Employer 'Dependence' and Worker 'Allegiance' within the Factory of the Future: Evidence From Brazil
Abstract: Some commentators have suggested that employers who modernise their factory operations will become dependent on the skills and attitudes of their employees. Others go beyond this and suggest that workers in modernised firms will be persuaded to go 'beyond contract' due to the emergence of a strong and direct form of attachment to their employer. Moreover, with 'us and them' attitudes removed, it is uncertain what effect this may have on workers' attitudes to the union. This paper puts these debates about factory modernisation and workers' attitudes to the employer and the union to the test using detailed data from the Brazilian white goods industry during the 1990s. The research suggests the following in respect to this 'axis of allegiance'. First, workers can be persuaded to think in terms of an effort bargain which includes issues beyond just remuneration. Many employees are also taking a more inward-looking, 'employer positive' approach. However, their degree of attachment to the modernised firm is both limited and contingent on future, expected benefits. Secondly, in terms of the worker-union relation, the cynicism of Brazilian workers to unions may have been heightened by the policies of the modernising firm. While part of this result may be due to the modernising firms' selection policies, the union's 'electorate' may also have shifted its priorities. Despite this, many workers would still like unions to have an active and independent role. Yet this is dependent on union policies being directed towards the promotion of worker's key (and often new) workplace concerns. Finally, while these results are influenced by the Brazilian context they do raise questions about the attitudinal and behavioural underpinnings of modernisation in any environment. As long as employers act to minimise the risk to which they may become more dependent on workers, employee behaviour will, at best, only appear to indicate that they have more allegiance to the employer. Moreover, workers' concerns about workplace modernisation policies suggest that unions may not necessarily become more ineffectual and irrelevant.