Network Ties and Labor Flexibility in Brazil and Mexico: A Tale of Two Automobile Factories

Scott B. Martin

in The Politics of Labor in a Global Age

Published in print September 2001 | ISBN: 9780199241149
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598920 | DOI:
 Network Ties and Labor Flexibility in Brazil and Mexico: A Tale of Two Automobile Factories

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Moves toward highly flexible labour systems in production have occurred through the world economy under the combined weight of globalized markets and production networks, liberalized national economic policies, and the rise of new corporate philosophies and organizational forms transcending traditional Fordist mass production. This essay offers an alternative perspective in contrast to those who critique this ‘lean and mean’ capitalist order of high exploitation and unilateral managerial domination as well as those who defend the potential for improved equity and empowerment under post‐Fordist production arrangements. The study suggests that the impact of flexible production is highly contingent upon the concrete social relations in which the transition takes place at the level of particular work sites and particular local and regional agglomerations of firms (sectors, clusters, and chains). An examination of two plants located within the quintessential globalized industry of auto assembly and manufacture in two large developing countries, Mexico and Brazil, yields the conclusion that the highly varying impacts of ‘flexibilization’ on systems of worker rights and collective representation in the workplace (‘labour regimes’) stem from the distinct nature of the transition mode to flexibility in different subnational settings. The central explanation for the contrasting transition modes towards high labour flexibility across the two plants is that, the capacity of firms and worker representatives to transcend zero‐sum conflicts over flexibility and forge innovative new practices, hinges upon the character of the social network ties in which, together and separately, they are embedded at the time when exogenous pressures for greater flexibility are experienced. Such ties condition their styles of communication, behaviour, and interaction as well as the informational and other resources available to them.

Keywords: auto assembly; Brazil; empowerment; exploitation; flexible production; Mexico; network ties; social relations; worker representation

Chapter.  17706 words. 

Subjects: Comparative Politics

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