Strategy-Lab

Production mapping

Mapping of the production process is investigating the productive system, departing from the point of view of the workers and identify problems for workers that are caused by the ways the production process is organised. This method was developed by TIE-Brazil, in cooperation with members of different trade unions. It led to significant results in the strengthening of workers power and the position of trade unions at the working place.

The method is build on the assumption that workers have the most updated and detailed information about the production system, because they are the most important part of it. It departs from the mobilisation and ‘collectivisation’ of the knowledge of the workers themselves about their company, working place and the production system.

Together, workers collect the major possible amount of information about the production process, like: the number of employees, the amount of working hours, salary, suppliers of material and clients, breaks, holidays and absenteeism in each section of the company. They are stimulated to analyse what is the structure of the company, in what way the production process is organised, whose interests are taken care of and who profits and who does not. Ways of gathering information are participatory, for example, inquiries among colleagues or the drawing of the company to identify where the main problems for workers are found. After gathering the information it is systematized and analysed by the workers.

The main goal is that they understand their own role in the production process and the position of their company in the global supply chain.

Production mapping entails a collective construction of knowledge because the information is gathered by the workers themselves at their working place and among their own colleagues. The map of the production process permits workers to better understand the production planning of the management. Workers start to understand why companies make strategic decisions (e.g. to outsource certain parts of the production process) and how the production is connected to resources in the local context (for example by analysing the supply of material and the transport of products).

Production mapping gives workers a motive to enter into contact with flex-workers and local suppliers, who were defined by them as “threats” or enemies before. Workers can re-establish strategies and organize for consequent planned actions and gain major control over the production process. Backed by the information they gathered on their working place they can enter into negotiations and struggles that can change their realities in an effective way. Workers, who for many years have been told that their knowledge and insights are not important start to realize that their knowledge is important.

An example of Logistical Mapping in Transport Companies

One of the Brazilian participants described logistical mapping by using an example of the method in the factory in which he works (Mercedes Benz) and in which he participated.

The Comparative Logistical Mapping that was realized by the workers in his company included the mapping of among others:

–         Working Rhythm: number of workers, working hours, monthly schedule, women at work

–         Hierarchy of the company: who and where is the manager, supervisor, master, leader

–         Absence: legal removal, absence,  breaks

–         Working days: hours per week, flexible days, additional days

–         Organization of work: group work, elected spokesman, semi-autonomous groups

–         Qualifications: formal education, extra trainings

–         Social benefits: transport, food, medical arrangements

–         Salary: salary of different functions

–         Unionism: how many persons are unionized

Some achievements after applying the comparative mapping were among others:

–         A working week of 40 hours

–         Complementation of salary up to 120 days of absence for medical reasons

–         Stability to the time of retirement for workers with a loss of working capacity

–         1 day union training for workers per year

–         Free time for internal representation

–         Permanent space for negotiations

–         Hired laborers have the same rights as the officials

–         The guarantee to contract disabled persons, above the amount established by law

–         Guarantee of quotas for hiring women and persons above 40 years of age

The main achievements, as considered by the workers were:

–         There is more respect for the workers in the company

The amount of workers with a contract increased in the last seven years thanks to the mapping and continues to grow.

Organising

Organising is a method developed in the United States. It implies a method in which trade unionists make people stronger and make them emancipate, in order to address problems at the workplace, together and as a group.

Previously the union functioned rather like a service provider; it tried to solve the individual and collective problems of members. As a consequence, members took up a dependent position towards the union officials and there was no strong group at the workplace. The bargaining position was weak and there was not much chance of success and continuity.

Now, during the crisis, everyone tries to cut wherever possible. In all production chains, cuts in labour costs take place and problems are shifted from the company to the employees. Companies take orders from clients which they are not able to realize for the offered payment. They cut on salaries, while increasing workpressure and working hours. Problems that clients pose at the companies are shifted towards the employees. Then the union gets involved.

A good example of organizing is the strike in the Netherlands in the cleaning industry. It was the longest strike in the Netherlands since 1933. In total, the strike lasted nine weeks, but 5 months of action preceded. Initially, employers didn’t take the employees seriously. By applying the organizing methodology, the cleaners unfolded themselves into a strong group of people who wouldn’t be defeated easily. They enforced a pay increase, training opportunities and increased visibility and respect.

How to organize:

Before we start organizing you have to define your specific goal for an action. We have limited manpower and have to work as effective as possible.

We first map the sector: which are the leading companies in the sector? Then we choose to focus on a prominent company. Results in such a company can easily spread to other companies. Organisers at in the cleaning sector principally focused on Schiphol Airport and the National Railways because action there attracts the attention of everybody.

Once we select a company we map it: How many employees, when are the morning/evening/night shifts, do employers work separately or together, what is the percentage of ‘flexworkers’, are there many different nationalities without much contact, etc.

Then we contact the employees. We stand at the “gate” in front of the company and try to get phone numbers. We call within a few days to make an appointment, preferably at home. At home is a save environment, people are more relaxed and we can assess the overall situation of the employee: children, religion, poverty, etc.  If they don’t want to meet at home, we make an appointment in a bar, for example.

During our first appointment, we try to assess: What problems does this person have at his/her work? People often feel dissatisfaction but don’t know exactly what causes this feeling. We try to get this out. Secondly,  we try to assess: What influence do these problems have on his/her personal life? For example: people who work a lot lose their attention for their family.

To build a group, you ask people who are the colleagues they trust and they expect to join. Make appointments with these people alone or in a group. Important is not to cause problems for people involved. Only when you think the group you got in contact with is big enough, you proceed. When it is big enough, you call the group together, so everyone sees they are a group.

Initially, employees think they are too small to change their situation. They start to believe they can change their circumstances when they see they are in a group. Then, you ask commitment and make them a member of the union. You explain that if they don’t move they will stay in the same bad situation for ever. Part of the people will join and with them, you proceed.

Within the group, you find the informal leaders: the ones other people listen to. You start preparing the action with them.

Start with a small collective action which seems to win easily. (For example in the action with the cleaners it was the action around the normal canteens; they were dirty and old.) Every victory convinces other employees to join. Step by step you are building your network, keeping close contact with the leaders.

When the employer sees what is happing, he will expect a strike or an escalation. He will do anything to prevent from that . Therefore it is important to speak with the leaders about possible reactions of the employer; they should be prepared for what is coming.

During the cleaning action, we started with a small action and spread from company to company. Around 1500 strikers claimed a victory for 150.000 cleaners. Just after the action also the garbage collectors started a strike. They needed to strike only one week before they got what they wanted: they enforced a payment rise for 200.000 workers.

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