Engineer Fredrick Wilson Taylor devised the notion of yielding production into its most effective state, to create products and minimize skill for employee training time.

During the turn of the twentieth century a change from rural and farming life changed into a mechanical, antistatic, and industrial life. An economic Capitalist system was put into place and people’s possessions were changing from necessities to personal pleasured objects; with this change also came the dissatisfaction of personal work or trades one once use to have. An industrial engineer by the name of Fredrick Wilson Taylor came up with the notion of yielding production into its most effective state, to create products and minimize skill for employee training time. “The origin of the system of scientific management is commonly dascribed to the late F. Taylor, who, after preparing for college, went to work instead, and who in 1882 was made machine-shop foreman of the Midvale Steel Company of Philadelphia”.1 Instead of attending college Taylor became a machine shop foreman of the Midvale Steel Company of Philadelphia in 1882. When Taylor became the manager of Midvale Steel Company, he realized the struggles that came with production and maintaining a profit of a product.2 With this background and experience of being on the employer’s side, Taylor believed the best solution for his company and other companies was time management.
Taylors scientific management system of the workplace incorporated efficiency by breaking down production into specialized repetitive tasks, timekeeping, and eliminating all unnecessary motions and steps in the process known as Taylorism.
In his efficiency studies Taylor analyzed all the movements and tasks involved in the creation of a single product. He then broke down the production process further into small simple tasks. As Meiksins writes of Taylorism is was “…a system for rationalization of blue-collar work; for its fragmentation, control and speed-up”.
An addition to Taylor’s system of scientific management was the concept to timming each position on the assembly line of production. A set time was standardized for each task done, if a baked goods factory made loafs of bread that particular company would set a time of five seconds to package and seal the loaf of bread, and those who did not meet this standard of production were let go to be replaced by the many men waiting for jobs. “Taylor was unlike other foremen in that he believed that it was possible to determine accurately, by research and experiment, the amount of work of which a man was capable, and proposed to obtain this amount and no less by suitable methods of payment, writes Horace Drury”.3 With such relentless timekeeping, workers found it very difficult to consistently keep up with the pace and eventually overexerted themselves to the point that they were replaced by other laborers.
Taylorism affected many working people, not only with the idea that one could be easily replaced but with the extra stress that one compounded problems that already existed for some workers, including racism and discrimination. According to Esch and Rodiger Taylor believed in a system of “race management” as well, and he “occasionally professed a belief in Black inferiority and that he was capable of glorying that when ‘American’ labourers moved up to operate machines, ‘the dirt handling is done by Italians and Hungarians’”.4 The collective working industrial class suffered the consequences of time management, but for selective others it became more intense and overwhelming for the discriminating positions given to them for their ethnicity or religious traits. Through following the concept of Taylorism, factory and business owners sought to take advantage of their workers tot he furthest point in order to create a bigger empire for themselves. Business owners wanted what was physically impossible by a single worker over time; therefore, once an individual worker’s physical strength was reached, they became unwanted. Indeed, as Meiksins writes, “ the wage laborer does not possess the means of production and can obtain his subsistence only by selling his labor power to the capitalist, the capitalist has the ability to dispose of labor power and the means of production as he sees fit”.5 With piece rates and low wages at this time it made it impossible for many to survive. Jobs were lost easily and replacements were ready within seconds. The scarcity of labor and the need for it made it very difficult for the lower class society to maintain their lives steadily.
The working conditions that came along with Taylorism were incredibly destructive to the U.S. working class. Multiple processes like sanitation conditions and safety precautions were overlooked and viewed as unnecessary tasks so they could be set to the side to cut costs. Many factories were cluttered with materials, had decaying lighting, and laborers were constantly forced to work nonstop. One of the most well-known examples of the destructive nature of poor working conditions was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, which broke out when factory owners had blocked exit pathways. According to historians Robert and Marilyn Aitken, What burned so quickly and disastrously for the victims were shirtwaists, hanging on lines above the tiers of workers, sewing machines placed so closely together that there was hardly aisle room for the girls between them, and shirtwaist trimmings and cuttings which littered the floors above the eighth and ninth stories…”6 Many girls and women were killed because they had been locked in by employers who were preventing them from leaving or taking unauthorized breaks. "Thud-dead, thud-dead, thud-dead. Sixty-two thuds. I call them that, because the sound and the thought of death came to me each time, at the same instant. There was plenty of chance to watch them as they came down. The height was eighty feet.”7 After the horrific incident, many people—and especially women—spoke out for workers’ rights and union reform. Jack Skeels argues, during thepre-1949 period of the twentieth century “unionism was poorly established, membership was often small and unstable, and labor's political status was uncertain—strikes fluctuated”.8 After the Triangle factory fire, some change did occur. Reforms for safe sanitation conditions, preventing child labor and wage fairness were put into place and action was taken by local government and activists such as Al Smith and Frances Perkins, a New York state legislator who would later become governor.
Taylorism had degenerated working conditions in early twentieth century U.S. factories, and this provoked politicians, reforms, and unions alike to propose and institute legislation that would protect the U.S. working class. If it wasn’t for the concept of Taylorism and the incidences like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire such law and labor positions wouldn’t be how they are in present time. Although the concept of Taylorism may have been intended as a great process especially for Taylor himself it concluded to many incidences that were horrid and unbelievable. With this experience of death, declining health and injuries caused by Taylorism it allowed for the workers to see the inhumane treatment, to reach out and step up for better equality.

1 Horace Bookwalter Drury. “Scientific Management: A History and Criticism” The Nation, The New Efficiency. 101.2626 (1915) 520-521

2 Meiksins, Peter F. “SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT AND CLASS RELATIONS: A Dissenting View.” Science & Theory. 13.2 (1984) 177-209

3 Horace Bookwalter Drury. “Scientific Management: A History and Criticism” The Nation, The New Efficiency. 101.2626 (1915) 520-521

4 E Esch & D. Roediger. “One Symptom of Originality: Race and the Management of Labour in the History of the United States” Historical Materialism Research in Critical Marxist Theory. 17.4 (2009): 3-44

5 Meiksins, Peter F. “SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT AND CLASS RELATIONS: A Dissenting View.” Science & Theory. 13.2 (1984) 177-209

6 Aitken, Robert & Aitken, Marilyn. “The Triangle Fire: Tragedy: Trial, and Triumph” Litigation. 36.3 (2010) 53-56

7 Aitken, Robert & Aitken, Marilyn. “The Triangle Fire: Tragedy: Trial, and Triumph” Litigation. 36.3 (2010) 53-56

8 Skeels, Jack. “The Economic and Organizational Basis of Early United States Strikes” Industrial and Labor Relations Review. 35.4 (1982) 491-503

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