The Distinctions between Fordism and Post-Fordism, And the Social Distinctions of Each

Mohamed Hagi Mohamoud a Political Scientist and a Social Researcher, and an author of Academic Articles in East Africa. Department of Political Science. The University of Warwick

By Mohamed Hagi Mohamoud

Fordism and Post-Fordism is notion of contemporaneous economic and social system. The idea of Fordism initiated by Henry Ford, who was an American industrialist and the forefather of the Ford Motor Company, he also sponsored the improvement of the assembly line system of mass production (Wigfield 2001). This system of mass production, mostly refers the method of producing goods in a large quantity at a low cost per unit. Although, mass production allows lower prices, that does not have to mean low quality products. On the other hand, Post-Fordism can be applied in a wider context of this modern economic and social system in order to describe the world as it is today.

In other words, Post-Fordism is concept that current economies are based on service industries, information technologies, and other products designed and intended for specific needs, rather than for mass production or producing large numbers of the same product (Cambridge Dictionary 2012, p. 123). Therefore, this academic article will cover the distinctions between Fordism and Post-Fordism by defining and focusing on the characteristics of Fordism and Post-Fordism, together with the social implication of each.

    Mohamed Hagi Mohamoud a Political Scientist and a Social Researcher, and an author of Academic Articles in East Africa. Department of Political Science. The University of Warwick
Mohamed Hagi Mohamoud a Political Scientist and a Social Researcher, and an author of Academic Articles in East Africa. Department of Political Science. The University of Warwick

People mostly seem to misunderstand between the two concepts, or they frequently confuse the similarities between them in so many ways. However, this academic article seeks to address meticulous definitions before providing comparisons and distinctions between the two systems. The academic article will also refer two case studies about the social implications and the discrepancies of these economic concepts. Fordism is a manufacturing philosophy based on social economy. The aim is to achieve and complete higher productivity by standardising and homogenising the output, using conveyer assembly lines (Tolliday et al, 1992).

The system breaks the work into small deskilled tasks. In other words, Taylorism, on which Fordism is based on mostly focus and seeks machine and worker efficiency. However, Fordism combined them as one single unit. In addition, it gives an emphasis to minimise the costs instead of maximising or the best use of the profit (Wigfield 2001). There are four core characteristics, which can be used when defining Fordism. The first principle is how the product and their components were standardised.

To clarify this, it means that the product and its components were not only standardized, but it means that the task and the manual labour (the worker) could also be standardized. The second principle was if the tasks were the same there was no need to do it by hand, they could be mechanized. The third principle was the scientific management, which is to break down manufacturing processes into simple doable tasks. This principle facilitated the work so that the unskilled workers were provided in these mechanical training to perform their tasks more easily for the purpose of mass production strategy (Tolliday et al, 1992).

The fourth principle was, instead the need for machinery to be the centre of the factory so that the workers move to and from the product, assembly line were used. This means the product will move and flowed past, whilst workers remained stationary (Murray 1989). To analyse this, the purpose of these four principles was to benefit mass production techniques and intensive deskilling of workers. For the reason that, Fordism recognised and respected workers as a potential market for the product, because, at the same time workers were consumers of their labour products. As Robin Murray stated ‘’this system of Fordism always based on cost reduction and the maximisation of its consumption patterns’’ (Murray 1989).

The Fordism period signified a time of economic wealth and success. It represented mass production and growth of high employment (Macdonald 1991). This era is remembered as an extremely industrious and productive period regarded as a model of work by Henry Ford in his automobile assembly line, which dominated in the post-war era. Despite the fact, that this sort of work resulted in the deskilling of the labour force, it was nonetheless much-admired for the contribution to the American prosperity (Maller and Dwolatsky 1993).

However, at the end of the post-world war II, a decline in Fordist organisation began. The reasons of why Fordism as a method failed were mainly two different causes. Firstly, the devoid of the sustainability of new rates of production needed for the global competitiveness (Coffey and Thornky 2010). This ‘’rate of production’’ refers that strong industrial unions of the Fordist era lost ground as manufacturing work declined and secondly the white collar service work expanded (Panitch and Swartz 2003).  Whilst, ‘’white collar service work expanded’’ refers in this case study below.

As the fourth principle of Fordism described, where assembly lines were used in order to avoid having machinery at the centre of the factory so that workers remained stationary and immobile, for this matter the industrial organisation of production failed. Because workers did not move during their entire shift, they were all immobile. Their tasks involved to stand next to the production line, the work was repetitive and nothing was changed during the entire working hours. This resulted in a strong division between mental and manual labour (Murray 1989).

Workers bored and disliked and lost the interest as there was no creativity and challenge in any of their shift hours. There was no motivation of work promotion to a higher hierarchy or going up to the ladder. In addition, there were supervisors and managers that always in control the speed of the production line as well as high levels of concentration to achieve the production target of any particular shift.

On the other hand, the only advantage was that workers were getting paid a family wage, which was sufficient to support their household such as paying rent, and other utility bills. But the disadvantages were much higher than the few advantages mentioned above. One of the prime challenges with Fordism was, the lack of equilibrium of demand and supply, because it was always difficult to forecast the demand and the supply needed by the marketplace. If too little was produced or the supply is more than the demand, the company lost its share of the market.

On the other hand, if too much manufactured goods were produced when related to the quantity demanded, goods and stocks had to be stored with high costs or sold at with big discount, which led the company to lost profit. There were also other firms or rivals, trying to expand their market share and competing against one another. In that case, demand became unstable. Consequently, companies tried to diminish workers to lower productivity, this strategy lowered profit and investment as well (Coffey and Thornky 2010).  These resulted the Fordism system to start breaking up in the late 1960s.

Post-Fordism model replaced the Fordism model in 1970. Because Post-Fordism characterised by the use of service industry and the new technology, for the reason that the globalised financial market, international transport and world trade system of communication are the production model, which closely associated the political and socioeconomic system in most industrialised and the developing countries. In this model, the production is made-to-order or tailored the needs of the customers and the market demand.

This is just the economic theory of supply and demand where the needs of the customers should be covered by firms and the market supply. As T. J. Watson explained businesses no longer need to capitalise or invest so much of their cash, ‘’ a pattern of industrial organisation in which skilled and trusted labour is used continuously to develop and customise products for small markets.” (Watson, 1995). This ‘’Customise products’’ refers that products changed dramatically, it was the end of homogenous markets, and new designs became very important for business.

The concept of Post-Fordism is to produce what the customers or consumers want and how and what design they want it. In other words, the balance of quantity and the demand in the market is a crucial factor when it comes to Post-Fordism. This is a demand is pull system, which allows that businesses produce only what the market requires and in the accurate amount and the needed time. Post-Fordism also allows workers to be re-skilled, this will vanish the hierarchy between employees to be flattened (Coffey and Thornky 2010).

Whilst, production normally depends on the groups of manual workers, who are working in pairs or often works in teams. As J. Womack stated there are always decentralisation of senior staffs or managerial systems ‘’it helps line supervisors and managers and even the individual employees to make their own decision and not wait for decision to come from above.

Decentralise to decision making allows the labour force to have more space to make their own decision concerning their work’’ (Womack 2003, p. 45). This ‘’decentralize decision making’’ refers that Work is more self-regulated, there are no managers behind the backs of the workers, they are independent and more control over the work. Therefore, Post-Fordism will help businesses to find the creative manual workers, which is very important and advantageous for the firms. Because, when workers being given space and time to innovate and think, it will create competitive advantage, so that businesses will benefit from their labour. Because they were given the decisions over their work.

The social implication of Post-Fordism is that the markets became very mature, although growth has fallen. Capital and financial flows move freely around the globe, these capital flows and technological environment effected the employment models of the world, because the labour market is fragmented. In the Fordism era the economic system was based centralised type of labour relations. There were rules and regulations in the labour market, where collective agreements signed between the employers and the workers.

This model of Post-Fordism is totally different, full time workers became less numerous. Because, they can easily be replaced into new types of workers such as, seasonal workers, part-time and fixed-term workers, who fill the gaps of a temporary basis. The so-called working poor is another factor of Post-Fordism era of employment, where agencies hire workers from the market and send them to companies with a flexible contract basis. Workers cannot negotiate with their main employer or the company, because there is no signed contract between the workers and the companies.

In conclusion, the distinctions between Fordism and Post-Fordism is somehow related to Modernity and Post-Modernity eras, where the stages of economic, political and social life changes in different phases. Fordism and Post-Fordism differ in many ways, the difference starts from their sophistication and presence (Wigfield 2001). Fordism mostly dominated by mass production and mass consumption, strong de-skilled labour and the boring and repetitive humble tasks, which needed always from labours to concentrate and focus.

Whilst manual labourers have little or no control over their jobs or whatever they were performing. In Post-Fordism the situation was completely dissimilar, where the very same workers were fortified and encouraged to be creative and help and interact each other, team-work and be controlled over whatever they were performing. Fordist production had control over the market, whereas post-Fordism advanced to answer to altering market conditions. Flexible production, intensely reduced the demand for unskilled labour.

Post-Fordism needs manual workers to be proficient and literate and quite often to have accomplished higher education, (Bonefeld W, Holloway J, 1993). For that reason, it appears that for society as a whole, the Post-Fordist organisation of work is a much better option in all senses- customers get the products and goods they require, the standard and abilities and skills of labour are much higher, and workplace conditions are better.

Whereby, social implications of Post-Fordism had a major effect on family life. It creates projects rather than jobs and there is always a lack of stability in the job market. As Sennett explained “For older workers, the prejudices against age send a powerful message: as a person’s experience accumulates, it loses value.” (Sennett, 1998). This refers that technology and knowledge improves so that even graduate students need improvements and training when find new jobs from the market, which seems complications of finding work.


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