Wage forms and hierarchy in late 19th century French industry
Two opposing views of industrialization are commonly expressed. The first emphasizes capitalism’s coercion of workers into furnishing more effort than they had long been accustomed to when they themselves decided the rhythm and timing of work. In this optic, factory discipline is an essential part of capitalist development. The second point of view notes that the need for factory discipline emerged only slowly during the Nineteenth Century, as increasingly productive technologies rendered the closer coordination of workers essential. Both views agree that largescale production, the division of labour, and the breakdown of tasks into individual standardized operations were essential to the industrial firm of the XIXth century. They also agree that achieving such an organization implied reshaping labour relations within the firm, and the development of a hierarchical structure of decision and control, which was implemented on the shop floor by a new character: the foreman. However, advocates of the first view argue that foremen were a necessary condition of capitalist development, as the generalisation of supervisory tasks in labour relations was a distinctive feature of the organization of new industrial plants. In the second view, foremen only progressively became more important, and were simply a corollary of the development of large firms. To distinguish between these two views it would thus seem important to determine if, and at which pace, firms recruited more foremen over time. Answering these questions is fraught with difficulty, if only because, over time, foremen were not always explicitly identified, either because they may have played a number of different roles in the firm or because their position was not defined as such. These type of questions are usually addressed via case studies and research monographs as the best way of capturing precisely the evolution of hierachical organization over a protracted period of time. Here we will argue, paradoxically, that cross-sectional analysis is perhaps better suited to the systematic observation of the long run evolution of work organization inside firms, insofar as it allows reliable comparisons between a large number of firms with a clear definition of who exactly the foremen were.
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