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Running head: THE OBSCURITIES OF BLUE COLLAR JOBS

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The Obscurities of Blue Collar Jobs and Sociological Factors Affecting Blue Collar

Workers

An Assignment Submitted by

Name of Student

Name of Establishment

Class XXXX, Section XXXX, Fall 2011

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Abstract

The paper explores the intrinsic points made and attested by Vallas, Finlay, & Wharton

(2009) in a chapter, which in itself is an exclusive take at the various motivations, needs

and the work ethos of blue collar workers. As the chapter progressively unravels through

the testimonies of sociological accounts from various industries, exploring the diverse

observations and points made by noted sociologists, it asserts the occupational structure

predominant in the blue collar job profiles, the causes and transitional events that

triggered this structure post induction of mass production practices and the relationship

these workers parse with their employers in the process. Pointing out critical lapses in

some of these observations, it brings to the fore how these workers cope to the

organizational structure and how they inculcate certain informal and extra-curricular

activities within the job profile to motivate themselves and earn self respect and dignity.

The paper wrings out the finer points that determine the causalities of blue collar

workers’ ethics and motivations, deriving from and simplifying upon, the statements

made in the chapter.

Keywords: blue collar jobs, blue collar workers, production labour

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The Obscurities of Blue Collar Jobs and Sociological Factors Affecting Blue

Collar Workers

Blue collar jobs have been studied, researched and experimented upon for ages

now, since there always crops up a new perspective about their behaviour, which could

critically affect the workers’ performance dynamics, and any consequent change would

serve an impact on business economics. While sociologists over the years have debated,

refuted, asserted and concocted many theories, Vallas, Finlay, and Wharton (2009) in the

chapter “Blue-Collar Workers and the Hidden World of Work” explore – while

documenting, opining, arguing and paraphrasing – observations and the primary events

which formed basis for these theories, as an explicit insight into causalities behind worker

ethics and behaviour. This paper is a reactive outlook on the text, subtext, preaching,

teachings, observations, etc. of the chapter, thereby extracting logic out of the trivia

associated with the said obscurities of blue collar jobs.

The chapter takes off with a paraphrased story from the workshops of General

Motors on ‘doubling up’ (Vallas, Finlay, & Wharton, 2009, p. 103), and goes on to state

the importance of unions and collective bargaining methods in enabling blue collar

workers gain a control over their work environment, which helps indemnify the

monotony in workspace. As notably stated in the text, workplaces are “a place of

unofficial agreements among workers and employers” wherein, Unions & Collective

Bargaining Agreements “provide the framework within which employers and employees

meet on a daily basis to determine how work will be done and how their different and

sometimes conflicting needs will be met” (p. 104). Hereafter, (a) Blue collar worker

special skills, (b) their informal arrangements with supervisors/ employers, and (c) The

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instance of workers being extra laborious without the incentive of any tangible gains, are

categorized as the salient points of discussion.

The stark comparison between artisans and skilled craftsmen predominant till the

19 th century, to the semi-skilled and menial labour of the post World War II era of the

mass production and industrial automation (heralded by the principles and revolutions of

Fredrick Taylor and Henry Ford) yields the importance of assembly line jobs. It makes us

note how dexterity gained precedence over creativity and talent, as the industrial workers

began feeling the monotony of performing precisely sequenced short task cycles of 5-6

moves, over hundred times a day. By citing the observations made by Charles Walker &

Robert Guest in 1952 (p. 105), Vallas et al. (2009) throw light on the disgust and

disinterest latent in the workers, as they reel under the enslaving pace of

assemblies/conveyors. A citation from Eli Chinoy (p. 106) shows the preferential intent

of these workers towards shifting to (thus escaping assembly labour) utility job profiles

like repairing, inspecting, etc. We, hence, discover the reasoning behind the multifarious

and sundry activities of assembly line workers, as they cope with these maladies by – (1)

maintaining steady rhythms with the assembly line machinery and conveyors, (2)

performing tasks a tad bit quickly to garner some rest between batches, (3) day dreaming,

(4) cracking practical jokes on co-workers, and (5) making deals like ‘doubling up’ etc.

Arguing about the merits-demerits of this practice, the fledging debate is

illustrated by the descriptive account of how Harry Braverman and Robert Brauner (pp.

106-108) held opposing beliefs and considerations, with regard to the causalities and

impacts of the advent of scientific management (instillation of ‘task cycles’ regimes in

workers) and automation in production industry. It is instrumental to note that Vallas et

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al. (2009) state how grossly disparaging and distorted the basis of the Braverman vs.

Brauner debate was founded on, since modern research testifies that workers have crafted

and developed ‘tacit skills’ as they deliberately killed hours at work, strategized cover

ups and super efficiency, thus (as mentioned earlier), gained more control of the

environment and dynamics at workplace. By citing and paraphrasing, the sociological

research findings of (a) David Hale about a New Jersey based chemical plant (p. 108), (b)

Tom Juravich about ‘National Wire and Cable Company’, and (c) William Kornblum

about steel mills of South Chicago, we observe the finesse and impertinence with which

tacit skills had organically bred. It brings compelling proof to how tacit skills play an

important role in enabling these blue collars, as they offer dignity, superiority complex,

empowerment, autonomy and negotiating space for the standing en face with the

supervisor/employer.

Herein, the window opens for the informal arrangements between employers and

employees. Informal agreements have been categorically enlisted under ‘Games’,

‘Times’ and ‘Deals’ in the chapter. We find an interesting argument in the divergent

perspectives of Fredrick Taylor, who castigated workers for deliberately wasting work

hours (soldiering), and Michael Burawoy (more pragmatic), who having worked

undercover as a miscellaneous machine operator (p. 111) – opined that it was far more

difficult and harder work to meet the base rates of production. The incident reveals how

the tacit skills developed were further amalgamated as ‘Games’ which measured prowess

and competence among peers. Additionally, Donald Roy’s account on his discovery of

‘Times’ while on job as a clicker (p. 112), demonstrates how workers reside to friendly

banter and practical jokes to cope with a monotonous and excruciatingly mundane job

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profile. The chapter further ventures to cite two discrete examples of ‘Deals’ in practice

at workplaces, one between co-workers (General Motors) and the other between

supervisors and employees (in the loading –unloading jobs at docks, ports, etc.). (pp. 113-

115)

We encounter throughout the text, that while most employers are against these

practices of the workers, they are silent watchers – however exasperated they may be.

This is explained as their indomitable dependence on these workers, their skills, their

experience and efficacy. We are finally brought to the obscure cases of certain blue

collared jobs, where the labour toils and performance with exceptional motivation – sans

the security of tangible benefits. Observed widely among restaurant chefs, this behaviour

is coined as good citizenship. The authors state that even UPS drivers display this quality

– and it can only be credited to the pathos behind the workers’ decision to embrace a

profession that requires them to toil indiscriminately. Vallas et al. (2009) closes the

chapter with the perfect assertion, which empathetically summarizes the apparent truth, in

these words:

Blue collar workers, like other workers, want their jobs to be more than just a

paycheck; they want them to provide dignity, satisfaction and self-worth. Their

willingness to perform the jobs well, in the absence of material rewards, attests to

their determination to finding meaning and value in what they do for a living. (p.

118)

Thus, we regress towards the age old stoicism prophesied in holy and biblical books –

humanity, as we scour through the trivia and plethora of assertions, theories, etc. to

decipher the true machinery behind the behavioural nature of blue collar workers.

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References

Vallas, S. P., Finlay, W., & Wharton, A. S. (2009). Blue-Collar Workers and the Hidden

World of Work. In S. P. Vallas, W. Finlay, & A. S. Wharton, The Sociology of

Work: Structures and Inequalities (pp. 103-119). New York: Oxford University

Press.