|Bob Russell. More with Less: Work Reorganization in the Canadian Mining Industry. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999, 251 pp. $21.95 paper.
With the decline of Fordist production in the past 20 years, corporations have turned to more flexible production techniques in an attempt to increase productivity. Team management, lean production, flexible specialization and continuous improvement are just some of the terms often used to describe new management techniques associated with post-Fordist regimes. A great deal of academic research has dealt with the impact and effectiveness of these techniques in the auto industry, but despite an obvious prevalence of variants of these management initiatives in other industries, there are few systematic studies providing good evidence of their impact. Bob Russells More with Less is unique in that it is a meticulous account of the impact of continuous improvement initiatives on the labour process in the Canadian mining industry. More with Less is also important in that it provides valuable insight into how workers feel about these new types of work organization.
The book is a comparative case study of five Saskatchewan mining operations four potash and one uranium each at various stages of post-Fordist production. It is an impressive empirical study, relying on multiple methods to answer its questions: union and company documents, observations of plant operations, open-ended and closed-ended labour force surveys and interviews with management. The various sources of data, and Russells attention to detail, give the reader an extraordinary understanding of social relations at these workplaces.
Russell starts by accepting the argument that real changes in the production process have taken place. His goal is to assess the extent of impact these changes have had on workers. Russell evaluates both post-Fordist and post-Industrial arguments, but concentrates mostly on the post-Fordist debate. Proponents argue that post-Fordist management initiatives are a win-win situation for workers and management, since they are more cooperative and provide workers with a greater sense of empowerment and fulfilment, while at the same time achieving increased levels of productivity and efficiency. On the other hand, critics argue that higher productivity levels are achieved only by increasing work intensity.
The book is divided into seven chapters. The first chapter provides a good justification for using the mining industry to study the impact of post-Fordist techniques, and gives a brief general introduction to the arguments of post-Fordism and post-industrialism, locating the study in the context of labour process theory. Chapter two provides the necessary background to understand the mining industry, placing the firms under study in context of the larger industry. Chapters three and four lay out, in a clear and precise fashion, the character of production in each of the firms. Chapter five starts with a good overview of labour process theory and the de-skilling argument. The chapter ends with empirical evidence from the case studies regarding workers perceptions of their job skills. Chapter six explores production politics at the mines, and the final chapter reflects on the research, placing it in the larger context of labour relations.
More with Less provides yet more evidence to the growing body of scientific research that shows that post-Fordism is not about empowering workers with greater skills and fulfilling work, but merely about increasing the intensity of work to achieve greater productivity. Like others, Russell argues that multitasking and leaner workforces, not multi-skilling and empowerment, are the driving forces behind work reorganization. He states, Accomplishing more with less places new demands upon workers, but this does not add up to the creation of new cadres of analytical problem solvers (p 161).
Russell also argues that these new management initiatives have not resolved the union-management problems characteristic of Fordist production. He found that post-Fordist management experiments led to conflict and distrust of management, not to harmony in the workplace, prompting local unions to formulate sharper responses to new managerial initiatives at two of the plants these responses led to strikes. Still, the inevitable downsizing associated with work intensification has led to greater job insecurity, making workers more vulnerable, and in effect weakening local unions. The author argues that local unions are no match for multinational corporations, and that more cooperation among unions is needed in order to fight these initiatives.
My small criticisms of the book are methodological. Chapter one provides some information about the methods employed for the study, but it is not detailed enough, leading to some confusion. For example, the logit analysis of the factors related to skill increase in chapter five uses workers report of skill change as the dependent variable, concluding that Working in continuous process mills is equated with higher skill demands by the workers (p. 161). While the method employed seemingly describes how workers feel about changes to their jobs and what factors are apparently related to these feelings, it tells us little about how workers define skill. Im not convinced that workers have a common definition it is possible that many workers perceived extra training and performing more tasks as meaning higher skills, which is not necessarily true. This is not a problem if skill was clearly defined to the respondents, but there is no mention of this in the book. Still this shortcoming is small, and elsewhere the study is well documented and appears to be more than competently done.
In short, More with Less is an outstanding study that shows that the same ills of work reorganization in the auto industry are found in the mining industry. It contributes to the growing scientific evidence that post-Fordism does not provide workers with more satisfying workplaces characterised by jobs requiring higher skills. As the title suggests, the only goal of post-Fordist management initiatives is to achieve higher productivity levels with fewer workers. In the end, there is little benefit for workers.