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Author

Euan Gibb

Date of Award

9-2004

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Work and Society

Supervisor

Donald Wells

Language

English

Abstract

The North American auto industry is in a period of transition. The major assemblers are all moving towards reorganizing production to be more flexible. Flexibility has both a technical and a work organization definition. Technically, flexible manufacturing indicates the ability to produce multiple vehicles in the same plant. This allows for faster changes between products, ideally matching consumer demand more responsively than competitors. More importantly, the work organization dimension of flexible manufacturing includes changes to work rules. This includes the introduction of team work, mandatory weekend work, and the development of a class of temporary, part-time workers.

The Ford Motor Company is considering the introduction of flexible manufacturing practises at its Oakville, Ontario site. This location has had two factories on site since August of 1965. One of these factories was closed permanently prior to the announcement that new investments were being considered for the location. The vehicle that is being produced in the second plant has a poor sales record. Potential new investments would reduce or end the repeated layoffs that workers in the remaining plant are forced to endure. Investments have been made contingent on changes to local operating practices.

The local union's attempts to protect workers from work rule changes that could erode their quality of life have been weak. The local has adopted the company's competitiveness agenda rather than developing a more autonomous, worker centred agenda. A reduction of front line union representatives will constrain the local's capacity to mobilize workers on the shop floor. The lack of discussion or debate over the appropriate response to Ford's demands has further alienated workers from their union. The local maintains some important resources that could be mobilized to improve the present situation.

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