Strategies of governance of the labor force in the Fiat-Chrysler: some problematic aspects
Source:Gerpisa colloquium 2012, Paris (2012)
Keywords:Fiat-Chrysler, labor force, trade unions, WCM
The current strategies of development and governance of Fiat Auto after the acquisition of Chrysler and its competitive positioning from Europe to North America have been the focus of a wide range of qualified research that have raised some problematic issues on several fronts, internal and external to the company. On the internal front, it is noted the high risk associated with an innovation strategy that is finalized to maximize profits through the cost containment (on the one hand, by integrating and strengthening the product range and on the other hand, by the using standardized platforms and the cloning the models in different markets). There is also uncertainty about the possible consequences of a shift of the core business from Europe to the United States on the technological know-how, which is historically rooted in the territories where the manufacturing process takes places. On the external front, the main questions concern the condition of uncertainty stemming from the lack of an industrial policy in Europe, in order to face the constraints posed by the increased global competition in the product market, and the overcapacity of the automotive sector. Besides, the new course of industrial relations, marked by the company’s quest for efficiency, accountability and shared objectives, according to the U.S. model, opens up new directions that tend to subvert the negotiating framework and regulatory system, developed for over a century in the home country. This presentation will highlight a third problematic front that concerns the impact of new competitive strategies on the value of the workforce in a looming crisis that exacerbates the disruptive forces of competition on workers and their organizations. During the acute phase of the crisis, the automotive sector in the U.S. has experienced the loss of 200 000 jobs and wage cuts of between $7 000 and $ 30 000 annually. In Italy, however, the job losses has been until now minimized ad the reduction of wages has been operated through the use of the redundancy fund (Cassa Integrazione Guadagni-CIG), which means that for a fixed number of days in a year workers do not come to work and are not paid in full. The condition of labor is a significant issue not only from a sociological point of view but also from the economic one, since the involvement of staff in achieving the result becomes a crucial factor in the philosophy of World Class Manufacturing (WCM) which is based on continuous improvement and problem-solving processes in both machining and assembly. The implementation of the WCM philosophy in Fiat Auto Production System (FAPS) is associated with the Ergo-UAS system, an ergonomic productive methodology that structures the work cycle and workers’ movements exclusively to the goal of maximizing productivity and reducing “rest factors”, and with a managerial structure and organization that aims to directly involve the union in the governance of the factory. The dimension of labor and the union condition raises matters about the exercise of hegemony and of dissent, the rationale of representation and its effectiveness, the role of public-private management of welfare and social safety nets. From the attempts to resolve the crisis of public finance in Europe, a double tendency seems to emerge: on the one hand, there is a narrowing of the rights of citizens-workers (right to health, social security, right to unionize). On the other hand, increased productivity and flexibility is required (in terms of wages, of jobs, of working times). This condition may not only make it difficult to identify those employees with big company, which is built on an archipelago of factories scattered in space, but also to question the ability of unions to ensure the governability of the plants and freezing of the conflict. This is demonstrated by the difficulty of the U.S. union to approve the recent contract to Chrysler employees and the deep split between the Italian trade unions called upon to manage the referenda on wage and working conditions that were imposed by Fiat.