Printer Friendly

The German Worker: Working Class Autobiographies from the Age of Industrialization.

Perceptions of reality

The Social Foundations of Industrial Power: A Comparison of France and Germany.

By Marc Maurice, Francois Sellier, and Jean-Jacques Silvestre.

The German Worker: Working Class Autobiographies from the Age of Industrialization.

By Alfred Kelly. In the early 1970's, a group of scholars at the Laboratory of Economics and Sociology of Work, University of Aix-en-Provence, France, set up a monumental field research project comparing work organization, wage structure, and labor in French and German firms. The main results were published in French in 1982 and are now available in English. As the Introduction indicates, the aim was to identify difference in the work structure of the two countries and ascertain how work relations were structured in relation to the domains of education, business organization, and industrial relations. The authors attempt to link macrosociological and microsocial (firm level) phenomena.

The team found substantial structural differences between the French and German firms. Their research covered pay scales, skill development, job mobility, authority structure, labor-management cooperation, and the resolution of conflict. Many interesting differences emerged. Thus, say the authors, German education encourages close attention to technical training, so that skill is an important criterion both for promotions and wage determination. French education encourages on-the-job training. French work organization appears more bureaucratic and less performance-oriented than in German firms. French employers have a freer hand in defining jobs. Wages are found to be more closely linked to productivity in Germany. There is a higher proportion of blue-collar workers in German firms, regardless of the technology involved. Wage differentials between white- and blue-collar workers are higher in France. The roles of supervisors vary considerably between the two countries. Time study is more readily accepted by German workers. French trade unions are likely to act on the assumption that management will not make concessions without a strike. German works councils head off strikes. German employers recognize the legitimacy of union values and also accept the authority of industry associations and business groups more than the French.

The authors conclude that their work gives no support to the convergence hypothesis. Rather, national specificities in work relations exist and are maintained, influenced by educational, training, and promotion systems.

Differences between workplace characteristics in the two countries are indeed interesting. There is a rich variety of detail and the theoretical reasoning is accomplished in a professional manner. Nevertheless, the book is likely to appeal to a rather limited readership of specialists in industrial relations theory and the sociology of work. It is too academic to attract many managers, trade unionists, or government officials; even advanced students are likely to find it heavy going. But it certainly makes a useful contribution to our understanding of work organization and relations in the workplace.

The postwar success of the German economy owes much to the solidly crafted German industrial relations system and to the attitudes that managers, workers, and officials of trade unions and employers' associations bring to it. The significance of attitudes is one of the under-studied aspects of industrial relations and (although other surveys do exist) of comparative industrial relations. And, over time, relatively little attention has been given to shifts in attitudes.

In his very readable book, Alfred Kelly has given us something of a benchmark from the past to enhance our knowledge of German workers. His approach has been to draw on the autobiographies of 19 workers from different occupations and parts of Germany and some neighboring countries. Obviously, such an approach has drawbacks. The few workers who committed their stories to paper were scarcely typical; their writings rarely satisfied academic niceties and were often written years following the events they described. Their writing styles were rarely elegant. A good proportion became active in what was often a risky business for a worker of the time, trade unions or Social Democratic politics. But the abstracts read with much of the freshness and honesty of the interviews in Studs Terkel's Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (New York, Pantheon Books, 1974).

The vicissitudes of the worker's life appear very clearly in the abstracts--the demanding employer; the long hours; miserable working conditions; the low level of social protection (even though Germany was a forerunner in this respect); and the commonly harsh attitude of the authorities not only toward trade unionism but also to any form of worker "misbehavior." Harsh authority and poor conditions, although common, were not of course the fate of all workers in Germany or elsewhere. There were many who had steady work and--for the time--satisfactory living standards. Wages and working conditions improved fairly steadily over the period covered by these accounts, as did the extent of social protection. But hardship existed, as the abstracts demonstrate, and one is struck by the fortitude with which these workers bore misfortune and by their unfailing positive attitude toward work.
COPYRIGHT 1989 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Clarke, Oliver
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1989
Words:812
Previous Article:The Social Foundations of Industrial Power: A Comparison of France and Germany.
Next Article:Collective bargaining in 1989: old problems, new issues.
Topics:


Related Articles
The Social Foundations of Industrial Power: A Comparison of France and Germany.
The Battle for Homestead: 1880-1892, Politics, Culture and Steel.
The River Ran Red: Homestead 1892.
Textured Lives: Women, Art, and Representation in Modern Mexico.
The Spirit of 1848: German Immigrants, Labor Conflict, and the Coming of the Civil War.
A Millennium of Family Change: Feudalism to Capitalism in Northwestern Europe.
Aspirations and Anxieties: New England Workers and the Mechanized Factory System, 1815-1850.
Taking the Hard Road: Life Course in French and German Workers' Autobiographies in the Era of Industrialization.
Women, Writing, and the Industrial Revolution.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters