Employment relations in a German car manufacturer in China and Mexico – Interpretive patterns of management and rank and file workers

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Frido Wenten


Gerpisa colloquium, Kyoto (2014)


This contribution addresses employment relations in a transnationally operating car manufacturer in Mexico and China – especially the ways in which managers and blue-collar workers perceive and react to work-related potentials, challenges and problems. It is part of a Phd research project on the constitutive role of local social and political conditions – especially the widely neglected agency of workers – in the transnational expansion and local adaptation of the enterprise. Based on interim findings from two six-months fieldwork periods in Mexico and China conducted between August 2012 and September 2013, this presentation draws on in-depth problem-centred interviews with blue-collar workers, trade union officials and managers; as well as on participant observation at one Mexican and five Chinese plants. Additional interviews were conducted with relevant scholars, government officials and labour activists.

Three broader issues will be mapped out heuristically; namely 1. what kind of challenges and problems workers and managers identify in the context of their work; 2. how they conceptualise and present them; and 3. what kind of coping strategies they employ to process them. This allows for insights into the interpretive patterns workers and managers hold vis à vis their work and each other. These patterns should be interpreted against the backdrop of the wider political and economic processes that set the respective agents’ room to manoeuvre, such as the different macroeconomic performance of the Mexican and Chinese national economy, but also the target markets, product range, supply chains and ownership structures of the corporation’s subsidiaries. If located within these dynamics, a closer analysis of subjective interpretive patterns enriches our understanding of why, when and where individually and collectively held perceptions inform certain ad-hoc responses or strategic decisions. This will help to improve our understanding of the absence/occurrence and specific form of industrial action, but also of the character of management systems and profit-strategies in the regions in focus.

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