The American Frederick W. Taylor (1856–1915) pioneered the scientific management approach to work organization, hence the term Taylorism. Taylor developed his ideas on work organization while working as superintendent at the Midvale Steel Company in Pennsylvania, USA. Taylorism represents both a set of management practices and a system of ideological assumptions. The autonomy (freedom from control) of craft workers was potentially a threat to managerial control. For the craft worker, the exercise of control over work practices was closely linked to his personality, as this description of ‘craft pride’, taken from the trade journal Machinery in 1915, suggests:
As a first-line manager, Taylor not surprisingly viewed the position of skilled shop-floor workers differently. He was appalled by what he regarded as inefficient working practices and the tendency of his subordinates not to put in a full day’s work, what Taylor called ‘natural soldiering’.
He believed that workers who did manual work were motivated solely by money – the image of the ‘greedy robot’ – and were too stupid to develop the most efficient way of performing a task – the ‘one best way’. The role of management was to analyse ‘scientifically’ all the tasks to be undertaken, and then to design jobs to eliminate time and motion waste. Taylor’s approach to work organization and employment relations was based on the following five principles: •maximum job fragmentation
•separate planning and doing
•separate ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ labour
•a minimization of skill requirements
•a minimization of handling component parts and material. The centrepiece of scientific management is the separation of tasks into their simplest constituent elements – ‘routinization of work’ (the first principle). Most manual workers were viewed as sinful and stupid, and therefore all decision-making functions had to be removed from their hands (the second principle). All prepa-ration and servicing tasks should be taken away from the skilled worker (direct labour), and, drawing on Charles Babbage’s principle, performed by unskilled and cheaper labour (indirect labour, in the third principle).
Minimizing the skill requirements to perform a task would reduce the worker’s control over work activities or the labour process (the fourth principle). Finally, management should ensure that the layout of the machines on the factory floor minimized the movement of people and materials to shorten the time taken (the fifth principle).While the logic of work fragmentation and routinization is simple and compelling, the principles of Taylorism reflect the class antagonism that is found in employment relations.
When Taylor’s principles were applied to work organization, they led to the intensification of work: to ‘speeding up’, ‘deskilling’ and new techniques to control workers, as shown in Figure 3.2. And since gender, as we have dis-cussed, is both a system of classification and a structure of power relations, it should not surprise us that Taylorism contributed to the shift in the gender composition of engineering firms. As millions of men were recruited into the armed forces for the First World War (1914–18), job fragmentation and the production of standardized items such as rifles, guns and munitions enabled women ‘dilutees’ to be employed in what had previously been skilled jobs reserved exclusively for men.
Some writers argue that Taylorism was a relatively short-lived phenomenon, which died in the economic depression of the 1930s. However, others have argued that this view underestimates the spread and influence of Taylor’s principles: ‘the popular notion that Taylorism has been “superseded” by later schools of “human relations”, that it “failed” … represents a woeful misreading of the actual dynamics of the development of management’. Similarly, others have made a persuasive case that, ‘In general the direct and indirect influence of Taylorism on factory jobs has been extensive, so that in Britain job design and technology design have become imbued with neo-Taylorism’ (ref. 10, p. 73).