Hidden forms of resistance among Turkish workers: hegemonic incorporation or building blocks for working class struggle? *.

Author:Yucesan-Ozdemir, Gamze


This paper aims to go beyond the limits of the recent debate on the changing nature of the capitalist labour process. This has been developed in the context of increasing empirical evidence on managerial practices in industrialised countries.The enduring debate is characterised by a lack of theoretical concern for change, its subjects (i.e. workers) and a disregard for the experiences of newly industrialising countries.The prevailing themes of the debate are to be seen less as deliberate choices than an effect of the dominant ideological and political climate of the capitalist world order. Hence, this study aims to bring back to the debate an unfashionable class, industrial workers, in an unfashionable part of the world, a newly industrialising country through the unfashionable analysis of labour process theory.

First, given that the particular forms of labour process bear the imprint of the social formations in which they develop, this paper aims to draw the Turkish experience, with its distinct labour market dynamics, regulatory context and tradition of social relations, into the discussion. Second, in opposition to the recent dominant tendency in workplace analysis which removes workers from the academic gaze leading to the loss of the distinction between the intent and outcome of managerial strategies and practices, the central conviction behind this paper is to explore the emergent pattern of control. I do this by locating worker action within the development of a particular managerial regime. Thus, this paper aims to inscribe Turkish workers' perceptions, attitudes and experiences in the construction and reproduction of the so-called 'total quality management' and 'lean management' as recounted by themselves. Third, this paper aims to conceptualise the form and content of changes in the contemporary Turkish workplace The literature on the changes in the capitalist labour process, in general, exists in the form of journalistic enquiries of plant-level studies. These studies do tell us about what is happening hut they certainly miss why it is happening. Recently labour process theory, which seeks to retrieve and update the Marxist critiques of the capitalist labour process and encourages studies of the workplace to be located in the context of the political economy of class relations, has received severe critical reviews concerning its validity. Having said this, it is ironic that the concepts of labour process analysis, notably 'managerial control', and 'deskilling' are the central issues of the debates on work, even for some who refute it, I maintain that as against merely descriptive plant studies, labour process theory generates a critical understanding of the world of work and of the submerged issues of management, control and the politics of work.

The new management techniques, under the various epithets of 'the Japanese model of production', 'lean production' or 'total quality management' have a powerful influence on work and on workers' role in production. On the one hand, the managerial approaches celebrate the emerging capital and labour relations in the capitalist workplace and give particular emphasis to 'the empowerment of the worker', to 'the democracy at the workplace' and to 'the respect and trust shown to workers by management' (see for example Womack et al., 1990; Kenney and Florida, 1993; Kaplinsky, 1994; Adler et al., 1997). The 'new orthodoxy' does not, however, provide tiara from the shop floor to support their claims. As Babson notes on the work of the most influential representatives of the model, 'significantly, Kenney and Florida cite no matching chorus of workers to verify these management claims about an empowered workforce' (1995:14). Some labour process critics, based on a totally different theoretical and analytical position, underline the role of ideological practices in the new management techniques, such as team working in which workers' consent is secured (Delbridge et al., 1992). These labour process critics, as Danford (1997) notes, contribute to a framework of consensus, mediated not through 'empowerment' as mentioned by managerialists but through 'ideological disempowerment'.

On the other hand, some critical studies, which have made valuable contributions to the debate with evidence from the shop floor, including the voice of workers, remain sceptical of the managerial claims and note that the management rhetoric and shop floor realities are often unrelated (see for example Graham, 1995; Fucini and Fucini, 1990; Milkman, 1991; Babson, 1995). These studies, particularly based on the experiences of the Japanese transplants in the industrialised countries note an intensification of discipline and surveillance, controlling not only technical aspects of work but also social relations in the workplace. A theoretical approach to the emerging control regime described in these studies, comes from the so-called 'Critical Management Studies', more specifically from a Foucauldian perspective. (1) The 'surveillance', likened to Bentham's classic Panopticon, is deepened by instilling discipline and thereby enhancing central control (Sewell and Wilkinson, 1992). The Foucauldian perspective to the labour process analysis overstates the effectiveness of control and surveillance of workers' activities, leaving no space for the resistance of workers (Martinez Lucio and Stewart, 1997; Thompson and Ackroyd, 1995).

Hence, on the one hand, mainstream writings promote the idea that workers identify with the firm and give consent to the social relations of production. On the other hand, the Foucauldian perspective overstates the extent and effectiveness of new management practice, while marginalising the potential for open rebellion or protest (Ackroyd and Thompson, 1999). A view of politics focused either on what may be command performances of consent or, the open, declared forms of resistance, represents a far too narrow concept of political life. My purpose is to examine how we might more successfully understand the shop floor politics of workers. Based on the Turkish workers' politics in an auto factory, this paper highlights the extent to which management-labour conflict and struggle remain inherent in the factory. By examining shop floor politics, this paper argues that workers have found a way other than the open, declared forms of resistance or consent (Durand and Stewart, 1998). The Turkish workers give way to the structure of control though they are not passive agents. They insinuate a critique of managerial strategies and the control regime itself through their cleaver, creative, manipulative tactics and strategies of passive resistance. Thus, the hidden forms of resistance among Turkish workers oppose managerial discourses and the managerial regime from its point of weakness. The Zurkish auto workers do not declare an open warfare against management since it would result in an unavoidable defeat within the economic and political conditions of the current period but resist by remaining within the dominant order, making do with what ever forms of opposition are available. Compared to the declared forms of resistance, which cause problems for the reproduction of the control regime and production process, the hidden forms of resistance might seem neither independent nor in opposition to management, representing little more than hegemonic incorporation. This study argues that the hidden forms of resistance among the Turkish workers underline the complexity of the shop floor politics and form the building blocks for working class struggle.

In this paper, firstly I will discuss my research experience. Then, I will explore not only the limits but also the origins and sources of workers' roles in the factory regime and the ways in which consent, resistance or compliance, are manufactured by drawing on workers' general perceptions and evaluations.

Researching workers:

Participant observation and power relations

In this paper, I will draw on my ethnographic research in an auto factory. I worked as a trainee-worker (2) on the dally shift (8.00-18.00) for a month (November 1995) in Toyotasa in Turkey. On the shop floor, I worked fifteen days in the welding shop and fifteen days in the assembly shop.

Toyotasa, a joint venture partnership of Toyota, a Japanese trading company and a Turkish company, began production in 1994 in a closed plant of 70,000 square metres, containing stamping, welding, paint and assembly shops with an annual production capacity of 100,000 automobiles. In November 1995, the company was producing 100 cars a day, for the internal market only. Before production started, all the engineers and technicians visited Toyota plants in Japan for a period of three months to two years. During the phases of establishment and preparation for production, the Japanese managerial and technical staff were in the plant. By the time of the research, almost all of the Japanese staff had left the plant and production was being managed, following the established principles, by the Turkish managers. The company aimed for a total transfer of the production and management model of its Japanese partner Toyota, which is known worldwide as the Japanese model. Toyotasa in Turkey has a highly integrated mode of production; the smoother the production process, the smaller the buffer, the smaller the buffer, the more important the quality 'built in'. The nature of work design and the role of workers in production are all designed according to the priorities given to internal just-in-time, quality control on the shop-floor, total preventive maintenance and continuous improvement.

The company strategically decided to build a new greenfield site and to employ a young and skilled labour force. In November 1995, the company employed 425 blue collar workers.The workforce was very young with an average age of 22. Ninety eight per cent of them were technical high school graduates...

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