Alex Massie

The Way We Were

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Mickey Kaus digs up an NYT article ($ needed for full access) from 1981 comparing the manufacturing of Ford Escorts at plants in Germany and at Halewood on Merseyside. It is, as you might expect, exceedingly grisly stuff:

This [German] plant produces some 1,200 cars a day, more than the 1,015 that Ford planners had anticipated, and requires 7,762 workers. Its counterpart at Halewood, with virtually identical equipment and production targets, has averaged only about 800 cars a day this year, and 10,040 workers have been needed to achieve even that production level.

 ''Our standards say it should take something like 20 man-hours of labor in both the body and assembly plants to make an Escort,'' said Bill Hayden, vice president of manufacturing for Ford Europe Inc., in an interview. ''At Saarlouis, they do it with 21 hours. At Halewood it takes 40 hours.'' ...

Aside from statistics, subjective differences between the two factories become evident. Halewood seems to overflow with workers - some of them reading or eating, others kicking a soccer ball - while Saarlouis seems almost depopulated and nearly every worker in evidence is hard at his job. At Saarlouis, workers dash to open doors for visitors touring in electric carts, while at Halewood, one worker greeted a news photographer by exposing himself....

For their part, the workers at Halewood maintained in recent interviews that shop conditions at Saarlouis were unsafe. ''If that was in England, I'd stop the job immediately,'' said Stephen Broadhead, the ''convenor'' at the body plant, who has visited the German plant twice. ''It was such a violation of our health and safety regulations we couldn't live with it.'' Nonetheless, the Saarlouis plant has the lowest injury record in Ford's entire Europe subsidiary...

Such differences are found to pervade the two plants. In May, the workers at Halewood went on strike for 11 days because they contended that four men could not produce 60.2 transaxle assemblies an hour, as the company and the German experience suggested they could. Five months later, the four men are still assembling about 55 an hour. ...

Granted, this was a Liverpudlian factory but it's still a fine example of the way we were: Basket-Case Britain. Times have changed and largely for the better - even if Nissan has just announced job losses at its Sunderland plant.. Admittedly, a cynic might say that we solved some of these problems by essentially getting rid of our manufacturing sector. But something had to be done...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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