The Effects of the Social Relations of Production on Productivity and Workers' Safety: an Ignored Set of Relationships

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International Journal of Health Services


Sociology & Anthropology


This paper considers the interrelationships between the social relations of production, workers’ safety, and the productivity of labor. The argument is that the social relations of production directly influence the intensity of labor (one facet of labor productivity), which in turn influences the rate of industrial accidents (one aspect of workers’ safety). These relationships are illustrated with data from a carefully controlled comparison between two Chrysler plants in Europe in 1976 (Poissy in France and Ryton in England). The data are from internal company sources and are considered very reliable. The data show that Poissy had a higher labor productivity than Ryton, although both made the same car. This is partly accounted for by differences in the intensity of labor at the two plants. The evidence strongly suggests that a key reason for this difference lies in the contrasting nature of the social relations of production at the two plants. Ryton workers were better organized and more militant on the shop floor than were Poissy workers. Finally, it was found that the accident rate was about sixty times higher at Poissy than at Ryton, which provides strong support for the interrelationships proposed.