The Swedish Contribution to Job Quality  – Working paper

The Swedish Contribution to Job Quality  by Ian Hampson and Åke Sandberg.

This is a draft of a chapter that has been accepted for publication by Oxford University Press in the forthcoming book The Oxford Handbook of Job Quality edited by C. Warhurst, C. Mathieu and R. Dwyer due for publication in 2020. Table fo contents.

The focus is on ”the golden age” of worklife reform and work organization development in Sweden, and the societal preconditions for such human-oriented developments. Volvo and its Uddevalla plant is a key example.

The draft has been published as a Working Paper at the Sociology Dept, Stockholm University.
Comments are still welcome, not least on the need to contextualize even more the advanced work organization models developed in the 1980’s.

Abstract. What is distinctive about the Swedish contribution to progressive worklife reform, and what does it contribute to the current job quality literature? Sweden has produced a disproportionate share of the world’s research into social and organizational aspects of work and is among the leaders in work democratization research and practice. Work design at Volvo Uddevalla was a counterpoint to lean production in the late 1980s and 1990s. We argue that institutional and political characteristics of Sweden, partially registered as the ‘Swedish model’ underpinned these developments. In the ‘golden age’ of worklife reform from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, an unusual degree of employer support for job quality complemented trade union activism and supportive government research policies. The chapter argues that Sweden’s key contribution to current discussions around job quality lay in developing team-work with high levels of autonomy related to the democratization of work, interacting with action-oriented research and job design, and exploring the boundaries of such developments.

Contested Nordic Models of Work and Employment:Volvo Uddevalla and Welfare Capitalism

Contested models - cover - 20130722

From the introduction to the report: Contested Nordic Models

On the macro level the labour market model with its solidaristic wages policy, active labour market policy and job creation is at the heart of the Swedish model. It interacts with welfare and social security policy. On the micro level we find models of qualified, decent and even ‘good work’ and participative forms of management. These are mutually dependent elements in a social contract. There are however recent tendencies that threaten this contract of ‘productive welfare’: degradation of work, and precarious employment conditions, unemployment as well as hikes in social security and in the welfare sector (lower taxes, less resources and crisis in schools and healthcare) may result in lower trust in the future of the model. Privatizations in the welfare sector with a growing role for tax-evading venture capitalists may additionally strengthen such distrust. The willingness to accept technological change and rationalizations in the economy, so central to the Scandinavian model of economic development and job creation may thus be jeopardized.

On the micro level, is Volvo’s human-centered model of work organization and production at the end of the road? In Volvo’s car assembly plant in Kalmar the work content was 20-40 minutes as compared to a couple of minutes in standard line production. Workers followed the car on a wagon along the line between various stations or they worked in a dock, with the car in a kind of side track. The Uddevalla plant had stationary parallel production groups of nine workers assembling whole cars and working for two hours or more before repeating the tasks. Material was brought to the autonomous groups.

Production according to the innovative concepts in the plants in Kalmar and Uddevalla was closed down some twenty years ago, but the ideas are alive not least in academia but also in practice. In a panel we will discuss what we can learn from the Uddevalla experience. Will we again se forms of production like in the Uddevalla plant where qualified workers in autonomous groups assemble whole cars? And more generally what can we learn for a future development of work organization where workers to a high extent control their own work, supported by advanced forms of automation, organization and learning strategies? And what types of vertical integration of planning and execution and of reorganization, even on the societal level, may be needed to make such an autonomous work possible.

The report argues that we must look at the model as a whole, you cannot pick for example only the productivity and innovation side while making hikes in the welfare systems and damaging the functioning of the labour market by cuts in the enemployment insurance. Productivity and welfare are, in Scandinavia, two sides of the same coin.

Read the whole report here:  Contested Nordic Models

Read an interview about the report (in Swedish): ”När den svenska modellen tappade sitt självförtroende