Workers, unions and the 'politics of modernisation' : labour process change in the Brazilian white goods industry
The thesis addresses the implications of new management and production techniques for workers and unions within a developing country. The specific focus is the white goods industry in Brazil during a period of political and economic transition from 1985 to 1994. In addition to analysing industrial modernisation by four firms, the study uses worker interviews and a review of the unions' identities to provide a comprehensive image of the 'politics of modernisation' in Brazil. The thesis draws on critical work which suggests that modernisation may not have the optimistic effects on labour processes and industrial behaviour that some authors have suggested. Factory regimes are also felt to be strongly related to their particular context. However, the thesis attempts to deepen the degree to which foreign capital and traditional norms of industrial behaviour are considered. Forms of power and resistance are also made more explicit. The study's analysis of the modernisation process suggests that managerial intent must be questioned. Even the most comprehensive examples of modernisation suggest that labour control still drives change. Yet a somewhat 'softer' implicit bargain has replaced the wage-effort contract in such firms. Interview material confirms this mixed picture. Modernisation and related policies have allowed the most advanced firms to foster a more company focussed labour force - one which has embraced new tasks and responsibilities. However, other indicators such as wages and attitudinal factors caution that this situation is neither benign nor immutable. Despite a less normative industrial relations framework, the harsh political and representational situation facing Brazilian unions has simply been further complicated by 'modernisation'. Yet, while workers have become more positive about their employers, to call this change 'employer allegiance' would be an exaggeration. Conflict, albeit of a different nature, still underpins industrial relationships.