PS 491-003/PS711-003 The Politics of the North American Auto Industry

IntroductionSyllabusPaper TopicsResources

I. Introduction

  1. The automobile in American myth and reality
  2. The early history of the automobile
  3. The Five Dollar Day: Fordism, Taylorism, and Americanism
  4. The "labor problem" and the early struggle for unionization
  5. Vanishing alternatives to the auto: where did all the electric trolleys go?


Video: "Crash" (excerpts) — UK onsite class only.

II. The Big Three Automakers in the American Century

  1. The rise of the Big Three: market saturation and Sloanism
  2. The making of a branch plant economy in Canada: the case of the auto industry
  3. The car culture in a hypermobile, individualistic society
  4. The UAW, the Wagner Act, and the NLRA paradigm: the post-war "historic peace" between management and labor
  5. The crystallization of the auto-highway-petroleum(-rubber) complex in the fifties
  6. Modern times: work rationalization and worker alienation--the case of Lordstown
  7. The impact of the automobile on North American habits, folkways, and behavior at mid-century


Film: "Modern Times" — UK onsite class only.

III. The Failure of Success: Fordism in Crisis and Transition

  1. Running on empty: OPEC and the oil shocks of the seventies
  2. Hard times and managerial drift in the American auto industry
  3. Divergent labor responses to economic crisis and corporate challenge: the UAW vs. its Canadian wing
  4. The challenge of the compacts: the auto industry and the rising sun of Japan
  5. Complacency in the management ranks: Chrysler's bailout, GM's rude awakening, and Ford's recovery
  6. The failure of state policy: protectionist threats, voluntary quotas, and the rise of the transplants
  7. The UAW under siege: from adversarial unionism to labor-management cooperation


Film: "Roger & Me" — UK onsite class only.

IV. The "Post-Fordist" Challenge of Japan and Japanese Production Methods

  1. From Fordist mass production to post-Fordist lean production?
  2. The components of flexible or "lean" production: economies of scope, team concept, continuous improvement, just-in-time delivery, multiskilled workers, and integrated assembly and parts production
  3. Post-Fordism, neo-Fordism, hyper-Fordism, crypto-Fordism?
  4. The Japanese production system: lean or mean production?
  5. The Japanese keiretsu structure Americanized


Videotape: Frontline Special — UK onsite class only.

V. Japanese Automobile Investment as an Economic Development Strategy in the U.S. and Canada

  1. Sub-national governments as last entrepreneurs: incentive packages and the rise of the entrepreneurial state
  2. Patterns of auto industrial recruitment in the U.S. and Canada
  3. Forms of public opposition to Japanese auto recruitment: the case of Georgetown/Toyota
  4. Learning from Japan: GM's Poletown and Saturn projects


Film: "Poletown Lives" — UK onsite class only.

VI. Between Fordism and Post-Fordism: Comparative Auto Union Responses to the "Post-Fordism"

  1. The American model of conflict and accommodation
  2. The Canadian model of conflict and struggle
  3. The West German model of democratic corporatism
  4. The Japanese model of enterprise unions and managerial hegemony


VII. East Asian Transplants, Organized Labor, and the Future of the North American Auto Industry

  1. Japanese production methods and auto assembly plants transplanted: the U.S., Canadian, (and British) experiences
  2. Comparative perspectives on unionized vs. nonunionized transplants in the U.S. and Canada
  3. Worker training in theory and practice: UAW vs. CAW


VIII. The Future of the Automobile, the Future of the American Auto Industry

  1. Ecological cost accounting: alternatives to the automobile?
  2. The automobile culture from the Model T to the hypercar: cultural, social, and other rigidities impeding transportation alternatives
  3. The auto industry, union labor, and the North American Free Trade Agreement: the prospects for a solidarity strategy for North American labor
  4. Alternative scenarios for the future the North American auto industry and union labor