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Topic section 3: Labour tensions
Labour tensions
Picture: 1990-5036_6034_0001_18759s3.jpg
Women factory worker turining nose cones for shells.
Credit: NMPFT
Keeping cars moving on the factory line demanded strict discipline from the work

In 1971 industrial disputes
at Dagenham ran for
eleven weeks..

ers and offered very repetitive work for long periods of time. Hollywood was equally tough in its own way. The standard working week was six fourteen-hour days. In his first year at MGM (1931), Clark Gable made fourteen movies. Around the same time, Michael Curtiz, director of Casablanca, directed five films per year.

Picture: 10320789s3embedded.jpg
Unemployed demonstration, Hyde Park, London, September 1931.
NMPFT/Syndication International
While much of the work on factory lines was routine, building and running this technology required new skills in engineering and management. These roles gave a degree of independence. Eventually the proportion of the work force that had to be both skilled and flexible grew. By the 1960s such qualities were needed by two out of every five employees at Dagenham. The Hollywood studios also required such skilled and flexible working. Directors had to know about camera angles, cameramen about lighting, and so on. However, many other jobs were menial and unskilled – eighty per cent of American auto factory workers were in this category in 1970. Similarly, the movie industry depended upon unskilled labour. Every film crew contained a ‘swing gang’, which moved equipment and built sets.
Picture: 10318577s3embedded.jpg
Early car factory, Bishops Green, Coventry, West Midlands, 1907.
NMPFT/Syndication International

The division between skilled and unskilled workers created tension that often ended in strikes and unrest. Bitter labour relations have been a feature of the car industry. In 1971 industrial disputes at Dagenham ran for eleven weeks, costing Ford £100 million and 150,000 vehicles. In the 1930s, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees turned Hollywood studios into closed shops, and struck frequently.

Labour relations are still not good. As recently as the year 2000 Hollywood saw a bitter six-month actors’ strike against advertisers.

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The beginning of the line
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The factory line has permeated lives and made possible our consumer society, producing both its wealth of goods and many of its social pressures.  > more

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Creating conformity
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The factory line demanded that workers conform to certain requirements, such as speed, accuracy or method. However, conformity soon took on a wider meaning.  > more

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The mass production of dreams
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In Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’, films were also made on a ‘production line’. By breaking the project up into small, timed tasks, a studio could make a film in less than 9 weeks.  > more
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