Management, control, ethnicity and the labour process : the case of the West Midlands' clothing industry
This study explores workplace relations in the small-firm-dominated West Midlands clothing sector. Using a combination of direct observation, survey work and my status as an. 'insider', the thesis examines three major issues. Firstly, the processes involved in the negotiation of order in small firms. Secondly, the role of management in shaping work relations. Thirdly, the extent to which ethnicity is a significant factor in determining shopfloor behaviour. Despite the recent interest in industrial relations in small firms, the debates on management strategy and the various studies on 'ethnic enterprise', these issues have received little attention elsewhere. It is commonly believed that employers in this sector respond to the uncertainties of operating in a volatile market by casualisation and the intensive use of familial labour in the management of the firm. Although widespread, such practices were shown to be not entirely 'rational' and, in certain circumstances, important constraints upon management. The pressures emanating from the market were compounded by uncertainties on the shopfloor. Rather than managerial autocracy, the organisation of the workplace was characterised by informality, unpredictability and struggle. The contested nature of the workplace thus highlighted the contradictory position of management; having to accommodate market pressures on the one hand and the need to negotiate on the shopfloor on the other. Ethnicity further mediated shopfloor relations. The gendered basis of ethnicity, together with its capacity to 'work' to the advantage of minority women as well as migrant men highlighted the multi-faceted nature of the concept. Moreover, the relationship between ethnicity and the labour process is demonstrated. In conclusion, the findings establish the 'relative autonomy' of the labour process, the pattern of control in the West Midland clothing industry and provide concrete empirical support for the conceptualisations of management provided by Hyman (1987) and Edwards (1986).