|Women Encounter Technology: Changing Patterns of Employment in the Third World (UNU, 1995, 356 pages)|
|4. Conflicting demands of new technology and household work|
Until 1970, small textile firms (less than 500 workers) accounted for approximately 50 per cent of the textiles output in Brazil, while medium and large firms were responsible for 15 per cent and 35 per cent respectively (BNDE, 1977). But after the economic policy implemented during the Brazilian miracle (1968-1973), the sector became much more concentrated. Concentration and restructuring have continued in recent years, which have been characterized by:
1 the stagnation of internal demand for textiles due to economic recession and social impoverishment;
2 the gradual liberalization of domestic tariffs, and the relative opening of the economy to international competition;
3 an increased incentive to export, given the international increase in export quotas allowed by the weakening of the controls built into the Multifibre Agreement operating between 1974 and 1992;
4 the beginnings of the implementation of the Mercosur Agreement, a common market between Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, which will create a market of 200 million consumers;
5 the need to recover lost productivity and competitiveness in the industry which, between 1990 and 1992, was operating at 50 per cent to 60 per cent of its installed capacity.
The push towards technological upgrading was reflected in increasing imports of textiles machinery over the years. In 1991, such machinery accounted for 17.2 per cent of total capital goods imports. Modernization with computer technology began in the 80s, with the incorporation of microelectronic devices into machinery in some phases of the production process and in other sub-branches of textiles (e.g. into the circular automatic looms used in knitting). Innovations were further developed in the finishing stages of production. Technologically, Brazil is considered to be at an intermediate level within the international economy; with the average age of its textile machines being 14-16 years (as opposed to 6-8 years in developed countries). Some 60 per cent of its installed equipment is locally produced, a pattern found among the ten most advanced countries in textile production (Revista Textil, various numbers).
Greater use of mixed fibres tends to facilitate the use of microelectronic control devices. These intensify managerial control of the manufacturing process by registering, storing and transmitting information at each stage of the production process. They also take over or modify tasks that previously required human intervention. For example, they crucially affect the jobs of quality controllers. The devices demand an upgrading of supervisory and technical skills, but also training in basic informatics techniques for many types of operators, many of whom are women. The use of microelectronic control devices has facilitated the adoption of new forms of management and work organization at the plant level, such as semi-autonomous groups, quality control circles (CCQs) and just-in-time production (Ferraz, 1992). In general, industrial automation and new organizational techniques are seen by respondents in large textile firms as contributing to higher employment levels, but only among technical staff and mostly at the levels of project planning and maintenance. The knowledge relevant for industrial automation is thus expected to be in the fields of management, electronics, and the maintenance of machines. While the need for polyvalence and flexible work rhythms is increasing, the number of occupational categories and labour-intensive tasks is decreasing. With the introduction of new equipment, more weight is now being given to general education and to vocational training, rather than to workers' experiential and tacit skills.
There is very little information available on the technical levels of the textile industry in Argentina. The best way of analysing the degree of modernization in the sector is to look at the latest trends in textile machinery imports. Since 1982 (with the exception of 1983, which was a year of turmoil, with the return to democracy and the switch to the economic liberalization model), imports of textile machinery have increased steadily. Since 1985 textile machines have been the main type of machinery imported, representing in most years more than two thirds of total machinery imports. The rapid modernization of the textile industry since 1985 has partly reflected the influence of the economic model underlying the economic readjustment policy, proposed by the IMF, which was intended to return Argentina to the world market. New technology was recognized as indispensable for international competitiveness and, in the case of textiles, the promotion of certain product-lines for exports urgently required technical renewal.
The effects of textiles modernization on new forms of work organization in Argentina have not been sufficiently researched. A casestudy of one of the largest national textile firms (Novick and Lavigne, 1988), however, shows that the firm had introduced semi-autonomous groups and the just-in-time system to all its plants. This was done in order to be able to respond quickly to changing export market needs, to adapt production to higher quality products and to different types of customer orders. The authors estimated that such organizational innovations, being used in four or five of the leading textile firms, had led to job 'restructuring' for approximately 7,500 workers. Quality control had been brought down to the shop floor and relegated to blue collar workers, whom the firms now require to have new skills such as a higher disposition to group work and greater flexibility.