Although it may not seem like it from its name, Fordism is the brainchild of Ransom Eli Olds , an American pioneer of the automobile business who designed and marketed the Curved Dash, the first low-cost automobile in history.
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What is Fordism?
If we had to give a definition of Fordism in a few words, we would say that Fordism is a socioeconomic current that takes its form from the pioneering mass production techniques in the world and that continues to this day.
It is named for Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford automobile company. The name was given by the Marxist theorist Mateo Gramsci , who in one of his books, ‘Americanism and Fordism’, studied this way of understanding production and the economy.
Fordism is based on a new industry, in which specialization, division of labor and cost reduction prevail over all. This changed the way of producing any product on the market.
Before, in companies, the workers were in charge of making the product in a “vertical” way: from the beginning to the end, the same worker made a product and controlled the production times (if it took a day to make a door it took a day). Since the appearance and popularization of Fordism, the idea of an assembly line was established in which each worker performed a specific function and passed the most elaborate product to the next.
An example of Fordism
We can see it more easily with an example. Before, to make a door, the same employee (who was a craftsman) had to be in charge of selecting the wood, shaping it, embellishing it and installing it. With Fordism, on the other hand, a worker took the wood, another cut it and passed it on to another who embellished it… until it was finished and another was in charge of installing it.
This is a “horizontal” production, in which each of the workers only has one function , so the production time was accelerated and costs were lowered, which meant that the products could be sold for less money and that more people will buy them. What people?
The many workers who joined assembly lines during the first third of the 20th century.
In the movie Modern Times, by Charles Chaplin, you can see it perfectly. We leave you with this definition of audiovisual Fordism (seen from a humorous and bittersweet perspective)
Fordism and Taylorism
But Fordism had a previous trajectory. It comes from Taylorism, a system promoted by the American Frederick Taylor . In an attempt at primitive Fordism he devised a system for entrepreneurs to control production times.
As in Fordism, Taylorism tried to increase the ability of workers thanks to specialization, controlled (as we said) plant times in the most scientific way possible. However Fordism and Taylorism differ in many other respects. Especially in the consequences of these characteristics.
- While Fordism increased the number of workers, Taylorism decreased the number of workers.
- The same thing happened with salaries: Fordism increased them thanks to performance bonuses and Taylorism reduced them.
- The most important innovations occurred by dividing and improving labor issues in Taylorism and Fordism . In the case of the former, they focused on the tasks of the production process and time control; in the latter, the work and the most productive time of the worker.
The crisis of Fordism
As you can see in Chaplin’s video, Fordism implied a very high wear of the worker . Despite being very practical, the employees who worked in these types of industries and factories ended up getting fed up. Added to this was the arrival of other socioeconomic models: Keynesianism and Toyotism.
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John Keynes was a brilliant British economist whose theories became very popular due to the Crash of 29. Keynes said that liberal economics did not end up solving all market crises and that the action of the ‘invisible hand of the market’ depended on many other factors . That is to say, the industry and the companies were not guarantors of the economic balance and the welfare of the workers.
He proposed a redistribution of the income of those who earned the most through fiscal policies (taxes) so that the workers would see part of what they earned the employer they worked for through services.
But this was not the only theory that participated in the crisis of Fordism.
Fordism and Toyotism
After years of maintaining a production model that drove workers crazy, who felt exploited , Fordism exploded . Nor had Keynesianism solved the problems it had so accurately diagnosed.
To counteract the possible breakdown of the pact between workers, employers and the state, a new work philosophy was popularized in the 1970s and began to function in Japan after World War II. Fordism and Toyotism form a two-sided coin, when one stopped working the other proved to be a more than valid solution.
Toyotism promulgated solutions to the problems posed by Fordismwithout having to depend on state policies such as Keynesianism, something that was not, of course, to the liking of companies and entrepreneurs who have always seen the interference of the State and the Administration in the economy as something negative. The keys of Toyotism are the following:
- More flexibility in working conditions and more rotation between jobs
- Social stimuli through the promotion of teamwork and cross-class identification between boss-subordinate.
- Change the way of understanding the business with a production more adjusted to the real demand . Lower production targets + greater freedom for the employee + elimination of storage costs = More satisfaction for the employee and the same benefit for the employer.
- With the reduction of prices in production, sales prices are also reduced. Thus helping the economy to become more active, putting more money into circulation.
Workers in a Fordist production factory. | Assigned
But, of course, for this system to be carried out, it needs a country or an economic environment with specific characteristics . Namely:
- It is produced if and only if there is demand . There are no excess stocks.
- It works if and only if the “five zeros” are met : zero error, zero breakdowns (of production machines), zero delays, zero paper (minimum bureaucracy reduction) and zero stock (stock does not accumulate).
- Diversify the products we sell . Don’t focus on just one guy. In this it differs from Fordism.
- Workers must be multifunctional to meet the previous point without excess spending.
- Produce what is going to be sold . No more.
- Invest in improvements in the machinery to reach that goal of “zero breakdowns”.
This is all for today, in this review of what Fordism is; going through its origins and its historical references, seeing what led it to bankruptcy and even what models replaced it.
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Coriat, B. (2000). The workshop and the robot: Essays on Fordism and mass production in the electronic age. XXI century.