Saturday, November 3, 2018

Frederick Taylor's Piece Rate System - 1895 - Part 6

Frederick Taylor's Piece Rate System - 1895 - Part 6

76. But what is perhaps of more importance still, the rate-fixing department has shown the necessity of carefully systematizing all of the small details in the running of each shop, such as the care of belting, the proper shape for cutting tools, and the dressing, grinding, and issuing sairfe, oiling machines, issuing orders for work, obtaining accurate labor and material returns, and a host
of other minor methods and processes. These details, which are usually regarded as of comparatively small importance, and many of which are left to the individual judgment of the foreman and workmen, are shown by the rate-fixing department to be of paramount importance in obtaining the maximum output, and to require the most careful and systematic study and attention in
order to insure uniformity and a fair and equal chance for each workman. Without this preliminary study and systematizing of details it is impossible to apply successfully the differential rate in most establishments.

77. As before stated, the success of this system of piece-work depends fundamentally upon the possibility of materially increasing the output per man and per machine, providing the proper man be found for each job and the proper incentive be offered to him.

78. As an illustration of the difference between what ought to be done by a workman well suited to his job, and what is generally done, I will mention a single class of work, performed in almost every establishment in the country. In shovelling coal from a car over the side on to a pile one man should unload forty tons per day, and keep it up year in and year out, and thrive under it.

With this knowledge of the possibilities I have never failed to find men who were glad to work at this speed for from four and a half to five cents per ton. The average speed for unloading coal in most places, however, is nearer fifteen than forty tons per day. In securing the above rate of speed it must be clearly understood that the problem is not how to force men to work harder or longer hours than their health will permanently allow, but rather first to select among the laborers which are to be found in every community the men who are physically able to work permanently at that job and at the speed mentioned without damage to their health, and who are mentally sufficiently inert to be satisfied
with the monotony of the work, and then to offer them such inducements as will make them happy and contented in doing so.

79. The first case in which a differential rate was applied furnishes a good illustration of what can be accomplished by it.

A standard steel forging, many thousands of which are used each year, had for several years been turned at the rate of from four to five per day under the ordinary system of piece-work, 50 cents per piece being the price paid for the work. After analyzing the job and determining the shortest time required to do each of the elementary operations of which it was composed, and then summing up the total, the writer became convinced that it was possible to turn ten pieces a day. To finish the forgings at this rate, however, the machinists were obliged to work at their maximum pace from morning
to night, and the lathes were run as fast as the tools would allow, and under a heavy feed.

It will be appreciated that this was a big day’s work, both for men and machines, when it is understood that it involved removing, with a single 16-inch lathe having two saddles, an average of more than 800 pounds of steel chips in ten hours. In place of the 50-cent rate that they had been paid before, they were given 35 cents per piece when they turned them at the speed of 10 per day, and when they produced less than 10 they received only 25 cents per piece.

80. It took considerable trouble to induce the men to turn at this high speed, since they did not at first fully appreciate that it was the intention of the firm to allow them to earn permanently at the rate of $3.50 per day. But from the day they first turned 10 pieces to the present time, a period of more than ten years, the men who understood their work have scarcely failed a single day to turn at this rate. Throughout that time, until the beginning of the recent fall in the scale of wages throughout the country, the rate was not cut.

81. During this whole period the competitors of the company never succeeded in averaging over half of this production per lathe, although they knew and even saw what was being done at Midvale. They, however, did not allow their men to earn over from $2 to $2.50 per day, and so never even approached the maximum output.

82. The following table will show the economy of paying high wages under the differential rate in doing the above job.


Ordinary system of piece-work.

Man’s wages $2 50

Machine cost ....... 3 37

Total cost per day . . $5 87
5 pieces produced.

Cost per piece 1 17

Differential rate system.

Man’s wages ...... $3 50

Machine cost 3 37

Total cost per day ... $6 87
10 pieces produced.

Cost per piece $0 69

The above result was mostly, though not entirely, due to the differential rate. The superior system of managing all of the small details of the shop counted for considerable.

83. There has never been a strike by men working under differential rates, although these rates have been applied at the Midvale Steel Works for the past ten years, and the steel business has proved during this period the most fruitful field for labor organizations and strikes. And this notwithstanding the Midvale Company has never prevented its men from joining any labor organization. All of the best men in the company saw clearly that the success of a labor organization meant the lowering of their wages in order that the inferior men might earn more, and of course could not be persuaded to join.

84. I attribute a great part of this success in avoiding strikes to the high wages which the best men were able to earn with the differential rates, and to the pleasant feeling fostered by this system ; but this is by no means the whole cause. It has for years been the policy of that company to stimulate the personal ambition of every man in their employ, by promoting them either in wages or position whenever they deserved it and the opportunity came.

A careful record has been kept of each man’s good points as well as his shortcomings, and one of the principal duties of each foreman was to make this careful study of his men, so that substantial justice could be done to each. When men throughout an establishment are paid varying rates of day-work wages according to their individual worth, some being above and some below the average, it cannot be for the interest of those receiving high pay to join a union with the cheap men.

85. No system of management, however good, should be applied in a wooden way. The proper personal relations should always be maintained between the employers and men ; and even the prejudices of the workmen should be considered in dealing with ]them.

The employer who goes through his works with kid gloves on, and is never known to dirty his hands or clothes, and who either talks to his men in a condescending or patronizing way, or else not at all, has no chance whatever of ascertaining their real thoughts or feelings.

86. Above all it is desirable that men should be talked to on their own level by those who are over them.

Each man should be encouraged to discuss any trouble which he may have, either in the works or outside, with those over him. Men would far rather even be blamed by their bosses, especially if the “ tearing out ” has a touch of human nature and feeling in it, than to be passed by day after day without a word and with no more notice than if they were part of the machinery.

The opportunity which each man should have of airing his mind freely and having it out with his employers, is a safety-valve ; and if the superintendents are reasonable men, and listen to and treat with respect what their men have to say, there is absolutely no reason for labor unions and strikes.

87. It is not the large charities (however generous they may be) that are needed or appreciated by workmen, such as the founding of libraries and starting workingmen’s clubs, so much as small acts of personal kindness and sympathy, which establish a bond of friendly feeling between them and their employers.

88. The moral effect of the writer’s system on the men is marked. The feeling that substantial justice is being done them renders them on the whole much more manly, straightforward, and truthful. They work more cheerfully, and are more obliging to one another and their employers. They are not soured, as under the old system, by brooding over the injustice done them ; and their spare minutes are not spent to the same extent in criticising their employers.

A noted French engineer and steel manufacturer, who recently spent several weeks in the works of the Midvale Company in introducing a new branch of manufacture, stated before leaving that the one thing which had impressed him as most unusual and remarkable about the place was the fact that not only the foremen but the workmen were expected to and did in the main tell the truth in case of any blunder or carelessness, even when they had to suffer from it themselves.

89. From what the writer has said he is afraid that many readers may gain the impression that he regards elementary rate-fixing and the differential rate as a sort of panacea for all human ills.

This is, however, far from the case. While he regards the possibilities of these methods as great, he is of the opinion, on the contrary, that this system of management will be adopted by but few establishments, in the near future at least, since its really successful application not only involves a thorough organization but requires the machinery and tools throughout the place to be kept in such good repair that it will be possible for the workmen each day to produce their maximum output. But few manufacturers will care to go to this trouble until they are forced to.

90. It is his opinion that the most successful manufacturers, those who are always ready to adopt the best machinery and methods when they see them, will gradually avail themselves of the benefits of scientific rate-fixing ; and that competition will compel the others to follow slowly in the same direction.

91. Even .if all of the manufacturers in the country who are competing in the same line of business were to adopt these methods, they could still well afford to pay the high rate of wages demanded by the differential rate and necessary to induce men to work fast, since it is a well recognized fact the world over, that the highest-priced labor, providing it is proportionately productive, is the cheapest ; and the low cost at which they could produce their goods would enable them to sell in foreign
markets and still pay high wages.

92. The writer is far from taking the view held by many manufacturers that labor unions are an almost unmitigated detriment to those who join them, as well as to employers and the general public.

The labor unions — particularly the trades unions of England — have rendered a great service, not only to their members but to the world, in shortening the hours of labor and in modifying the hardships and improving the conditions of wage-workers.

In the writer’s judgment the system of treating with labor unions would seem to occupy a middle position among the various methods of adjusting the relations between employers and men.

When employers herd their men together in classes, pay all of each class the same wages, and offer none of them any inducements to work harder or do better than the average, the only remedy for the men lies in combination ; and frequently the only possible answer to encroachments on the part of their employers is a strike. This state of affairs is far from satisfactory to either employers or men, and the writer believes the system of regulating the wages and conditions of employment of
whole classes of men by conference and agreement between the leaders, unions, and manufacturers to be vastly inferior, both in its moral effect on the men and on the material interests of both parties, to the plan of stimulating each workman’s ambition by paying him according to his individual worth, and without limiting him to the rate of work or pay of the average of his class.

93. The level of the great mass of the world’s labor has been, and must continue to be, regulated by causes so many and so complex as to be at best but dimly recognized.

The utmost effect of any system, whether of management, social combination, or legislation, can be but to raise a small ripple or wave of prosperity above the surrounding level, and the greatest hope of the writer is that here and there a few workmen, with their employers, may be helped through this system toward the crest of the wave.

Updated on 4 November 2018, 24 July 2018

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