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What's left of workers' solidarity? Workplace innovation and workers' attitudes toward the firm

The Transformation of Work

ISBN: 978-0-76230-766-1, eISBN: 978-1-84950-097-5

Publication date: 14 March 2001


In recent years firms have pursued efforts at workplace innovation, which often imply a greater degree of decision-making autonomy for production workers. Although much research has emerged on the performance effects of these innovation programs, there has been little empirical research on how workplace innovation may affect the self images of the workers involved - that is, their conceptions of the firm and of their position within it. This article addresses the question of whether and to what extent changes in the workplace have led workers to adopt new attitudes toward their firms, their work, and toward initiatives of workplace restructuring. Growing out of earlier research on German automobile plants, this study presents evidence from interviews, surveys and observation collected from production workers (N = 329) in two German plants where innovative team systems were widely used. The results suggest that where team systems have achieved a fuller and more far reaching transformation of work relations, workers do experience their jobs in a different light. Working conditions seem to improve and opportunities for the exercise of responsibility increase, yet without evidence of increased performance pressures. Equally important, although workers in “transformed” work sites appreciate the new organization of work, they show little tendency to align their interests with those of management. The research, which calls for further explorations along these lines, suggests that in the German case at least, increased worker participation may go hand in hand with worker solidarity and a critical consciousness of the large corporation.


Kuhlmann, M. and Schumann, M. (2001), "What's left of workers' solidarity? Workplace innovation and workers' attitudes toward the firm", Vallas, S. (Ed.) The Transformation of Work (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 10), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 189-214.



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