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A Contest of IdeasCapital, Politics, and Labor$
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Nelson Lichtenstein

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780252037856

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252037856.001.0001

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“The Man in the Middle”

“The Man in the Middle”

A Social History of Automobile Industry Foremen

(p.56) Chapter 5 “The Man in the Middle”
A Contest of Ideas

Nelson Lichtenstein

University of Illinois Press

The study of frontline supervisors—in the factory, office, hospital ward, and academic workplace—is once again making waves. The quest for a more efficient, and perhaps more humane, workplace all too often begins with advice and admonition directed toward those who are charged with supervising the daily work lives of the dozen or so individuals who fall under their direct authority. However, much the discussion, especially that in even the most sophisticated business journals as well as in the sociological and industrial relations literature, has had an ahistorical quality that assumes that the traditional role played by foremen and other frontline supervisors has been determined exclusively by either the technology of production or the structures of management. These have been important, but they cannot be divorced from either the larger politics of production or the changing consciousness of foremen and supervisors in the first half of the twentieth century. This chapter seeks to uncover a slice of this complex history by emphasizing how cultural and political forces, as well as structural changes in the organization of work, shaped the role foremen played in the factory hierarchy.

Keywords:   frontline supervisors, human resource management, foremen, factory hierarchy, organizational change

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