MacDuffie (1996) went on to document the effects of these two different strategies by showing that high-technology plants were not among the most productive in the industry worldwide. However, using high technology in conjunction with workplace innovations and transformed human resource practices did produce the highest levels of productivity and quality in auto assembly plants around the world. Black and Lynch (1997) also found the percentage of blue-collar employees using computers has a positive effect on productivity of a national sample of manufacturing plants. As in the auto industry studies, the effect of computer use is increased when combined with innovative work practices and cooperative labor-management relations.
To illustrate the changing nature of blue-collar work and its consequences, three industry examples are summarized below. Each case illustrates the interdependent nature of the content and contexts of work—that is, the changes occurring in blue-collar work are part of a larger organizational restructuring that encompasses other features of the internal labor market.
The Steel Industry The steel industry in the United States experienced enormous competitive pressures in the 1980s and 1990s that set in motion restructuring and changes in traditional job structures. One detailed case study of the restructuring process in an integrated mill reported reductions in job classifications among skilled trades were reduced from 69 to 16 (Yamagami, 1987). Most integrated mills underwent similar changes and moved toward greater teamwork for both production and craft jobs.
The United Steelworkers of America supported these changes in return for greater voice in organizational decision making at the workplace and, in the 1990s, up through the strategic levels of the firm. The union noted, however, that craft consolidation should proceed without sacrificing the deep knowledge and skills associated with traditional skilled trade jobs: "In the area of trade jobs, the primary objective must be to 'deepen' the skill base of the trades and create tradespeople with greater knowledge within