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TitleLiving Labour: Life on the line at Peugeot France
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Total Pages295
Table of Contents
Living Labour
List of Figures
List of Tables
viiiList of Boxes
1 Peugeot-Sochaux: A Solid Inheritance and Incessant Change
2 The Line Seen from Below
3 Career Trajectories and the Composition of Identity
4 The Labyrinthine Complexities of Informal Adjustment
5 Possible Futures of the Sochaux System
Document Text Contents
Page 2

Living Labour

Page 147

130 Living Labour

then leads one to a more specific study of the role of this long temporality
in the construction of identities and of relations between operatives.

Issues in the organisation of work, of operatives’ relationship to their
work or to each other, are indeed often seen as ‘present-tense’ systems,
systems whose play takes place essentially in the present moment, or in
a relatively stable manner. Until now, our own presentation has also
relied on this synchronic structure: the space of work, the organisation
of production, the technical layouts and the network of operatives have
all been construed in the present tense, or in a time corresponding to
that of the development of organisation or of the networks. This
hypothesis of the stable present sustains a point of view which in con-
sidering the interaction between actors and systems, takes its departure
from the latter.

Yet on several occasions, and more particularly in connection with
the composition of identity, or social play between operatives, or the
effects of the conjuncture, one has seen another point of view emerge
amongst operatives themselves. This involves not only seeing systems
and networks from their own point of view – in exploiting them, for
example, to gain strategic advantage – but also seeing them in terms of
a ‘journey’, on the basis of their own diachronic time, of their life
at work considered as a trajectory. This is a point of view that brings
together the problematics of identity and strategy: operatives’ interpre-
tations and representations of their own course through systems and
networks are essential measures for coming to judgements on these
systems and networks. Such representations help determine the roles
and the actions that operatives define for themselves within the network.
That is to say, if organisation determines and delimits a field of possi-
bilities and constraints for the operative, the latter operates within this
organisation in terms of the vision that he has of his own trajectory
within it.

The example provided by the members of the two teams studied allows
this question to be examined in greater detail, using two tables (on pp. 132ff.)
that give a synoptic view of the career paths of many of them, the data
being drawn from investigations in the shop and from the records of
the plant’s personnel department. Among these data, the employee classi-
fication and employee potential require some explanation. Assembly-line
workers are currently recruited at 170 points on the scale, and 200
points is the ceiling which the directorate of human resources at the
Sochaux Centre intends to apply to those workers who remain assembly-
line workers to the very end of their working lives, with any breach of this
limit requiring exceptional justification, the restriction being intended to

Page 148

Career Trajectories and the Composition of Identity 131

help control the wage bill. This means that the ordinary assembly-line
career starts at 170 points and ends at 190 or 200.

Employee potential, to simplify somewhat, is the level the employee
may hope to attain by the end of his career: it is a target, and not a
commitment. This potential is established by the employee’s hierarchical
superior, and is updated on the occasion of the regular progress inter-
views between the two. A potential above 200 points may be the result
of a certain exaggeration by supervisory staff in the futures they hold
out, something that seems fairly frequent and is to be explained by the
constant pressure for future prospects exerted by assembly-line workers.
It may also be the last trace of exceptional prospects previously but no
longer on offer. In any event, supervisors are directed to ensure that in
the last few years of work the potential actually matches the current
occupational classification. This often results, in these later years, in
the downward revision of the potential ascribed, with a particularly
demoralising effect on those concerned.

The potential is one of the most visible elements in the mechanism
for the individualisation of manual pay, a mechanism which brings the
whole of the workforce under a similar career-management system.
What is more, this also embodies a rejection of the features which
dominated remuneration systems until the 1970s, which were based
on occupational categories, on jobs, which is to say on characteristics
that did not depend directly on the person who was doing the work.
Another key element in individualisation are the arrangements for indi-
vidual pay-increases. The potential and the individual points attributed
are wedges inserted into the logic of occupational classification, or, to
put it another way, ties which strengthen a logic of shared enterprise.
They are indicators of prospects, and in addition, testimony to earlier
expectations – memories of prospects held out in the past. In this way
they help one to grasp the inflections and distortions undergone by the
career trajectory of the workers concerned.

Trajectories are not limited to a simple alternative between stagnation
for basic-grade assembly-line workers and promotion for polyvalents and
moniteurs. A significant proportion of ordinary workers have already
seen a stymied progression, with promotion followed by demotion, or
an ascent halted before its expected conclusion: for both teams taken
together, no less than 12 of the 42 workers over the age of 30 have
experienced such disappointments – as many as did in fact finally gain
the promotion they had hoped for. In the majority of cases it is difficult
to divorce more individual reasons from the effects of the generally
diminished opportunities for promotion, or indeed for the ordinary

Page 294

Index 277

travail en chaîne, 28
travail en groupe (work in

groups), 30
travail en poste (‘work at the

post/station’), 28, 30
travelling (to and from work), 120
trimmers, 93
trimming operations, 39
Turkey, 11
Turks, 119, 134t
Tuve plant (Volvo), 220

Uddevalla, 220, 236
UEPs (unités élémentaires de

production/basic production
units), 5b, 235

UGICT: membership, 249(n18)
uncertainty, 38
under-production, 16
UNEDIC, 212, 251(n42)
unemployment, 11, 123b, 148, 156

fear of, 184
uniforms, 227, 251(n5)
Unit Committee, 168
United States of America, 12,

16, 165, 178, 213, 223
Unités élémentaires de Production

(UEP), 232
upstream, 74, 83, 161

vacancy of mind, 53
vacation work, 247(n29)
Valenciennes, 9
Verguet, D., (228), 251(n3, n6), 253
veterans, see old-timers
violence, 215
virtuosity, 50, 244(n19)

hopes and challenges, 97–100
visitors, 113
voluntary sector, 152, 198, 239
volunteering, 225
volunteers, 214
Volvo, 35, 220–1
Volvo-Kalmar, 242(n16)
Vosges mountains, 120

wage relation, 233, 251(n9)
wage-labour, 54, 106
wages, see pay

‘watermelons’, 251(n5)
weekend, 15
white-collar staff, 14, 52, 67
wine, 91, 92
wiring, 221, 222
women, 20, 52, 117, 171, 175, 177,

193, 201, 221–2, 223, 248(n38)
women’s workstations, 110

individualisation, 4
intensification, 43
organisation, 2, 130
prescribed, 48
‘present-tense’ systems, 130
relationship to others, 88
and rest, 113–14
vacuity, 53
see also assembly-line work

work fragmentation, 218
work groups, 235
work relations, 173, 218, 233
work situation, 52
work time, 45
work-enrichment, 49, 221,

225, 234, 236
work-study, 231, 239
work-study office, 83
work-study technician (agent

d’étude des temps), 83–4,
85, 108, 109, 167, 178

worker behaviour, 56
worker group (groupe ouvrier), 87
worker groups, 185, 231
worker-involvement, 158, 204–17

difficulties of pay-based

employer hegemony and social
integration, 211–15

negotiation and
interpretation, 215–17

worker-participation, 149
worker-peasants, 120
worker-representation, 187
worker/supervisor relationship,

82, 188, 212
workers, see assembly-line workers
workers: teams, 3
workers’ identity, 29

Page 295

278 Index

workforce, 18, 238
working atmosphere (ambience), 24
working class, 5
working clothes, 25
working conditions, 23, 124b, 125b,

126, 155, 181, 225, 249(n19)
working environment, 17
working group (collectif de travail)

leaving, 88–100
multi-functionality, 92–7
not same as ‘worker group’

(groupe ouvrier), 245(n3)
outcome in permanent

contestation, 88–92
social cohesion, 91
virtuosity, 97–100

working hours, 14, 204, 214,
241(n7), 250(n34)

workload, 48
workplace layout, 181
Works Council (WC), 12, 14,

25, 153, 187, 187t, 188,
190, 191, 212

workshop management, 23
workstation, 20, 21, 55–60, 62b,

63, 64, 66–9, 76b, 80, 83–5,
93, 94, 96, 111, 116, 123b,
133t, 135t, 143b, 147,
149, 151, 159–61, 166,
168, 176, 177, 181, 200,
208, 219–22, 225, 232, 235,
242(n4), 243(n13), 249(n17)

abstract assemblage of varying
lifespan, 31–6

acceptance of badly composed,

between pleasure and pain:
paradoxes of life on the
line, 46–54

change of, 182, 197
demanding, 248(n35)
demands, 155
density and difficulty: two

aspects of effort, 40–6
difficult, 112, 132t, 136t
easy, 137t
escape, 88–100
‘good’, 102, 103, 109,

150, 155

improvements, 184
less tiring, 148
meaning, 88
number, 110, 247(n22)
object of analysis, 30
place of arrest and time of

subjection, 28, 30–54
prescribed time and real time,

recomposition, 185
redistribution of tasks, 172
specially-adapted, 183, 184
three rules, 163
worst, 117–18

World War I, 7
World War II, 118, 165, 178

German occupation, 8
Resistance, 16, 203

‘yellow sheets’, 185
youngsters/youth, 13, 14, 16,

18, 39–40, 41, 48, 50, 60,
61, 72, 74, 78, 81–2, 94,
97, 103, 110, 114–15, 117,
138t, 140, 145, 189, 190,
191, 205, 208, 210–11, 212,
236, 237–8, 243(n13),
244(n27), 246(n9),
250(n36), 251(n44)

Bruno, 142, 143–4b, 146
committed, 150f, 152–3
‘competitive advantage’

(vis-à-vis old-timers), 129
discouraged, 150f, 153
expectant, 150f, 153
hopes collapse, 126
lively, 152–3
pretenders, 147–8, 152–3
price for ‘climbing’, 126
system of reference, 126
and veterans: unprecedented

polarisation, 122–6
Yugoslavia, 11, 211
Yugoslavs, 117, 119, 133t,

134t, 140, 150, 189

zone de raccordements et mises en
place (adjustment and
positioning sector), 6b

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