DP131 | Between Fordism and Flexibility: The Automobile Industry and its Workers - Past, Present and Future

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Since the days of Henry Ford the automobile industry has served as a model of economic expansion and technological progress based on mass production. But from the mid-1970s, sweeping changes in markets and technology have transformed international competitive conditions and spurred automobile manufacturers in every country to experiment with new strategies based on greater product diversity and more flexible methods of production. This paper surveys the behaviour of the industry from its origins to the present in a perspective informed by current developments. It looks first at the emergence, diffusion and modification of the Fordist model in different countries, before going on to examine international variations in trade union structure, bargaining strategy and job control practices. The final section traces the recent transformations in the international automobile industry, considers the extent to which new production and marketing strategies mark a break with Fordism, and draws out the implications for industrial relations and trade union strategy.