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Farewell to the Factory Auto Workers in the Late Twentieth Century

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This book exposes the human side of the decline of the U.S. auto industry, tracing the experiences of two key groups of General Motors workers: those who took a cash buyout and left the factory, and those who remained there and experienced the effects of new technology and organizational changes in the workplace. The book is based on extensive semi-structured interviews as well as surveys of workers from the Linden, New Jersey GM assembly plant. These materials reveal workers' profound hatred for the factory regime--a longstanding discontent made worse by the decline of the United Auto Workers' (UAW) union in the 1980s. The study includes a historical perspective on the changes in the U.S. auto industry as a whole as well as on the GM-Linden plant in particular. It shows that, contrary to the assumption in much of the literature on deindustrialization, the Linden buyout-takers express no nostalgia for their factory jobs. While some of these workers, most of whom have at most a high school education, lament the loss of high pay, good benefits, and union protection, they were eager to leave the plant's authoritarian, prison-like conditions, and overall, few had any regrets about their decision to take the buyout five years later. The exceptions--those who do express regrets--are disproportionately African American, for the labor market opportunities for this group of workers proved far more limited than for their white and immigrant counterparts. As for those workers who stayed at GM-Linden, and confronted robotics and other new technologies as well as the promise of a more participatory industrial relations system, deep discontent with the workplace remained a feature of their daily lives. For them, management's failure to implement many of the changes it promised--particularly in terms of a more open, participatory regime--and the general reversion to type on the part of first-line supervisors made the "new Linden" deeply disappointing.