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The emergence and spread of Taylorism occurred in the 1880s, which was the same decade that New Jersey and other states passed laws that made it easier for industrial firms to use the joint-stock holding company. Although capitalists developed other means to organize and control the labor process in the increasingly large corporation, their strategies resulted in labor unrest that was manifested as absenteeism, labor turnover, and strikes. In response to these conditions, Taylor (1911) claimed that there was a need for ”greater national efficiency” and that efficiency is best achieved through systematic management of people. He argued that his system would improve efficiency and appeal to workers’ economic self interest by increasing profits, which would permit capitalists to increase wages thereby eliminating workers’ desire to join unions. By the 1920s, Taylorism and others forms of scientific management were adopted in the USA and other industrial societies.
The technical dimensions of Taylorism focused on the ”one best way” to perform work. Taylor maintained that workers retained knowledge over the production process, and incorporated rest breaks into the production process (i.e., soldiering) that were so sophisticated that capitalists and their foremen could not detect them. To increase control over the labor process, Taylor collected information from workers and centralized it in a planning department where engineers used it to create rules governing how to complete each task and the amount of required time to do it.
Drawing from the Marxian-Hegelian conception of alienation, Braverman (1974) maintained that the separation of conception from execution in Taylor-ism dehumanizes the worker because it limits the opportunities for individuals to use their creative capacities. This separation occurs when engineers transform craft knowledge into work rules (i.e., bureaucratic controls) and machines (i.e., technical controls). Although the application of scientific management eventually subordinated operating managers to centralized control, they retained a substantial degree of control over the labor process throughout the middle decades of the twentieth century.
There are important long-term effects of Taylorism. First, after management gained control over the labor process, Taylorism encouraged managers and engineers to disregard workers’ knowledge, which created conflict and obstacles to improving efficiency. Second, the reimbursement system initiated by Taylor contributed to inequality by establishing a system of pay differentials between managers and workers, which reached a historical high point in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
- Braverman, H. (1974) Labor and Monopoly Capital. Monthly Review Press, New York.
- Taylor, F. W. (1967)  The Principles of Scientific Management. W. W. Norton, New York.