Thesis ID: CBB381571361

Neither Cogs nor Wrenches: Workers, Unions, and the Political Economy of Automation (2023)


In this dissertation project, I make three separate contributions to the study of the political economy of automation which center the agency of workers and society over technological change. The papers presented here each take a historical approach, both to contextualize modern debates over new technologies and to describe political responses that may have fallen out of contemporary awareness. In the first paper, I examine the origin of the term “automation” to reveal the ways that this concept has been shaped by social and political imperatives. I then propose a new definition and conceptualization of automation which respect this reality and open new avenues for research into this form of technological change. In the second paper, I examine the role played by the occupational structure of unions in determining their responses to automation. Drawing on a comparison of the cases of 1) the AFL-CIO and its Industrial Union Department and 2) New York Typographical Union No. 6 from approximately 1950–1975, I show that industrially-organized unions are more receptive of automation than are unions organized along craft lines. In the final paper, I examine the role that the different approaches to labor force control adopted by craft unions play in shaping both their responses to new technologies and their inclusion or exclusion of women workers. Through a comparison of the histories of the typographical unions in the United States and the United Kingdom over 150 years, I show that unions adopting an apprenticeship-based system of labor force control are both more resistant to new technologies and more exclusionary of women than are unions adopting a strategy of incorporation. Taken together, these papers show that workers and unions have been neither helpless cogs nor implacable wrenches in the machinery of technological change.

Citation URI

This citation is part of the Isis database.

Similar Citations

Book Marez, Curtis; (2016)
Farm worker futurism: speculative technologies of resistance (/p/isis/citation/CBB095155438/) unapi

Thesis Stephanie Aleen Dick; (2015)
After Math (Re)configuring Minds, Proof, and Computing in the Postwar United States (/p/isis/citation/CBB626730167/) unapi

Article Corinna Schlombs; (2023)
Built on the Hands of Women: Data, Automation, and Gender in West Germany's Financial Industry (/p/isis/citation/CBB342715052/) unapi

Article Anne-Marie Coles; (2021)
Emergence of a techno-legal specialty: Animal tests to assess chemical safety in the UK, 1945–1960 (/p/isis/citation/CBB493149696/) unapi

Book Michael G. Hillard; (2021)
Shredding Paper: The Rise and Fall of Maine's Mighty Paper Industry (/p/isis/citation/CBB861873117/) unapi

Article Laymon, Sherry; (2012)
Arkansas's Dark Ages: The Struggle to Electrify the State. (/p/isis/citation/CBB001200581/) unapi

Article Gates, Frederick B.; (2007)
The Impact of the Western and Atlantic Railroad on the Development of the Georgia Upcountry, 1840--1860 (/p/isis/citation/CBB001231367/) unapi

Book Lamoreaux, Naomi R.; Sokoloff, Kenneth Lee; (2007)
Financing Innovation in the United States, 1870 to the Present (/p/isis/citation/CBB000774188/) unapi

Article Haigh, Thomas; (2010)
Computing the American Way: Contextualizing the Early US Computer Industry (/p/isis/citation/CBB001231734/) unapi

Book Rose, Mark H.; Seely, Bruce Edsall; Barrett, Paul F.; (2006)
The Best Transportation System in the World: Railroads, Trucks, Airlines, and American Public Policy in the Twentieth Century (/p/isis/citation/CBB000772764/) unapi

Article Gray, George; Smith, Ron; (1998)
Sperry Rand's Transistor Computers (/p/isis/citation/CBB000112040/) unapi

Article Sartor, Lutz; (2005)
Die Auto Union AG und ihre Reaktionen auf das “Volkswagen”- Projekt 1931--1942 (/p/isis/citation/CBB000830973/) unapi

Review Samuel Milner; (Summer 2018)
Review of unknown publication (/p/isis/citation/CBB967744379/) unapi

Book Lane Windham; (2017)
Knocking on Labor's Door: Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide (/p/isis/citation/CBB962524556/) unapi

Book David Hollister; Ray Tadgerson; David Closs; Tomas Hult; (2016)
Second Shift: The Inside Story of the Keep GM Movement (/p/isis/citation/CBB302194777/) unapi

Book Erik Loomis; (2015)
Empire of Timber: Labor Unions and the Pacific Northwest Forests (/p/isis/citation/CBB916037205/) unapi

Book Joshua Benjamin Freeman; (2019)
City of workers, city of struggle: how labor movements changed New York (/p/isis/citation/CBB618026891/) unapi

Authors & Contributors
Barrett, Paul F.
Galison, Peter
Gates, Frederick B.
Gray, George T.
Haigh, Thomas
Kelly, Jack
IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
Agricultural History
Arkansas Historical Quarterly
Business History Review
Georgia Historical Quarterly
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Harvard University
Cambridge University Press
Columbia University Press
ILR Press
MIT Press
Ohio State University Press
Labor unions
Technology and industry
Technology and economics
Computers and computing
Labor and laborers
Kendrick, John W.
Debs, Eugene V. (Eugene Victor) 1855-1926
Cleveland, Grover
Boulware, Lemuel R.
Pullman, George Mortimer
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
20th century, late
21st century
18th century
20th century, early
United States
California (U.S.)
New York City (New York, U.S.)
West Germany
Michigan (U.S.)
General Motors Corporation
International Business Machines Corporation
RAND Corporation
United States Postal Service (USPS)

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment