with overcapacity, GM negotiated in 1987 to offer some 4,000 employees
roughly a year's wage -- $30,000 -- to leave the plant. For those
who stayed, GM promised a "new Linden" that, after a year-long overhaul,
would be technologically state-of-the-art. The refurbished plant
also would offer workers an expanded role in decision-making and
problem-solving, patterned after the much-touted Japanese management
system. For five years, Milkman tracked both workers who stayed
and those who opted out.
employees who remained, enthusiasm for the changes quickly soured
as it became apparent that the "new Linden" barely differed from
the old. "By promising workers opportunities for participation and
then not following through, GM raised workers' expectations, only
to smash them by returning to the old practices," Milkman says.
among the approximately one-quarter of employees who accepted the
buyout, the vast majority expressed no regrets five years later
-- in the recession year of 1991 -- even though many lacked the
security of a high-wage, unionized job. One ex-Linden worker, self-employed
as a chimney sweep, reflected that even though a fall from a roof
might put an end to his business, his post-GM situation was “utopia”
when compared with life in the plant.
commentators have expressed concern about workers displaced by capital
mobility and technological change. Yet, few GM-Linden workers voiced
nostalgia for the industrial system that was collapsing around them.
features of the factory jobs fully deserve to be dead and buried,”
Milkman says. “We should direct our nostalgia at the high wages,
fringe benefits and union protection that idustrial workers once