Article "Taylorism, Worker Resistance, and Industrial Relations in Sweden"


The article is written by Arvand Mirsafian, PhD student at the Dept. of Economic History and published in the International Review of Social History, October 2023.

Taylorism, Worker Resistance, and Industrial Relations in Sweden | International Review of Social History | Cambridge Core


This article explores the influence of worker resistance to Taylorism on industrial relations in Sweden. By analysing archival material from workers at the Separator Corporate Group, the Metal Workers’ Union, and the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, this article highlights the interplay between shop floor activism, discussions within trade unions, and central labour market relations. It demonstrates how rank-and-file activism compelled union leadership and the central labour market organizations to adopt a series of agreements in the 1940s aimed at addressing worker resistance to Taylorism.

Despite worker discontent, scientific management spread during the 1930s and 1940s. This eventually contributed to the Metal Strike of 1945, which had significant impact on labour–capital relations. According to the metal workers, scientific management, particularly time-motion studies, reduced their bargaining power by concealing labour processes and methods for wage determination, thereby allowing management a monopoly on knowledge.

Following the strike, negotiations between the Trade Union Confederation and the Swedish Employers’ Association resulted in the 1948 Work Studies Agreement. This agreement provided a platform for resolving conflicts and encouraging workers’ support of rationalization via the Work Studies Council. Worker resistance consequently drove Swedish labour market centralization, inadvertently promoting closer labour–capital cooperation.

This article argues, among other things, that although worker resistance failed to upend scientific management, it resulted in it being regulated within a corporatist framework. This highlights the important historical role local trade union activism has played in shaping labour market institutions and the broader political economy.