Fordism is a production system in which workers are organized into large, hierarchical teams that carry out specific tasks. Under this system, the workers are tightly controlled by their supervisors and are required to follow a set schedule.
What is Fordism?
Fordism refers to the system of mass production, consumption, and economic growth characteristic of highly developed economies from the 1940s-1960s. Under this system, mass production, combined with mass consumption, coincided with sustained economic growth and material advancement.
The term Fordism was widely used to describe the way that Ford companies operate. Henry Ford created this system and many different companies have used it over the years. A Fordist system is characterized by the worker being focused on moving products through a factory as quickly and efficiently as possible; the worker is expected to perform a specific task on a particular piece of equipment and then pass it to the next worker until the whole process is completed.
The term became popular when Antonio Gramsci used it in his book “Americanism and Fordism“. According to Gramsci, Fordism meant routine and intensified labor to promote production.
Most times, there is an assembly line that keeps moving, and on it is laid an item for the worker to perform a specific task after which the assembly line moves again to push the next task to the next worker; this keeps moving until the whole process is completed and the main product is produced. This approach led to the mass production of cars and other products. Fordism is still used in some factories today, but it has been replaced by more modern methods such as lean production.
Prior to Fordism, manufacturers produced items one at a time, using skilled labor. This takes so much time and the quality varies because the skills of the workers vary. Henry Ford changed this by introducing the assembly line, which allowed for more items to be produced in less time. The impact of Fordism shifted the economy from craft production to mass production.
Characteristics of Fordism
- Fordism is characterized by the use of large factories for mass production
- It involves standardized production processes
- It leads to mass consumption
- It utilizes division of labor to break down the whole process into smaller tasks
- It furthers the spread of capitalism as a ‘global system’.
How did the policy of Fordism affect workers?
Mass production is the cost-effective way of producing standardized products on a large scale. When Ford first introduced mass production, it led to huge advances in worker productivity. This method allowed car companies to make great competitive gains but had a negative impact on worker conditions.
Mass production typically consists of three steps – materials coming in, machines performing processes, and workers putting together cars without interruption. Automation has been used to take up some of the slack for workers by taking over their tasks and letting them focus on more important parts of the process during periods when cars are not being produced.
However, automation is only one part of a broader solution that would help companies improve manufacturing practices. Workers often resist during times of full employment when work intensifies and expands exponentially. These types of disruptions require management to shift from an organic model involving labor issues down to more scientifically-minded approaches focused on substituting humans with machines to gain efficiency at lower costs.
Fordism theory of management
The theory of Fordism involves breaking down a complex product into its component parts and then assembling them together in a specific way. This method of manufacturing is said to be more efficient than traditional methods and it has been credited with helping to create the automotive industry as we know it.
Fordism advantages and disadvantages
The Fordist system of production is capable of improving unemployment by creating many jobs because it employs many workers, both skilled and unskilled; but with it are some demerits as well. Below are the advantages and disadvantages of Fordism.
Advantages of Fordism
- This system of production made it possible for companies to manufacture products very quickly
- To prevent absenteeism associated with workers becoming bored with the repetition of the same task, workers were paid high wages to increase their motivation and it worked by about 400%.
- The Fordist system allows for large complex tasks to be broken down into smaller tasks before assembling them; making the tasks more efficient and faster.
- The fragmentation of tasks makes it easy to identify any production problem; this increases efficiency because problems can be tackled immediately.
- It requires a large capital investment
- If the wages are not high, workers may become bored of performing repetitive tasks; this leads to absenteeism.
- Even though Fordism fragments large parts of production into smaller efficient tasks, it also created a need for workers and for new skills.
- The interdependence of tasks of the Fordist principle makes it highly vulnerable to breakdown should any of the processes become interrupted.
- It can lead to workers’ fatigue and reduced creativity. It does not give workers time to rest and being focused on one task does not give room to learn new techniques.
Why did Fordism fail?
Many factors contributed to the failure of Fordism. Some of the reasons were the inability of Ford to continue paying high wages for a very long time, this is due to inflation eroding the wage gains and also limiting the market for his cars. Another reason for the failure of Fordism is the growing competition from those who had followed his lead. The competitors adopted the principle of Ford but took it further to produce different models of cars instead of the same model.
Competitors of Ford like General Motors offered different models and there was a growing second-hand market for cars that undercut the model T.
Another major reason why Fordism failed is the resistance of the workers. This resistance was caused by the intensification of labor brought about by Henry Ford in order to match the growing competition while at the same time cutting costs by reducing wages. This did not go well as the workers formed a union to fight for better welfare and introduce collective bargaining with management. They stage a protest and strike until Ford had to give in to their bargains in June 1941.
Examples of Fordism
Fordism is a production system where workers are assigned specific tasks and are then given specific instructions on how to complete those tasks and pass them to the next worker until the whole process is completed.
Today, Fordism is still being used in many industries such as the automotive industries, shoe manufacturing industries, and also in the manufacturing of garments and clothing.
In the clothing or fashion industry, a single worker does not start and finish a whole finished sewn clothe, but one person may simply layout the design on the cloth or fabric, another one cuts the design, then another sews the hand, another does the neck, another fixes the buttons and so on until a dress is made.
Differences between Fordism vs Post Fordism
Fordism was based on the idea that workers should be able to complete a task as quickly as possible in order to meet production deadlines. Post-Fordism (also called Neo Fordism), on the other hand, is a production system that was developed after Fordism. It is based on the idea that workers should be able to take their time completing a task in order to improve their skills and learn new techniques. Neo-Fordism is more decentralized and allows for individual creativity of the employee.
What was an aspect of Fordism?
The Fordist system allowed companies to produce large amounts of products quickly and cheaply. Fordism led to many technological advances, such as the assembly line and the use of automation.