Les logiques d'action des ouvriers du secteur industriel à l'endroit de la formation et des changements du travail ne sont pas homogènes. Elles sont tributaires de leurs caractéristiques personnelles mais aussi de leurs positions objectives dans l'espace social des entreprises qui les emploient. Des différences importantes de logiques apparaissent ainsi selon la génération des salariés, selon le moment de leur socialisation initiale au travail, ou selon la longueur de la scolarisation initiale. Mais la position dans l'entreprise intervient également. L'article s'appuie sur une monographie d'un équipementier automobile en Wallonie (Belgique) qui depuis une dizaine d'années développe une politique accentuée de modernisation technique et sociale. Le but de la recherche est de saisir les réactions des salariés à ces politiques managériales, en particulier en ce qui concerne la politique de formation. La recherche s'appuie sur une vingtaine d'interviews de travailleurs d'exécution des deux principaux ateliers et sur une étude statistique et documentaire.
Recent years have seen considerable analysis and debate around the issue of the transformation of the firm, an idea linked by some scholars to the possible emergence of a "new model of the firm" or a new "production model." Numerous empirical and theoretical studies have sought to predict the shape of the coming workpiace, to sketch the emerging organizational models or forms, and to understand the social, economie or institutional conditions underlying these transformations in the context of globalized trade and new forms of competition.
These analyses of change processes have been complemented by a second body of research focusing on workers, on the evolution of their individual and collective occupational identities, and on the way social relations at work have been transformed by management policies. This article contributes to this latter theme by examining how workers react to the transformation of the firm and to managerial policies aimed at reorganizing work and the way the workforce is mobilized and trained. Our aim is to explain the reciprocal interaction between, on the one hand, a set of partially integrated, unevenly stressed and voluntarist managerial policies designed to improve productivity, quality and flexibility in the firm, and, on the other hand, the "logics of action" of production workers on the shop floor.
The analysis is based on research conducted at Univerbel, a motor vehicle equipment manufacturer in the French-speaking region of Belgium which, for the last ten years or so, has pursued a pronounced strategy of technical and social modernization. The aim of the research is to explain workers' reactions to these managerial policies, particularly with regard to training policy. The research involved some twenty interviews with production workers in the firm's two main workshops, as well as an analysis of relevant statistics and documents.
Univerbel is undergoing a dual change. On the one hand, for some ten years now, management has been trying to transform the conditions of production efficiency by shifting from a taylorist-fordist model of production to a "systemic" production model. This effort has ranged across a number of areas, including equipment, work organization, production management methods and workforce management (i.e., recruitment, mobility and training).
On the other hand, these efforts — especially the quality improvement and "participative management" policies — are also propagating new norms which are creating a new image of the production worker. Thus, whereas workers used to be required only to follow orders, they are now expected to take the initiative and accept more responsibility; and, where management was once satisfied with a worker who was able to replicate a set of simple movements, it now expects workers to demonstrate a capacity to think and to solve problems on the spot. This managerial approach is having a significant (if largely unintended) impact on the structure and rules of the game in what we term the "social space" of the shop floor. In the face of this transformation of the social space and these new managerial policies, what "logics of action" have been developed by the workers in the two workshops? Are the changes endorsed, rejected, evaded or simply accepted? The purpose of this article is, firstly, to construct a typology of these different logics of action and, secondly, to offer an explanation of how they are shaped. In this respect, we emphasize the necessity of taking into account both the cultural models (or cognitive and normative maps) which shape the actors' interpretation of their situation and their respective positions within the social space of the changing workplace.
Our aim is therefore to explain workers' actions in terms of both the impact of managerial policies on the social space of the workshops and the workers' self-images, their cultural models at a given point in time. The concept of "social space" plays a mediating role in our analysis, allowing us to grasp the relationship between managerial and shop-floor logics.
Our research at Univerbel reveals that management policy — notably, changes in production and quality standards, the recruiting of young graduates, and training and socialisation policies — have destabilized the "rules of the game" of the social space of the workshops, particularly the hierarchy and mobility of workers in the production workshops. These changes have had a significant effect on the workers' view of training and, more generally, of their experience of work and employment. Four logics can be discerned: "integration," "advancement," "struggle against downgrading" and "withdrawal." These logics cannot be explained solely in terms of occupational identities or pre-existing cultural models. It is true, of course, that the younger workers are more likely to adopt one of the first two logics and to share a particular cultural model (the "climber"), whereas older workers, who have less formal education, tend towards the other two logics and a different cultural model (the "rugbyman"). It is clear, therefore, that these models affect the reaction to management policies: the older workers are markedly more ambivalent or opposed to managerial policies than are the younger workers. However, to fully understand the logics of action, they must be viewed as the joint product of a cultural model determined by the career path and the worker's position in the changing social space. Whether or not workers see benefits for themselves in the new principles of hierarchy and mobility that are being introduced in the firm depends on their resources and the stage they have reached in their career cycle. These differences in position explain how the same cultural model can lead to different logics of action. Hence, in order to account for workers' logics of action, the synchronie analysis of positions in the social space of the shop floor must be coupled with a more diachronic analysis of career paths and cultural models.
El articulo se apoya en una monografìa de un equipador automotriz en Wallonie Bélgica, que desde hace diez anos desarrolla una polìtica de modernizaciòn tecnològica y social. El objetivo de esta investigaciòn es de captar las reacciones de los trabajadores a estas polïticas administrativas, en particular en lo que concierne a la polìtica de formaciòn. La investigaciòn se apoya sobre unas veinte entrevistas con trabajadores de ejecuciòn de los dos principales talleres y sobre un estudio estadïstico y documentai.
Download the article in PDF to read it.