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Machine Property Rights and Commitment

The norms prescribe that the worker enters the labor force with the expectation of always using machines that legally belong to others. When these norms have to be learned by an adult worker, blockages are quite likely to occur. In industrial societies, future workers are socialized to such norms quite early in life. Schools, playgrounds, and libraries all conform to roughly analogous norms. It is quite unlikely that the socialization of workers in newly industrializing areas proceeds apace in respect to dispersion of machine property rights. The difficulty of commitment to these norms varies jointly with the type of dispersion and the norms prevalent in the preindustrial economy.

The obvious hypothesis quite commonly employed for predicting ease of commitment to industrial property norms is: the ease of commitment varies directly with the similarity of property norms. According to this hypothesis, the worker in the preindustrial society whose norms are most like those of industrial societies will be most easily and quickly committed to the new norms. Several serious objections to this hypothesis can be seen in a comparison of the property norms of feudal societies with those of contemporary industrialized societies. Superficially, the property norms of these two kinds of societies show great similarity.23 The relation between the serf and the lord of the manor, with different property rights assigned to each, and the property relations between peasants of equal status, as manifested in the use of the commons and in the annual reapportionment of crop lands, may appear similar to the dispersion of machine property rights. However, appearances are deceiving in regard to both comparisons.

Feudal societies are small communities lacking occupational specialization and exhibiting "gemeinschaftlich" social relationships. Quite the opposite social organization is present in industrial communities. It is one thing to share property with a feudal chieftain; it is something else

(p. 360). Nevertheless, his discussion of mass-mechanized industry explicitly rules out this phenomenon (pp. 195–197), which may be a consequence of observational difficulty rather than nonoccurrence.

23 For a general discussion of property relations in contemporary peasant societies see John Gulick, Social Structure and Culture Change in a Lebanese Village (New York: Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology, 1955); and Robert Redfield, The Primitive World and Its Transformations (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1953), pp. 1-153. For a discussion of peasant property relations in currently highly developed societies, especially England, see Maurice Dobb, Studies in the Development of Capitalism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1946), pp. 221–254.

to share rights with thousands of stockholders and a highly proliferated management. Sharing usage rights in an almost completely undifferentiated good (land) with a minimum number of covillagers, frequently kinsmen, who are almost exactly the same occupationally, is very dif ferent from sharing usage rights in highly differentiated machines with a large number of occupationally specialized people with whom relations are much more segmental.

Perhaps a more basic difficulty with the hypothesis that ease of commitment is directly associated with normative similarity is that the newly recruited industrial worker in a developing area is often motivated by great dissatisfaction with preindustrial property norms. The similar elements, if visible to the worker, may prove to be obstacles to commitment. This situation may occur frequently since the apparently similar element in social structure may have higher visibility than the basic dissimilarities.

Property Rights, Job Rights, and Mobility

The preceding discussion of machine property norms leads to an illustration of the natural conflict that can exist between the various loci of commitment. To the extent that the worker becomes committed to the property norms described above, he begins to assume the rights to machine use that the norms prescribe. But to a considerable extent machine rights are the basis of job rights. Thus as these norms become structured they tend to commit the worker to a particular job, in the process of committing him to rights in machines.

Seniority rules are a case in point. If hiring a worker is tantamount to assigning him property rights or common stock in certain machines, then seniority rules can be considered analogous to preferred stock. Unlike common stock, preferred stock is not freely transferable. Thus seniority rules aid in commiting a worker to job stability, but they may also weaken his commitment to the norm of job mobility. A high level of commitment to intrinsic work factors may have negative consequences for commitment to the norms of the labor market and vice versa.24

The high level of commitment to machines in a particular factory may have additional positive consequences. Once the availability of particular machines is fully accepted by the worker, he may be encouraged to requisition superior maintenance. Since the expense of 24 Kerr, "The Balkanization of Labor Markets," op. cit., pp. 92-110, especially 93-96; Palmer and Miller, op. cit., pp. 83-92.

such maintenance is not borne by the worker, his decision may be on "noneconomic" grounds, i.e., appearance, personal comfort, etc.25 To the extent that superior maintenance keeps the machines operating at peak efficiency for longer periods of time, management may sanction the additional costs on economically rational grounds. However, the type of maintenance the worker requisitions may appear to be "irrational" from the manager's point of view, in that the contribution to the machine's upkeep may be obscure. From the worker's point of view superior maintenance may be justifiable because it makes important contributions to the "amenities" of the work place, but management may demur on precisely these grounds.


The division of labor is defined here as the system of specialized work activities within a factory. By limiting this analysis to the factory, many important levels of the division of labor are excluded; but even within the factory, three different levels of this phenomenon can be observed: 1. The division of labor within the work team;

2. The division of labor between different work positions (some of which are occupied by work teams), which constitutes what we call the flow of production;

3. The division of labor that accompanies the system of authority.

Division of Labor within the Work Team 26

Since the primary manifest function of the work team is efficient utilization of both men and machines, the team exists as a substitute for the individual operator within the flow of production. Some of the norms and acts that characterize the work team are much like those of the worker and his machine. However, the work team is a social unit in its own right; some of its norms and acts are equally characteristic of a broader level of the division of labor. As a consequence of the work team's dual nature, the interaction between these two sets of norms and

25 When these norms are violated, the same desire for mastery leads to exactly the opposite consequences. See Moore, Industrial Relations and the Social Order, p. 243. 26 For discussions of the work team as an operating unit see Dubin, op. cit., pp. 104-105, 292–293; Fred H. Blum, Toward A Democratic Work Process (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1953), pp. 69-72; William J. Goode and Irving Fowler, "Incentive Factors in a Low Morale Plant," American Sociological Review, 14:618-624 (October 1949); Nicholas Babchuk and William J. Goode, "Work Incentives in a Self-Determined Group," American Sociological Review, 16:679-687 (October 1951).

acts-those of the operator and those of the division of labor-brings about a special set of conditions that are unique to the work team.

These unique work-team factors may be called "ecological." Since the work team is less than a full division of labor, less than a complete social unit, its characteristic properties may best be conceived as being subsocial or ecological. The properties that stand out in any description of the work team are its size, its spatial distribution, and particularly its specialized activity in space.27

Once these ecological characteristics of the work team are set, they impose certain additional restrictions on the members of the team. These team characteristics act as an increment to, and a substitute for, the pace and rhythm imposed by the machine. The machine almost exclusively sets the pace for the individual operator, but the team member receives many leads from other members. These leads are both relays of and additions to the leads from machines. Since most team members work quite close to machines, the reduction of machine pacing for nonoperating members seems likely to be minimal. If this is correct, the increments in pacing from team characteristics alone may more than compensate for any reduction of machine pacing. The net result is that the team member receives increased pacing, most of which comes from another person rather than a machine.

These two characteristics of work teams—(1) that the total amount of pacing may be greater for the team member than for the individual operator, and (2) that a greater proportion of pacing leads may come from other team members rather than directly from the machine-are the most salient for commitment. In examining the relevance of the work team for commitment the two characteristics must be considered jointly, since their relation to ease of commitment may be quite different. If the sheer amount of pacing, independent of its source, represents a major barrier to commitment, then recruiting labor directly into a work team inhibits commitment. However, if machine pacing is more objectionable than pacing from another person, the work team may facilitate commitment.

A positive relation between team labor and commitment in many newly developing areas is the more reasonable hypothesis. Although the machine may still be an effective pace setter, the fact that leads may

27 For discussions of the ecology of work in a factory see Leo F. Schnore, "Social Morphology and Human Ecology," American Journal of Sociology, 63:620–634 (May 1958); Émile Durkheim, trans. by George Simpson, The Division of Labor in Society (Glencoe: Free Press, 1947), pp. 266–270.

be relayed by or come directly from other members of the work team conceals or diminishes the amount of machine subordination visible to the worker. This is not to say that all varieties of pacing by other workers are preferable to machine pacing. The social characteristics of other team members are likely to be such as to maximize the willingness of newly recruited workers to accept their pacing leads. Thus, the substitution of work teams for operators may be as efficient for commitment as it is for the employment of surplus labor.


As defined here, the division of labor proceeds through various processes of specialization, two of which are particularly relevant to the factory. They are skill dilution and the creation of new combinations. of skill. Skill dilution, which has enjoyed much attention from social scientists concerned with industrialization, is associated with or alleged to be the cause of innumerable social evils, among which are demoralization, dehumanization, loss of skill, loss of self-respect, and loss of a feeling of worth. Some analysts go so far as to claim that it was and is responsible for the devaluation of work as an acceptable and desirable human activity.28

Nevertheless, skill dilution is a minor part of the specialization that currently accompanies industrial development. The limited applicability of skill dilution to contemporary industrial development is the result of several factors. Such dilution occurs primarily in the reorganization of existing industries. For example, the bootmaker's craft was diluted into a number of different and less skilled activities or "specialties," as shoe manufacturing became mechanized. It was, however, another method of producing an article previously produced in the commercial sector of the economy. In other words, manufacturing skills that could be diluted were present in the occupational system. It is, of course, quite misleading to talk of skill dilution when the skills have not existed previously. Many newly recruited factory workers cannot have their industrial skills diluted for the obvious reason that the society has not had a tradition of industrial skills.

The economic systems of most of the industrializing areas have been limited either to sources of raw materials or to noninvolvement in the world economy. Many areas have no tradition of industrial skills of any consequence, but abound in the nonindustrial skills of a peasant

28 Bell, op. cit., pp. 9-22; David Riesman and others, The Lonely Crowd (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1953), pp. 32–48.

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