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Labour in ‘lean’ times: geography, scale and the national trajectories of workplace change

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In this paper we argue that far from being surpassed by globalization, the nation-state remains a key space for organized labour. However, labour geographers’ focus on patterns of union organization and strategies of ‘internationalism’ underplays the enduring role of national institutions. Moreover, while labour geographers have recognized the significance of new forms of work organization, such as just in time and lean production, with some exceptions they have not examined how unions both formally and informally determine the trajectory of workplace change. Based on case studies of unions in the Canadian and German auto industries, we stress that the linkage between national and workplace scales remains critical to understanding how unions are responding to the challenges being presented by lean and just in time production. Finally, while there is a re-scaling of bargaining in the automobile industry to the firm or enterprise scale, the outcomes of decentralization depend largely on the national regulatory context.

Keywords: Canada; Germany; just in time; labour; lean production; national; scale

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, USA 2: Department of Geography, University of Toronto, Canada

Publication date: June 1, 2002


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