Skabelsen af den danske arbejder. Bånd og brudflader i arbejder- og virksom­heds­kulturer 1850-1920 - med Burmeister og Wain som hoved­eksem­pel

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesisResearch


                                  The making of the Danish worker

    Ties and conflicts in workers culture, especially in regard to the relations­hips between employees and management on industrial plants 1850-1920


                                                                 Niels Jul Nielsen


The aim of this book is - historically and theoretically - to understand and explain coexistence of different forms of relations between employees and manage­ment on big enterprises and to consider these in the context of ties and differen­ces within the culture(s) of workers. The dissertation pays specific attention to in­dustrial production organized on a capitalistic basis, and the temporal framework is from approxima­tely 1850 to 1920. The main part of the material is provided by a detailed investigation of one large enterprise Burmeister & Wain Machine Building and Shi­pyard, but the results from this are shown to be generally valid.

    There are two main conclusions to be drawn from this study - one related to managers' perspective, the other to workers' perspective:

    The first conclusion concerns the question of a development from a paternalistic form of management to a formalized and institutionalized system of labour regula­tions. The implementation - through unions, employers' associations etc. - of the latter system, which takes place in most industrialized countries around 1900, is often seen to be replacing an old paternalism which have been still more declining throughout the 19th century. However, my conclusion points, on specific aspects, in the precise opposite direction. One characteristic feature related to paternalistic management - namely the paying of attention (and not least an outwardly announ­ced one) to the welfare of the employees - is generally a new thing, in most countries 'founded' around 1870, in England some twenty years earlier. The argument is as follows: No payments from management to employees except wage (whether this is in the form of housing or the like are not relevant here) are necessary in a capitalistic context - separa­ting this in principle from an juridically based feudal paternalism from which it gets its rhetoric. Hence benefits to the workers, extending what is neces­sary in economical terms, are not generally known before 1870. Hereafter, then, there are no limitations in managers' claiming of social awareness extending widely what basically is the managers 'duty' - one clear expression of this is the establish­ment of old age funding (promoted as non-profitable welfare) on a large number of big enterprises in this periode. I see two main explanations for this founding of a new paterna­lism: Firstly, the threat of socialism makes it neces­sary­ to prevent workers from turning against management by showing good will and sensibility to demands from the workers. Secondly, in relation to this, the same managerial efforts are necessary as an answer to the state subject which, more or less ex­pressed, makes it clear for heads of big firms that their freedom as managers depends on their ability of demonstrating social awareness.

    On this background I characterize three management 'systems' which need to be carefully separated (the presence in time is only estimated): Firstly, 'enterprise internal paternalism' - up till 1870 (in England up till 1850) - refering to the situation where the only considerations from management are related to the internal func­tioning of the enterprise: this can result in (not considering personal characteristics of the paterna­list himself) harsh managent exploiting workers as much as possible, as well as beneficial management to attract specific groups of workers etc. Second­ly, 'socially conscious paternalism' - up till 1900 - charac­terized by the necessity discussed above of showing careful­ness as a prevention against socialism and state interference. And finally, 'formalized manage­ment' - from 1900 - characterized by labour regulations beeing organized through trade unions and employers organisations with equal representation from the two sides (of course, this last form, does not render superfluous the reasons for doing something special for certain categories of workers).

    The second main conclusion to be drawn from the thesis concerns the question of unity among respectively differences between workers. The thesis investigates in detail workers' different attitudes - to­wards socialism, manage­ment, other workers etc - as well as workers' different and changing priorities throughout the periode. A clear result of this investigation is a marked pattern of differentiation - in wages, workplace conditions, orientations etc - a pattern steadily reprodu­ced not only by management but by workers, too. This pattern of complexity is critically seen through the eyes of two existing para­digms of analyzing workers' culture - social history (with its long tradition) and (the much younger) post-modernism. It is argued that both approaches lack theoreti­cal tools to grasp the complexity of workers' culture - though they are very much aware of this same complexity. Post-modernism, being most radical in this respect, seems to claim that there are basically no reason to have a specific term of 'worker' - individuals are different all in all and that counts for workers, too. Social historians, on the other side, still seem to imply a certain underlying politically conscious 'core' worker in a marxist sense. Following this, they 'explain' the complexity of workers' culture by adding labels of gender, eth­nicity, age, skill, race etc, hereby aiming to cover the whole spectrum of factors 'disturbing' the presumed essence of workers' culture. This dissertation sug­gests a third way of coping with the problem, by making it possible, without theoretical contradictions (or an principially endless label-adding), to explain features of solidarity as well as of exclusivity among workers. It claims that there is reason to talk about workers, not as a specific empirical mass of people, but as a certain principle of making a living where time has to be sold on the labour market in exchange for a certain wage. While labour time - in contrast to other commodities - have no price, workers need a means to get influence on it. This means is to monopolize the sale of time. As is well known, this is a foun­ding principle of trade unionism. However, the theoretical point is that this principle of monopolization not only implies unity, but the very opposite, too, namely exclusion. Only by making exclusive monopolies - including some, excluding others - workers have an effective means of getting influence on work conditions. This can explain why a develop­ment of solidari­ty on the local basis never will end up in an overall international solidarity - monopoli­es loose their effectivity if they include everyone. By this the complexity of workers' culture is explained not due to derivations from a core workers' culture, to 'false consciousness' or the like, but as an expression of a necessary co-existence of unity and differenti­ation among workers.

Original languageDanish
Publication statusPublished - 1998

ID: 15432317