Following the opening of a new Nissan factory in Sunderland in 1986, John Holloway analyses changes in the British car industry over the previous two decades, in particular how workers' organisation at British Leyland was broken up to usher in a new age of "harmony" and increased exploitation.
From Capital and Class # 32 (1987)
The new Nissan factory in Sunderland was opened on 11 September 1986 with a great fanfare of publicity: television advertisements, documentaries, newspaper supplements, news coverage of the formal opening by the prime minister.
The theme of all this publicity was that the Nissan plant opened a new age. Here is a factory where managers and workers alike wear white coats and share the same canteen, where managers and workers alike are young (average age in the late twenties), a company where there have never been strikes, where trade unions are not forbidden but are redundant because workers enjoy good conditions and identify with the aims of the company. The factory of the new age, of the new technology, of the new consensus. Light years away from the militancy of the car workers in the seventies. Light years away too from the macho management of Edwardes, MacGregor or Murdoch.
Some weeks later, another event was surrounded by just as much glossy publicity, just as much sophisticated marketing: the launching of the new-look Labour Party at the annual Conference, the party of the new Moral Majority, the party of the new consensus. Here too is a new age, a break with the past. The lid is closed on the dustbin of history with its evil-smelling politics of conflict and trade union militancy. These evil odours are dispelled by the sweet smell of the red rose, the macho militants are replaced by the gentle man with the flower.
The dawn of a new harmony in industry, the heralding of a new politics of consensus. Is this just coincidence, or does it tell us something about the direction being taken by capitalism in Britain?
The contrast suggested by the Nissan publicity is a contrast with the British car industry of the 1970s, and particularly with British Leyland. If British Leyland can be seen as a symbol of crisis, then Nissan symbolises its successful resolution. British Leyland symbolises not just the crisis of the car industry, not just the crisis of British capitalism, but the crisis of a particular pattern of production often referred to as Fordism. In contrast, Nissan represents not just the success of Japanese capital, but a new model of production relations, a current trend often referred to as neo-Fordism or post-Fordism.
The crisis at British Leyland in the mid-1970s is significant, not only because it was a very large company and the last bastion of the British car industry, but because it stands as a stereotype of the industry associated with the long post-war boom. Production took place in large factories organised around the assembly line, very much in accordance with the principles adopted by Ford in the production of the Model T. The vast majority of the work was repetitive and required little skill. All the workers were organised in trade unions and throughout the long period of boom when any car produced could immediately be sold, they managed to achieve relatively high and constantly rising real wages.
Dull, repetitive, unskilled work in the factory, compensated for by relatively high wages: the typical Fordist peace bargain was maintained. Ford's production of the Model T was trend-setting not only because of his use of the assembly line for the production of cars, but also because of the way in which consumption was promoted as both reward for and stimulus to production. Ford paid his workers the high wages of five dollars a day in return for the intensive, monotonous work on the assembly line. With this wage they could become rich enough to buy a cheap car, thus stimulating demand for more Model Ts, more monotonous work, and so on.
At British Leyland the figures were different, but the essence was the same, the core principle of post-war capitalist domination: accept the deadly, deadening alienation of boring work in return for high wages which will allow you to live the life of mass consumption, which will in turn generate demand for the products of ever more alienating boring work.
Since, generally, it was men in this case who did the work in the factory while women were seen as being more closely associated with consumption, this pattern of relations at work implied the development of a certain pattern of gender relations and a certain type of sexuality. The pattern of domination in the factory was complemented by a pattern of domination in the home and it was on the basis of these relations that cars were produced: alienation in the factory produces alienation in the home, which in turn provides a stimulus to go out to alienated work.
The keystone holding this structure together was the trade unions and the practice of collective bargaining. Through the annual rounds of collective bargaining the trade-off between the death of alienated labour and the 'life' of consumption was regularly negotiated and renegotiated.
Within this equilibrium there were, of course, conflicts and shifts in power. The long period of relative prosperity allowed the workers to build up a considerable position of strength. In British Leyland the bargaining strength of the workers (and the consequent limitations on management) were expressed most clearly in the system of mutuality. Under the mutuality system, management accepted that no new technology or reorganisation of working practices could be introduced without the prior agreement of the shop stewards. Mutuality was a striking embodiment of the strength of the workers within the Fordist equilibrium: the mutuality principle did not assert a revolutionary claim by the workers to control production, but merely made clear that management's rights were limited and that any intensification of labour must be paid for. 'Payment for change' was the key principle of the mutuality system.
Of course this was never the whole story. The Fordist wage contract in the factory could no more run smoothly than the marriage contract in the home. The trade-off between boredom at work and 'life' outside could never be entirely successful. Inevitably, there were struggles in the factory which did not fall neatly into the Fordist pattern: struggles not just for higher wages, nor indeed for the control of production, but revolts against work as such: sabotage, absenteeism, wildcat strikes etc. Revolts against work in the only form in which it existed: as death, as the negation of life and creativity.
For a long lime, however, these expressions of frustration posed little threat to the structure as a whole. The Fordist peace deal was never the whole picture, but it was sufficiently real to provide a framework for the rapid and sustained growth of the British car industry (and other car industries) throughout the 1950s and much of the 1960s. However, it rested on a very fragile basis (like all social harmony in a class society): on the one hand, the balance between frustration and consumption was always a delicate (and potentially explosive) one, and on the other hand, the whole system presupposed the expansion of the market, the relatively easy sale of the cars produced.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s the whole pattern of domination-and-production began to crack. Accumulated boredom combined with the confidence born of a long period of unemployment to make it more and more difficult to contain frustrations within the factory. The bursting frustration found expression in high labour turnover, increasing absenteeism and sabotage, and the frequent outbreak of strikes. In the British car industry as a whole, the level of strike activity rose markedly after 1963 and then very dramatically indeed in the late 1960s and early 1970s: from 1969 to 1978 an annual average of more than 1,800,000 days were lost through strikes in the car industry, as compared with an average of 377,600 working days lost per year in 1950-63 (Marsden et al, 1985:121).
Significantly, the majority of these strikes were not for higher wages, but arose out of disputes concerning conditions at work. In his Annual Report for 1976, the chairman of BL recognised this:
'In BL., though relatively few industrial disputes have been directly concerned with pay, so many strikes have occurred with no benefit either to the company or to the employees that one is forced to the conclusion that the underlying reason is the desire to make a protest.' (quoted in Television History Workshop 1985: 81)
The rising militancy of the late 1960s did not just aim at the renegotiation of the Fordist deal - more wages for nasty work. It struck at the core of Fordism itself: high wages were no longer sufficient to contain the accumulated frustration. As one BL manager commented:
'This protest was, in my view, a protest against the capitalism and the democracy of this country.' (Television History Workshop, 1985:81)
This was not a revolutionary situation. There was no question, at British Leyland or elsewhere in Britain, of a revolutionary assault on capital. But it would be totally wrong to conclude from that that capital was not threatened. The structure of control which was the basis of capitalist development in the post-war period was being undermined. The capitalist class was not in imminent danger of being toppled, but certainly no British Leyland manager could speak with the confidence of the centurion in the gospels: 'I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it' (Luke 7: vii). The authority upon which the whole capitalist system of production is premised was no longer functioning.
The loss of authority within the factories blended with the collapse of the other fragile pillar of Fordism. Difficulties in production everywhere (due to a combination of rising militancy and the fact that investments in new machinery were no longer leading to significant increases in productivity) hit profits and brought to an end the constant expansion of the capitalist market on which the smooth functioning of the Fordist system had been premised. It was no longer true by the late 1960s that any car produced could be sold without difficulty and by 1974, when world crisis was manifest and the rise in oil prices took its effect on motorists, car companies had to compete intensely to sell their products. The car companies were forced to change their production methods in order to compete. Management too was forced to attack the established patterns of relations at work. From both sides of the capital-labour relation, the relative stability of Fordism was under assault. The period of compromise in which the trade unions had held the two sides together in apparent harmony gave way to a period of open conflict, open struggle for power. As the BL manager already quoted put it:
'The only thing that really stands out is the fact that both management and the shop stewards appreciated the situation - they both knew what their objectives were, and they both admitted to each other what they were doing. There was no question of it being a battle that was raging with people who were denying it - both sides openly admitted this was a struggle. Management were saying "We are going to win". Shop stewards said "We are going to win".' (Television History Workshop, 1985: 81)
The crisis at British Leyland was the breaking out of open battle. The Fordist equilibrium, which had succeeded in containing frustrations and maintaining an adequate structure of control for so long that it had shaped a whole generation's image of capitalism, was broken.
Capitalist crisis is never anything other than that: the breakdown of a relatively stable pattern of class domination. It appears as an economic crisis, expressed in a fall in the rate of profit, but its core is the failure of an established pattern of domination. From the point of view of capital, the crisis can be resolved only through the establishment of new patterns of domination. This does not mean that capital has new patterns ready-made to impose on the working class. For capital, the crisis can be resolved only through struggle, through the restoration of authority and through a far-from- smooth search for new patterns of domination.
In the case of British Leyland, the re-establishment of control became identified with the question of raising productivity. Raising productivity was seen as the key to the survival of the company in the face of international competition.
Raising productivity was not just a question of introducing new machinery, but of getting workers to work harder. As a Central Policy Review Staff report of 1975 said:
'With the same power at his elbow and doing the same job as his continental counterparts, a British car assembly worker produces only half as much output per shift.'
(CPRS, 1975) In these circumstances, there was little point in introducing new technology until new attitudes and a new discipline had been established. New technology would require a new type of control over the workforce, but at the same time it could also contribute to the creation of that control. As one manager in Ford put it when talking of the installation of 39 new industrial robots:
'We haven't got control of the labour force. We can't force each man to put each weld in the right place. So we've tried to build in quality through the machines.' (Scarborough, 1986: 99)
In British Leyland, the re-establishment of managerial control and the introduction of new technology were very tightly intertwined in the planning of a new car model, the Metro, to be produced at the end of the 1970s. The decision to use the most advanced technology (automated multiwelders and robots) in the production of the Metro was taken in the mid-1970s, partly out of a concern for quality (machines being considered more reliable than workers) and partly because 'there were felt to be unquantifiable advantages in using a technology which resulted in management having to deal with far fewer direct operatives' (Willman & Winch, 1985: 50). Once the decision was taken to invest in high technology and to construct a new plant (the New West works at Longbridge), it became more urgent than ever to establish managerial control before the new plant was opened.
The attempt by management to establish control can be seen in two phases. The first phase, running from the financial collapse of the company and the consequent takeover by the Labour government in 1974 to the appointment of Michael Edwardes as chid executive in October 1977, aimed at the incorporation of the shop stewards. When the finances of the company collapsed in December 1974, the government commissioned a report by Sir Don Ryder, chairman of the National Enterprise Board. The Ryder Plan, published in April 1975, underlined the urgency of change at British Leyland, but, recognising the strength of the shop stewards within the company, it sought to achieve change through winning their cooperation. In particular, the Plan accepted the continuing existence of the mutuality system and established a structure of joint management-shop steward committees to discuss a wide range of issues relating to company performance. After heated discussion, the shop Stewards agreed to cooperate in the participation scheme, some even enthusiastically. As Derek Robinson, the convenor of the shop stewards at Longbridge, put it:
'If we make Leyland successful, it will be a political victory. It will prove that ordinary working people have got the intelligence and determination to run industry.' (Guardian, 9.4.1979, quoted in Scarborough,1986:102)
Robinson's enthusiasm was not borne out by the experience. Discussions in the joint committees took place within a framework already tightly defined by managerial decisions (on the Metro, for example), and they were separated from the structure of collective bargaining in which the actual decisions on working practices were taken. Consequently, the shop stewards found, on the one hand, that they had exercised little influence and, on the other, that they were often compromised in the eyes of the workers they represented by their participation in managerial decisions (Willman & Winch, 1985; Scarborough, 1986).
From the management point of view, the participation exercise was both a success and a failure. On the one hand, it did promote some degree of acceptance of the need for change; as one manager put it, 'participation was a success and helped us in selling the changes we wanted' (Scarborough, 1986: 103). On the other hand, it was a slow and cumbersome way of bringing about change and it did not establish the clear authority that management required: the power of the shop stewards was recognised and yet strike activity continued at a high level. In the view of Michael Edwardes:
'The three-tier employee participation structure - a cornerstone of the Ryder remedy to solve the entrenched industrial relations problems - only produced a bureaucratic paperchase dissipating management resource and effort. Some management decisions were delayed by months while the joint consultative machinery tried unsuccessfully to grind out a consensus. Procedure and consultation to avert industrial relations problems appeared to overwhelm decision-making and action-taking, yet during this time the number of disputes rose sharply.' (Edwardes, 1984: 39)
By 1977, it was clear that the Ryder strategy could not bring about the recovery of the company: productivity continued to fall and with it British Leyland's share of the market. Since effective managerial control could not be achieved through the incorporation of the shop stewards, it was necessary for management to become more openly aggressive. In October 1977, Michael Edwardes was appointed by the National Enterprise Board (with the approval of the Labour government) as Chairman and Chief Executive of British Leyland.
For Edwardes, the key to success was the reassertion of capital's control over labour: the 'sine qua non of survival was to establish the right to manage' (Edwardes, 1984: 54), and this would involve 'counteracting shop steward power' (Edwardes, 1984: 79).
Crucially, establishing the right to manage meant breaking the mutuality system and asserting management's right to introduce new working practices without the prior agreement of the shop stewards. Although Edwardes' managerial style was abrasive from the beginning, he first attacked the established pattern of management by taking on not the shop stewards but the managers themselves, getting rid of many and moving others to new positions. It was two years before he engaged the shop stewards in direct confrontation over the issue of mutuality. During those two years the position of the Stewards had been considerably weakened by a number of plant closures, by the inflexibility of management in wage negotiations and by the sharp rise in unemployment at a national level. It was also weakened by management's new populist strategy designed to mobilise the workers against the shop stewards. Claiming that the shop stewards did not represent the wishes of their members, management developed a policy (after February 1979) of going over the heads of the shop stewards and appealing directly to the workers themselves.
'This often meant sending letters to employees' homes (where they could calmly and deliberately consider the situation with their families), the issuing of factory briefing sheets, and posters. When we felt a particular issue had wider significance we used newspaper advertisements and they seemed to be effective, for the militants invariably called "foul".' (Edwardes, 1984: 93)
In this way, 'democracy' became a managerial strategy: direct ballots of the membership were used to counter the established patterns of trade union representation.
The confrontation over mutuality and managerial control came at the end of 1979. It began when, in response to continuing economic difficulties, Edwardes unveiled a Recovery Plan, which provided for the loss of 25,000 jobs and the closure or severe cut-back of thirteen factories. The plan was initially opposed by the trade unions, but, in the face of management's assertion that the only alternative was closure of the company, the engineering unions decided to recommend acceptance in a ballot of the company's employees, and the ballot produced a large majority in favour. When a number of shop stewards then published a pamphlet criticising the plan (in November 1979), management responded by sacking Derek Robinson, one of the signatories of the pamphlet and chairman of the shop stewards' combine.
A strike in support of Robinson soon collapsed, although the shop stewards continued to support Robinson and even re-elected him convenor of the Longbridge stewards in January 1980. The stewards no longer wielded the same power as before. On the one hand, the national unions (particularly the engineers' union, the AUEW, of which Robinson was a member) failed to give him support: Robinson, and the shop steward power which he represented had long been a thorn in the flesh of the responsible national officials of the AUEW (Edwardes, 1984: 117-133). On the other hand it became clear that the shop stewards could no longer count on the active support of the union members: an important element was undoubtedly the acceptance of the Ryder strategy of involving shop stewards in a participation scheme which did not have widespread support among the workers (Willman & Winch, 1985: 83; Scarborough, 1986). Although Edwardes' aggressive strategy appears to be the very opposite of the Ryder approach, it actually built upon it in important respects.
Once the Recovery Plan was accepted, management spell out some of the implications of the Plan in a 92-page document on changes in working practices. In Edwardes' own words: 'At the heart of the 92-page document outlining the changes we needed was the challenge to "mutuality".' (Edwardes, 1984: 133) A document circulated at the time to management throughout the company emphasised:
'1. It is managers who have the responsibility for managing, leading and motivating employees and for communicating on company matters . . . shop stewards have the right to represent and to communicate trade union information to their members at the workplace but only within the rules and procedures jointly established . . . 3. Every manager must play his part in defeating the small minority who would like to see BL fail . . .' (quoted in Willman & Winch, 1985:130)
At issue was the extent of managerial control within the factory. Management was aiming 'to change the habits of two business lifetimes' (Edwardes, 1984: 133), to recover for capital the authority of the proud centurion: I say unto one, Go, and he goeth.
Negotiations over the 92-page document broke down: the stewards could not agree to the abandonment of mutuality. Management responded by circulating the document as the 'Blue Newspaper' to all employees and gave notice that it would be implemented on 8 and 9 April 1980: any worker arriving for work on that day would be deemed to have accepted the new working practices. The union response was uncoordinated and resistance quickly collapsed. Management had been successful: capital had asserted its right to rule:
'On those two days, Tuesday 8th April and Wednesday 9th April 1980, thirty years of management concessions (which had made it impossible to manufacture cars competitively) were thrown out of the window, and our car factories found themselves with a fighting chance of becoming competitive.' (Edwardes, 1984: 135)
The power of the shop stewards had been effectively broken: management had won.
The way was then clear for the launching of the Metro in October 1980. Workers were carefully selected for the new plant to make sure that they had the right attitude and that anyone with a record of militancy was excluded. The success of the Metro depended on a blend of new technology and new workers: multiwelders and robots were of no use unless the workers had the right attitudes to go with them.
The key word in the reform of working practices is 'flexibility'. Flexibility means essentially the removal of barriers to management's right to tell the workers what to do, where to do it and at what speed. The workers should no longer insist on job demarcations: they must be 'flexible' enough to move from one job to another. As one worker from the Cowley plant commented:
'There's now a constant attack, and all the protective agreements that were established in the sixties are now all gone. Workers are herded around now like cattle in those plants. The protective agreements, the seniority agreements, which were the most important protective agreements, are now completely gone. We're seeing conditions where workers that have worked in off-track jobs for thirty or forty years are given five minutes' notice to get onto a track. Often with medical conditions. Often working in a pit, with overhead conditions that make it absolutely impossible for them to do the job. And they're just directed totally ruthlessly after forty years of working with the company. "Get in that pit and do that job or find yourself another job outside." And I'm not exaggerating at all - that is what is happening every day. Every day in those plants. And the difference between that and what existed when the trade unions had power a few years ago is absolute difference if chalk to cheese.' (Television History Workshop,1985:108)
Shop stewards are no longer able to exert control over the speed of work or the mobility of the workers in the same way as before. The shop stewards' organisation still exists, but stewards have far fewer facilities and a greatly reduced role: they no longer have any part in negotiating wages, bonuses or effort levels, being reduced mainly to the representation of workers in grievance procedures. The aim of management was never to destroy trade unionism within the company, merely to limit its scope so that it assisted rather than challenged managerial authority.
Productivity on the Metro line surpassed even management expectations. Productivity rose sharply in other plants as well, suggesting that the rise was due at least as much to the new pattern of industrial relations as to the new technology. The level of strike activity also fell. The change in the position was so dramatic that by early 1984 Longbridge was reported to have the highest productivity of any car plant in Europe (Willman & Winch, 1985:155).
Raising productivity to European levels, however, is no longer sufficient to withstand international competition. BL (now the Rover Group) continues to face acute difficulties. The current challenge is to raise productivity and quality to Japanese standards.
Raising quality and productivity to Japanese standards, however, requires further changes, not so much in technology as in workers' attitudes. What Edwardes (whose term of office ended in 1982) achieved was the destruction of the power of the shop stewards, the destruction of barriers to managerial control. This sort of aggressive managerial approach could (and did) force ) the workers to obey the commands of management, but it could hardly be expected to produce a devoted and enthusiastic workforce. It is, however, just this sort of devotion and enthusiasm that is now considered necessary to ensure the quality of the products.
The Edwardes 'macho management' can now be seen as a transitional phase, necessary to destroy the obstacles to managerial control, but unable to establish the basis for a new stable pattern of industrial relations. What was achieved was the destruction of the old pattern of relations and a resounding defeat for labour. What management need to do now is build on this defeat and mould the submissive worker into an enthusiastic worker, proud of his company.
Changes in this direction are already taking place at the Rover Group. When the appointment of the new chairman and chief executive, Graham Day, was announced early in 1986, it was questioned whether one of Edwardes' leading collaborators, Harold Musgrove, could stay on as chairman of Austin Rover, one reason being that it was doubtful 'whether Mr Musgrove's approach - "whipping people's backsides to get the cars out of the plant" as one put it - is the right one today' (Financial Times, 22 March 1986). And indeed, Mr Musgrove's resignation was one of the first consequences of Day's appointment.
A more positive indication of the same trend can be seen in Austin Rover's current 'working with pride' initiative. As Andy Barr, the managing director in charge of this initiative, put it:
'We need to change attitudes and not just behaviour patterns. We need total involvement to ensure that quality and reliability of our products.' (Financial Times, 18 September 1986)
Applicants for a job on the Rover assembly line at Cowley now undergo a two-day assessment to discuss the aims and objectives of the company. Even parents or wives and children are encouraged to take part, 'to come along and judge whether Austin Rover is the company for their family' (Financial Times, 18 September 1986). As Barr put it:
'We are not looking just for manual skills and dexterity. We want to know whether their aspirations are the same as the company's. It is a two-way process. What is good for people is good for the company.' (Financial Times, 20 June 1986)
The 'macho management' style typified by Edwardes is being replaced by a new image: an image of a caring management supported by a proud and dedicated workforce.
The image to which the Rover management aspire is already being presented by the new Nissan factory opened on 11 September in Sunderland. The company's television advertisements project a picture of a new harmony, far removed from the strike and acrimony of traditional British car manufacturing:
'Imagine a car factory where no one goes on strike, and where no one is made redundant either. Imagine if the managing director dressed just the same as the men on the line. Imagine if the management and the workers got together every day to see how they could make things better. Imagine if work wasn't just about getting a better pay packet, but about working together to make something you could be proud of. Maybe then it would be possible to make a car so good, they'd have a 100,000-mile or three-year warranty. Or is this just a day-dream?' (Quoted in Bassett, 1986:148)
All the advertisements have the same theme: with Nissan, motor manufacturing enters a new world. The relationship between management and labour is transformed. The Nissan worker is a new worker, so new that he is no longer a worker. He is a staffer: 'they don't have "workers" at Sunderland' (Nissan advertisement feature, Observer, 14 September 1986).
The 'staffers' were carefully chosen to make sure that they were really new men, that they bore no taint of the old trade union militancy. First the site for the factory was selected - 'one of the most exhaustive location searches in commercial history, looking at more than fifty sites in all, with local authorities vigorously bidding against each other for the development' (Bassett, 1986: 149). Once the site was chosen (a former airport near Sunderland), the company set about choosing the 'staffers' . Management has plenty of scope for rejecting anyone with unconstructive attitudes:
'More than 11,000 applications were received for the first 247 posts at the new plant and everyone was put through one of the most intense and vigorous selection courses imaginable. The vacancies for 22 supervisors, a kind of hybrid foreman, attracted 3,000 applications.' (Advertisement feature, Observer, 14 September 1986)
Thee option of creating a non-union plain was considered but rejected by the company because it was felt that such a decision could be a constant source of friction. Instead, they decided that they would recognise only a single union and interviewed the various possible unions (T&GWU, AUEW, GMBATU) before making a choice: 'We were forced to parade before prospective employers like beauty queens', as one of the regional secretaries put it (Bassett, 1986: 149). The company chose the engineering union, the AUEW, and concluded an agreement with it which virtually eliminates the possibility of a strike: all disputes are to be settled by negotiation, conciliation or arbitration.
The question of union organisation is, in any case, peripheral if one follows the image projected by the company. Antagonism between management and labour is a thing of the past. Management and production workers wear the same clothes and eat in the same canteen; workers are not required to clock on in the mornings; wage packets are replaced by salaries paid directly into the employee's bank. All are part of a team, aiming to produce cars of high quality. Job demarcation has no place here, of course: the emphasis is on flexibility of crafts, skills and jobs.
'The concept has been to create a team or small group of workers (sorry, "production staffers") using and swapping different skills.' (Advertisement feature, Observer, 14 September 1986)
The whole world of motor manufacturing is transformed. Class struggle has no place here: there is apparently no antagonism. Struggle as such has no place here: the New Man does not fight. This new harmonious world has been achieved not by struggle, but by the rejection of struggle. Indeed, the new world represents liberation from struggle, from the old world of strife. Here at Nissan, managers and workers alike are able to do what they always wanted to do: to make products of high quality, unhindered by union interference. In this view, the militancy of the seventies defeated itself: it was both irrational and sterile. The New Man is not militant, he knows that all problems can be solved by communication:
'He who communicates is very much king,' advocates Wickens (personnel director). If the team leader is not happy he can chat to the supervisor and they all sit down and try to iron things out.' (Advertisement feature, Observer, 14 September 1986)
The New Man is still a man, of course. The importance of ensuring reliability and keeping absenteeism to an absolute minimum 'leads to very careful screening of recruits in order to ensure that they will have minimum distractions from the domestic sphere, which, in a patriarchal context means a stronger preference for male workers' (Sayer, 1986: 67). The New Man is still a man, but not an aggressive, unreliable man: he is a responsible, caring, family man with a good, stable, home environment. The world of Nissan is the world of new harmony, the new consensus. Militancy has been thrown into the dustbin of history, as has macho management: the names of Robinson, Scargill, but also Edwardes and MacGregor, are best forgotten as aberrations in the forward march of rational common sense.
FROM THE crisis at Leyland and the establishment of Nissan it is possible to draw some conclusions about capitalist development in Britain over the last fifteen years or so.
The most obvious point is that the changes that have taken place cannot be understood without a concept of crisis. The crisis at British Leyland was a crisis in the established methods of producing cars. It was not just that the established technology was outdated, but that the patterns of relations between labour and management associated with semi-automatic assembly-line production were no longer viable. The crisis was above all a crisis in the relation of domination: the established patterns of control over labour had broken down. As such, it was necessarily also a crisis of management. New ways of managing labour had to be found (and in the process many of the old managers had to be sacked). And it was also a crisis of the trade unions, because the established trade union structure was based upon the maintenance of a certain type of equilibrium between capital and labour.
The crisis was an outbreak of open struggle between capital and labour. The established pattern of domination had broken down: this was not a revolutionary situation, but a situation in which everything seemed possible. Capital could not allow that to continue: it needed to reassert its right to rule, its arrogantly proclaimed 'right to manage', its right to determine what is possible and what is not possible.
There is no doubt that in this struggle capital was victorious and labour was defeated. In the case of British Leyland, managerial strategy went through various phases, the most effective of which was undoubtedly the aggressive 'macho' management of Edwardes, but each apparent reversal of managerial strategy built upon the achievements of the previous phase. Edwardes was able to build upon the isolation of the shop stewards which resulted from 'Ryder's corporatist approach, just as the present 'working with pride' approach builds upon the crushing of the workers under Edwardes.
Over the period as a whole, relations of production have changed in a way that would have been inconceivable in the mid-seventies. The reassertion of managerial authority has gone hand in hand with the exclusion of vast numbers of workers. The number of manual workers employed by BL fell from 120,000 to 26,000 in a space of eight years, a fall of almost 100,000, as compared with the 400-odd employed by Nissan. The restructuring of the labour process and of relations between management and labour is simultaneously the creation of large-scale unemployment. The two cannot be separated.
Why was labour defeated? One factor was certainly the insecurity of existence on which capitalism is based: if you do not own property, you have to sell your labour power in order to survive at an acceptable standard. During the period of conflict at British Leyland, unemployment rose sharply and the threat of being made redundant was acute. In those circumstances it was easy for management to use the threat of closure to impose its will.
A second factor was the way in which the shop stewards (and the national trade unions) were internally weakened just at the moment when their power appeared greatest. The involvement of shop stewards and officials in the participation scheme under the Ryder Plan (and, nationally in the whole corporatist structure of the Social Contract) led to an alienation of the workers from their 'representatives'. Edwardes' strategy of direct communication with the workers was able to build very successfully upon this alienation.
Participation had this effect because, inevitably perhaps, it meant participation in restoring the company to competitivity. The stewards accepted this goal, just as they did not question the need to introduce new technology in order to achieve it: there was no obvious alternative. In the absence of an alternative, the logic of capitalist development imposed itself: cars must be made as efficiently as possible, and management must manage. The law of value asserts itself as necessity in a capitalist society.
It would be wrong to think that the crisis is over. The Rover Group (as it is now called) is still in grave difficulty and there are obviously problems in implementing the new methods that have become fashionable among managers. The legacy of Edwardes is not the best basis for building up a sense of dedication and pride among the workers.
Nissan is instructive because it is able to start afresh, taking for granted the destruction of the old traditions. In Nissan it is possible to see, not yet a new established pattern of relations between management and labour, but trends that indicate the shape of a new emergent pattern. The extensive use of new technology means that many of the problems of control (such as control of the quality of welding of painting, for example) are transferred from direct supervision of the production workers to the design and especially the programming of the multiwelder or robot.
Control of the workforce does not in any case present the same problems as before: establishing a new factory in a greenfield site in an area of high unemployment means that many of the problems of managerial control can be transferred to the point of selection. By ensuring that only workers with the right attitude are employed, management is able to resolve to a large extent not only the problem of militancy, but also the questions of quality, flexibility and discipline. It now becomes possible to expect the workers to identify with the company to the extent of being concerned about the quality of the product, to demand flexibility in the performance of jobs and to assume the sort of discipline that makes just-in-time production (with its minimal stocking of components) possible.
In this context, trade unionism comes to have a new meaning. The new factory does not exclude trade unions, but the unions, like the workers, undergo a process of selection and have to satisfy the company that they have the right attitude. The new trade union is cooperative and identifies with the interests of the company. For the leaders of the electricians' union, the EEPTU, and the engineers' union, the AUEW, the two unions most strongly identified with this trend, militancy is irrational and outdated: it has no place in this new world. The miners' strike, the printers' struggle at Wapping are untimely relics of a buried past. The new trade union, like the new workers, is liberated from the past, free to enjoy, on the graves of the defeated and to the exclusion of millions, the new harmony of suffocating conformism.
Of course that is not the whole story. It cannot be.
There are striking parallels between the phases of managerial strategy in the car industry and the development of the British state. In the state too there is a certain equilibrium which holds until the mid-1970s. As in British Leyland, that equilibrium is based on a recognition of the strength of the trade unions and therefore of their importance for the whole structure of government. In British Leyland this is known as mutuality, in the state it is called Keynesianism.
Often the term 'Keynesianism' is used to refer to a set of economic policies designed to ensure full employment and the even development of the economy through demand management, or to the economic theory which supports those policies. The adoption of those policies and the development of that theory, however, were not just historical chance: policies and theory alike grew out of a recognition of the growing power (and therefore threat) of the working class, and of the need to develop a new form of controlling and harnessing that power. In Britain it was the outbreak of the Second World War which made this need particularly urgent and led to the coopting of trade union leaders into the government and the commitment by the state to maintain full employment and to implement welfare state policies after the war. In the post-war period, in which the expansion of mass production and the tight labour market consolidated the power of labour, Keynesianism became the established pattern of domination.
Essentially mutuality and Keynesianism are the same thing. In both cases there is a recognition of the strength of the working class, and a recognition that that strength imposes limits on the power of the state (or management) to do as it wishes. At the level of the factory, it is recognised that management cannot introduce changes in technology or working practices without the prior agreement of the shop stewards. At the national level, it is accepted that the control of wages or other aspects of industrial relations cannot be imposed against the wishes of the trade unions, that this is an area in which the law should not intervene.
In both cases too, there is an attempt to build the power of the unions into the structure of control and to use it to capital's advantage. The key principle is the conversion of the frustrations of the workers into monetary demands and the harnessing of those demands in such a way that they become a positive force for capital accumulation. In British Leyland and other companies, this is achieved through collective bargaining and the convention of payment for change. At the level of the state, the attempts to regulate demand in the interests of capital accumulation has the same end. Demand is the frustration of the working class converted into money. Demand management is precisely what it says it is: management of the monetised frustrations of the working class in such a way as to convert them into a stimulus for capital accumulation.
In both cases it was clear by the late 1960s that the established structure of domination-and-compromise was obstructing the development of capitalism in Britain. However, it was still a very long way from the recognition that it was essential to break the established balance to actually being able to do it. In Britain Leyland, it was recognised in the late 1960s that there was serious 'overmanning', but the chief executive at the time, Stokes, held back from sacking 30,000 workers for fear of the consequences (Turner, 1973), and it was not until nearly ten years later that Edwardes was able to make a serious assault on the problem. At the level of the state, the attempts of both the Wilson government (the 'In Place of Strife' White Paper of 1969) and of the Heath government (the Industrial Relations Act of 1971) to radically restrict the power of the unions failed when confronted with the reality of that power. Again, it was to take ten years or more to break the pattern.
In both cases the crisis of control reached its peak in 1974-75. At the level of the state, as in British Leyland, there was no question of a revolutionary situation; but there was a serious crisis of authority and control. Events such as the failure of Heath's Industrial Relations Act after the freeing of the Pentonville Five in 1971 and the miners' strikes of 1972 and 1974 made very explicit the limits of the authority of the state. Rising inflation, soaring public expenditure, falling profits, high levels of strike activity: all made clear that the post-war equilibrium was breaking down.
The Labour government's response to this dilemma was essentially to adopt the Ryder strategy: to get the trade unions to participate openly and explicitly in the management of the country, through the Social Contract. The experience of the Social Contract was remarkably like the experience of participation at British Leyland. Discussion took place within the framework of pre-defined objectives: restoration of competitivity and technological renewal at British Leyland; restoration of competitivity and technological renewal in Britain as a whole. Since these objectives clearly involved reducing the power of the trade unions, participation by the unions could only mean participation in their own destruction.
And so it happened. As the crisis deepened, and especially after 1975-76, it became clearer and clearer that the Social Contract meant nothing other than the participation of the trade unions in a policy which cut working-class living standards and, by allowing unemployment to rise, eroded the basis of the unions' own power.
The Social Contract, from capital's point of view, was both a success and a failure, in exactly the same manner as the Ryder strategy at British Leyland. It was a very striking success in that, by apparently giving the unions power, it effectively destroyed them. When they were directly attacked in the early 1980s, it became clear that the power of the unions was hollow: like the shop stewards at British Leyland, they had been discredited by their participation in management. The Social Contract both hollowed out trade union power and puffed the unions up so that they became an easy object for attack.
The Social Contract was also a failure in exactly the same sense as the Ryder strategy at Leyland. It was expensive (because concessions had to be given to buy the unions' acquiescence) and cumbersome, and above all it could not achieve the clear reassertion of authority which was necessary if a new basis for capital accumulation was to be established.
Edwardes finds a clear counterpart in Thatcher at the national level. She came to office over a year after Edwardes was appointed chief executive at British Leyland, with very much the same image and the same message. The government would be firm, there would be no compromise; it was the government's task to govern, just as it was management's task to manage. Keynesianism and the corporatism of the Social Contract were rejected.
Thatcher, like Edwardes, was not simply attacking the trade unions. Like Edwardes, she was attacking a style of government (or management) which was based on a recognition of the power of the trade unions. Just as Edwardes had first attacked management and got rid of managers too committed to established practices, one of Thatcher's first objects of attack was the civil service and the established network of relations between civil servants, trade unionists and employers. Capitalist crisis involves not just an intensified attack on the working class, but the destruction of a whole structure of domination. That destruction is achieved largely through the operation of money, but an important role is also played by people who come from outside the established structures of power. That explains the particular prominence in recent years of managers brought in from outside a particular industry (like Edwardes or MacGregor), or of someone like Thatcher who came from outside the Conservative establishment. It explains also why people like Edwardes or Thatcher, although acting in the interests of capital, may be very unpopular with many individual groups of capitalists. Finally, it explains the particular importance of money under the Thatcher government: this is not because the government has been unduly influenced by finance capital rather than industrial capital, as is sometimes argued, but because money plays a central role in a period of crisis in the breaking and restructuring of patterns of domination.
The post-war equilibrium lay in ruins, at least in rhetoric. In 1979, however, it was a not entirely clear that the Keynesian-corporatist welfare state was as dead as Thatcher proclaimed it to be. There were still those who claimed that the social democratisation of the British state could not be reversed and who predicted that Thatcher would have to go through the same sort of U-turn as the Heath government ten years earlier. That view was over-optimistic: the Keynesian-corporatist state rested on a recognition of the power of the trade unions, and by the end of the 1970s that power had been substantially weakened. However, just as Edwardes had held back for two years before putting his rhetoric to the test in a direct confrontation with shop steward power, so the Thatcher government postponed its legal restriction of trade union power, preferring to introduce it little by little in the years after 1981. It postponed too, quite deliberately, its major confrontation with the mums, until 1984.
In retrospect, it seems that Mrs Thatcher, far from being an 'iron lady', was in fact very cautious in her approach to the trade unions. She waited to make sure that the enemy was really vanquished before cutting off its head. It was after the defeat of the unions that the harsh anti-union legislation became possible. It was not primarily the Thatcher government that brought the Keynesian era to an end; nor was it the previous Labour government: Callaghan's famous speech at the 1977 Labour Party Conference recognised (or heralded) the death of Keynesianism, but did not bring it about. The Keynesian system of government rested on a recognition of the power of the unions, but it was not the state that was chiefly responsible for breaking that power. The power of the unions was destroyed first and foremost in the industrial conflicts of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the role of the state in these was important but secondary. If one had to put a date on the final death of Keynesianism, then it would not be Callaghan's speech, nor Thatcher's electoral victory, but 8 April 1980, the day on which mutuality ended at BL. It was that (together with a host of similar developments throughout industry) which eliminated the possibility of a U-turn, of a return to the patterns of post-war social democracy.
To say that there can be no return to the old patterns of social democracy does not, however, mean that Thatcherism will necessarily provide a long-term model for government in Britain. On the contrary, the analogy with Edwardes at British Leyland would suggest that it is better to see Thatcherism as a transitional type of government, well suited to destroying the vestiges of Fordism/Keynesianism, but not suitable for establishing the political patterns of the brave new world typified by Nissan. It is premature to see in Thatcherism a model of the 'post-Fordist state'.
The parallels between changes in the managerial strategy and changes in state policy are striking. Striking too is the fact that the currents of influence do not run in the direction that the dominant state-centred view of society might lead one to expect. Naturally there is constant interaction, but on the whole it is changes in managerial strategy that point the way for changes in state policy. Rather than seeing Edwardes as the John the Baptist of Thatcherism, it is probably more accurate to see Thatcher as the St Paul of Edwardesism. Management leads, the state follows.
'Edwardesism' here stands for a whole sea-change in managerial strategy. The changes at British Leyland are particularly clear and well-documented, but they are not untypical. Edwardes himself was very influential in setting a managerial style throughout industry: but even where management did not become so overtly aggressive, management-labour relations almost everywhere were characterised by a sharp shift in the balance towards management, a weakening of the power of shop stewards and a tightening of managerial authority. Everywhere, the changes have been helped by an environment of high unemployment and by the introduction of new technology, which both facilitates and requires changes in working practices and the undermining of the power relations associated with the old patterns of work. The changes have not all been as sharp as at British Leyland, or as conflictual: often they have been achieved without battle waged. Nor have they all been simultaneous: some groups of workers (the miners and the printers in particular) have managed to hold on to their old patterns of work, Keynesian rocks withstanding the incoming tide of change. For that the price was isolation: when battle came, the old world was no longer there to give them full support.
The new patterns being built on the ruins of the old do not all correspond to a strict model either; yet Nissan can fairly be seen as representative of an important trend. It represents not just the expansion of Japanese capital but, much more important, a significant trend in the structure of capitalist domination over work. The emphasis on quality, and therefore insistence on the workers' pride in 'their' products; the widespread subcontracting of component supplies to small and therefore dependent firms; the reduction of stocking so that components arrive just in time for assembly; the establishment of a factory in a greenfield site with an environment of high unemployment and no tradition of trade union militancy; the stress on careful selection of a loyal workforce and exclusion of the disloyal and unreliable; the conclusion of a strike-free deal with a cooperative trade union; the international control of geographically separated groups of workers; all of these are important trends in the current development of capitalism (see Sayer, 1986).
These trends are often referred to as the 'Japanisation' of production, but it is misleading to place too much emphasis on the place of origin of the managerial strategies: Nissan's management techniques in Sunderland may be of Japanese inspiration, but their real basis is the defeats of the workers at Cowley, Longbridge and elsewhere. It is these defeats that allow management to talk of introducing Japanese management techniques, of moving from just-in-case to just-in-time production. Just-in-time production (which gets its name from the fact that components are delivered just in time for incorporation into the finished product rather than being stocked in large quantities to allow for possible disruptions) presupposes a certain, predictable environment (Graham, 1986), both in the factory itself and in the factory's suppliers. It is a style of management built on the assumption that workers are disciplined and loyal, that there will be no unexpected stoppages and that the quality of the products at every stage of the production process will be reliable. It assumes therefore that when the manager says Go, the worker goeth.
The patterns exemplified by Nissan are trends, not universal reality. These trends are experiments in a new form of domination; whether they will harden into a clear long-term pattern, it is still too early to say. Many firms have experienced difficulties in introducing quality control circles and just-in-time production. Not every firm has had the advantages of Nissan, yet everywhere there are movements in the same direction.
If changes in the car industry are representative of changes in the pattern of management-labour relations more generally, then it is not surprising that there are parallels between changes in managerial style and changes in the sale. The parallel development of management and the state has been presented here in the form of an analogy, but the similarities are not a matter of chance. Management and the state are two aspects of the same thing, they are two forms of the capital relation, the relation of domination between capital and labour. Both work in distinct but inter-related ways to ensure the profitable accumulation of capital, the continued exploitation of labour. It cannot be otherwise. Just as management depends on the state to provide (through the maintenance of public order) a disciplined environment for the exploitation of the workforce and the accumulation of capital, the state depends equally on the success of capitalist exploitation for its own continued existence; capital accumulation is both the source of the state's income (through taxation) and the basis for the maintenance of public order. Both management and the state depend on the successful exploitation of labour: the actions of both are ultimately directed to the same end; both are shaped by the same constant struggle for capitalist authority. It is therefore the conditions of that exploitation, the struggles around the process of work, that are the key to understanding not only changes in management, but also the development of the state. Moreover, since management is closer and more responsive to the labour process, it is not surprising that trends in political development should be foreshadowed by trends in management.
At the level of management, the tide has moved on from the macho management of Edwardes and MacGregor. Aggression was effective in breaking the power of the old worker and in hacking a new sharper division between the core, employed workers and the marginalised, peripheral workers. The State, under Labour and Tory governments, gave support to this approach in the late 1970s and early 1980s: through the appointment and support of people like Edwardes and MacGregor, through the acceptance and promotion of high unemployment, through public expenditure cuts, through legislation to curb strikes, through the mobilisation of the police, etc.
If people like Edwardes and MacGregor hacked their way through the workforce and excluded millions from work, then Nissan suggests that the emphasis is now on integrating those that remain. While excluding the irresponsible masses, the focus has shifted to integrating the responsible worker, to holding him up as a model of virtue. Now that the bouncers have thrown out the unruly guests, they can retreat to their normal position at the door and the party-giver can concentrate on entertaining the well-behaved guests who remain. The roughing-up of those excluded continues: the police, the Manpower Services Commission and the Department of Health and Social Security see to that; but that is in the background, behind the scenes, excluded from the press and from political debate. Attention is now focused on the 'moral majority' - whether they are actually a majority does not matter, since they are the only people who count. Like a mafioso in a gangster film, the party-giver's face changes suddenly. The thug turns around and smiles with charm at the remaining guests: the iron lady turns into ... a fresh-faced boyo.
Or does she? It does not really matter. It does not matter what her face, or sex, or name is. The point is that at the political level too the tide is changing. Whether Mrs Thatcher goes on or not, the aggressive stance associated with Thatcherism is giving way increasingly to a more human face. The emphasis is moving towards the construction of a new consensus, not a consensus that will cover everybody, but a consensus among the responsible moral majority. Political competition is increasingly focused on the claim to speak for that majority. Who wins that competition - whether it is Thatcher with a revamped face, or a new, more moderate leader of the Conservative Party, or Owen, or Kinnock - matters a great deal to the participants in the competition, but it will probably not make very much difference to anybody else. Democratic elections are not very much more relevant to the running of the country than they are to the management of a car company.
And so: the Red Rose of Nissan. The caring, conformist worker of Nissan who firmly rejects all trace of militancy finds his counterpart in the caring, conformist Man with the Red Rose, who firmly rejects any irresponsible behaviour, any mindless militancy, the man who speaks for the Moral Majority, the New Man.
The new man has strange acolytes. Not only the established bureaucrats of the labour movement, but many on the intellectual 'Left' clamour to participate in the construction of the new pattern of domination. To justify their position they claim to have a basis in Marxism, a new Marxism of course, a Marxism of Today. To read these analyses of the changes in capitalism, of the 'new reality' (e.g. Carter, 1986), one would suppose that no struggles had taken place over the last ten years. The new reality has not been created through struggle; it has just 'emerged'. The struggles that have taken place - the miners' strike, for example - are seen as struggles against reality. Heroic but anachronistic, they are out of tune with the new reality, 'with the inescapable lines of tendency and direction, established by the real world' (Hall, 1985: 15). The miners, like the rest of us, are not the creators but the victims of the new reality.
The new reality, apparently, is not constituted by the permanent conflict between capital and labour. It is a reality which emerges and confronts not classes but 'people'. Class has no place in this world: change takes place not through incessant class struggles but through democracy and winning the support of public opinion. In this new reality, we are all staffers.
The people of this new reality are all reasonable, gentle people. In a remarkable somersault from the feminist radicalism of the early 1970s, feminism is now used to justify passivity, and militancy is identified with machismo (Campbell, 1985; Hall, 1985; Carter, 1986). The analysis which sees women as the victims of male violence - a strong current within the feminist movement - easily turns into the condemnation of all violence as an expression of male domination. The violence of the miners, for example, is seen, not as arising from righteous anger but as an expression of a macho culture, which we can (and must) condemn with a good conscience. And so the 'Left' orchestrate Marxism and feminism in a remarkable concert of support for the new reality, new morality, new sexuality: a world of suffocating oppression.
Against such views, it is important to emphasise some of the conclusions that stand out from the story of British Leyland and Nissan. Capitalism has indeed changed: capitalist society today is very different from the capitalist society of ten years ago. But many of the discussions of the 'new reality', whether in Marxism Today or in the much richer debates on the neo-Fordist state (for an account see Bonefeld, 1987), overlook the most important features that are so striking if one focuses on the story of British Leyland and Nissan.
The first point to emphasise is that neither the car workers, nor the miners, nor the women, are the victims of an emergent new reality. Whether we like it or not, reality is constituted by struggle and we are pan of that struggle. The 'new reality' of the car industry was not something which simply emerged to confront the car workers as victims: the new 'reality' was constituted through struggle, through the struggle of capital against labour and of labour against capital. All workers in the industry were part of that struggle, whether they wanted it or not. In that struggle, the odds were stacked against labour because we live in a society dominated by capital. Struggle in a capitalist society is not an equal struggle, but it is always both inevitable and unpredictable. The car workers, like the miners, were undoubtedly defeated in that struggle, but there is a world of difference between being temporarily defeated in a continuing struggle and being the victims of 'the inescapable lines of tendency and direction established by the real world'.
Struggle implies unpredictability, instability. Patterns of domination are inherently unstable in capitalism. Periodically, it becomes clear that the established pattern of domination is no longer functioning and there is an outbreak of more intense and open struggle to restructure or to break those relations of domination. During such periods, capitalist authority is particularly fragile. That is why the concept of crisis is central to Marxist analysis: in crisis the inherent instability of capitalism, the unreality of 'reality' becomes clear. It is not possible, for example, to understand the changes in the car industry since the mid-1970s without a concept of crisis, yet the proponents of the 'new reality' rarely mention crisis, for they have forgotten how fragile that reality is.
Recovery from crisis means for capital above all the reassert ion of its authority, its right to manage and to rule. It is in this context - in the context of crisis and not because of elections or some autonomous battle of ideas- that there is a turn in capitalist strategies towards more authoritarian ideas, more authoritarian management and a more authoritarian state. The increased authoritarianism does not result from the success of the New Right: on the contrary, the success of the New Right is the result of pressures for more authoritarianism. For capital, the reassertion of its authority is the precondition for everything else.
The mere reassertion of authority does not yet constitute a new stable pattern of domination, however. Certainly, there are clear trends which indicate what a possible long-term pattern of domination may look like: that is the significance of Nissan and the Red Rose. But it would be wrong to see Nissanism as already established reality. For the moment it is merely an (increasingly influential) strategy for establishing a new pattern of domination.
The Nissan strategy is proving very effective, but there are still major obstacles to its success. It is hard to imagine that the happy party guests will go on smiling for ever, when the party is based on their exploitation. And it is not at all clear that the bouncers on the door will be able to suppress indefinitely the frustrations of those who have been thrown out of the party and are constantly being told how nice it is inside.
The Nissan strategy, and the just-in-time approach with which it is associated, aims at the management of an environment which is certain: it aims at replacing management against uncertainty with the management of certainty (Graham, 1986). But the only thing that is certain in this world is death. The only 'inescapable lines of tendency and direction' are the lines that lead to the grave. As long as there is life, it will be impossible to achieve anything other than management against uncertainty. That is why just-in-time is proving so hard to implement on a wide scale. That is also why there is a contradiction at the very heart of automation, of the attempt to subject more and more processes within society to mathematical control - a contradiction expressed in the problems of software production (Pelaez, 1987). And that is why the gleam of Nissan has already been tarnished by widespread reports of discontent among both managers and workers.
To talk of 'new reality' is to talk of certainty, of death. To talk of struggle is to talk of life and of the openness of the future. The working class has certainly been defeated, and the conformist world of Nissan daily declares, through the mouths of Kinnock and co., that more and more types of opposition are illegitimate, irresponsible, immoral. But for capital, the struggle to subjugate and exploit labour is endless. And oppression by capital daily meets resistance from labour. The world of Nissan is suffocating, but occasionally a scream of protest breaks the silence. The miners' scream was long and loud and heartening: it was silenced, but it echoes still - as do the riots, as does Wapping, as do a thousand other daily screams that fill the air with echoes of hope.
The cracks that appeared in capitalist domination in the late 1960s and early 1970s have been plastered over and it is not yet clear how they will reappear: in the inevitable resistance of the Nissan worker, pushed too far, or in the unpredictable explosions of those who have been excluded from the party. One thing is clear: struggle is inseparable from domination. At the centre of capitalist society is a silent but explosive scream:
'Inside our ears are the many wailing
cries of misery,
Inside our bodies, the internal
bleeding of stifled volcanoes.
Inside our heads, the erupting
thoughts of rebellion.
How can there be calm when the
storm is yet to come?'
(Linton Kewsi Johnson, Two Kinds of Silence)
Bassett, P. (1986) Strike Free: New Industrial Relations in Britain, Macmillan, London.
Bonefeld, W. (1987) 'Fordism and the Reformulation of State Theory'.
Unpublished paper. University of Edinburgh. Campbell, B. (1985) 'Politics Old and New', New Statesman, 8 March, pp. 22-25.
Carter, P. (1986) Trade Unions - The New Reality, Communist Party Publications, London.
Central Policy Review Staff (1975) The Future of the British Car Industry, HMSO, London.
Edwardes, M. (1984) Back from the Brink, Pan Books, London.
Graham, I. (1986) 'JIT with Uncertain Demand'. Unpublished paper, Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh.
Hall, S. (1985) 'Realignment for What?', Marxism Today, December, pp. 12-17.
Marsden, D., Morris, T., Willman, P. & Wood, S. (1985) The Car Industry: Labour Relations and Industrial Adjustment, Tavistock, London.
Pelaez, E. (1987) The GOTO Controversy and the Software Crisis, PhD Thesis, University of Edinburgh.
Sayer, A. (1986) 'New Developments in Manufacturing: the Just-in-Time System', Capital & Class 30.
Scarborough. H. (1986) 'The Politics of Technical Change at British Leyland', in 0. Jacobi, B. Jessop, H. Kastendiek & M. Regini (eds). Technological Change, Rationalisation and Industrial Relations, Croom Helm, London.
Television History Workshop (1985) Making Cars, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.
Willman, P. & Winch, G. (1985) Innovation and Control: Labour Relations at BL Cars, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
* The poem by Linton Kwesi Johnson is an extract from 'Two Sides of Silence', from Dread Beat & Blood, Bogle L'Ouvenure Publications, London, 1975.
** The paper is the product of many discussions in Edinburgh - thanks to all who took part.
*** The paper was written before the June 1987 election. The Red Rose has now been set to music, appropriately.
Text from Class against Class. Corrections by libcom.org