Dr Ramón Reichert
Research Institute Epistemology and Discourse-Analysis, University of Vienna
With over 1,300 titles, the film archive of the Österreichisches Produktivitäts-Zentrum (Austrian Productivity Center) presents a resource which is not only unique in Europe but also extremely informative for contemporary history.
The Österreichisches Produktivitäts-Zentrum (in the following: ÖPZ), a partner institute of the Deutsches Rationalisierungkuratorium (German Rationalization Committee) (RKW), held the monopoly on the educational representation of productivity which went beyond an organizational context in the fifties. It arose as a direct result of the US’s economic Marshall Aid Plan, as well as Austrian reconstruction projects. In the US, the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA), an independent federal administrative agency, was created to oversee the distribution and spending of Marshall aid. Within the ECA was an information division that was responsible for the dissemination of facts about the Marshall Plan in Europe. The goal of the ECA in Europe was to make clear to as many people as possible the fundamental purposes of the Marshall Plan as an expression of American working policy. It was hoped that the workers in Austria and in all ERP countries would know how the new productive techniques and technology provided by Marshall dollars was helping them to be more productive. So should the European factory worker understand how new methods of production could increase the industrial output of his country. In the second decade of the Marshall aid between 1950-1952 the audience of the productivity films encompassed roughly one million Austrians, mainly work apprentices.
Up to the present day, this fund preserves the unique rationalization films in the context of the US project “Technical Assistance” which arose in the context of the Marshall Plan as well as the Austrian reconstruction projects. From the beginning on, the construction of a specialized library (with ca. 7,000 books in 1960) and a comprehensive film distribution service which encompasses 1,300 films was pushed through. A further emphasis was the organization of the “technical assistance” of the Austrian study mission in the USA and Western Europe. Participants in such journeys— such as unionists—count among the multipliers of the following “wave of Americanization”. From 1950 to1960, the ÕPZ supervised 258 trips with 1,477 people to the USA and 198 trips with 1,054 people to Western Europe. At that time, what counted were selected exemplary branch analyses, exhibitions, seminars, conferences as well as special commercial projects, the erection of model workshops and the maintenance of research, training and advice posts.
A history of science perspective will provide the base for an investigation of the various tasks of the Austrian Productivity Center beyond the bounds of a narrow historical framework. This contribution refers to a research project started in the last two years. Within this project a database of the complete film stock was done. The material has been analyzed within the contexts of the cultural, social and economic history. This took into consideration interdisciplinary aspects such as the work concept in Taylorism, Fordism, industrial psychology and Human Relations; the conditions established in the history of science for the concept of labor-power, energy, natural science experiments; the epistemological problem of discretion and distinction of the elementary units of the labor process based on the example of the movement studies of humans, and many more. Therefore this article will point out the importance of film as an instrument of rationalization of work. Up to now the research about this connection is very poor. As long as there is no standard of analysis, it seems to be difficult to draw a comparision or to rely on established methods. Therefore my article should be understand as an approach to integrate film as a historical source into Labour History.
The popularisation of productivity
US management and its principles, instruments and methods was considered the ultima ratio of scientific management that was superior to all other methods and which, together with the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation, (OEEC) that had been established by the USA and European governments, was going to guarantee and promote the economic rebuilding of Europe on the hegemonic basis of US management methods (Weiler 1981, 1-22). In contrast to the rationalisation paradigm of the 1920s, the key concept productivity was to be used to overcome US isolationism in favour of a comprehensive interventionism of American management methods (Anstey 1986, 114f). The propagation of productivity according to US performance targets was to be supported at an institutional level by national productivity centres (McGlade 1998, 13). The ÖPZ was founded on 4 April 1950 at the behest of the minister with the purpose of “placing all the material, spiritual and moral resources of the Austrian people in the service of increased productivity.” (10 Jahre ÖPZ 1960, 23).
The basic function of the Economic-Technical Information Service’s (WTI) information policy was to provide the know-how to increase economic productivity: “Information forms the basis for all productive work” (15 Jahre ÖPZ 1965, 17). ÖPZ‘s first activities involved the collection, evaluation and translation of US magazine articles and reports about operational and technical issues. The central task of the WTI was to process knowledge so that the main production factors capital and labour could be utilised to advance progress in areas that depended on the use of technology, labour and capital (Produktivität 1950/5, 2; ÖPZ-Jahresbericht 1952, 28; ÖPZ-Jahresbericht 1953, 4; Programm des Management-Seminars 1952, AdR, 1-4; 15 Jahre ÖPZ1965, 7f).
During the negotiations to reorganise ÖPZ, in which the social partners and the head of the ECA-office were also involved, it was agreed that a comprehensive nation-wide productivity campaign would be launched in Austrian businesses. The didactic advantages offered by film in a campaign to popularise productivity were described under the title “Film helps Business.” “Due to its vivid nature, a good film can express more than the spoken or written word, and generally speaking, audiences are also more likely to pay attention to a lively film than to the confusing mass of printed material.” (15 Jahre ÖPZ 1965, 16).
The film medium was supposed to initiate the Americanisation of business: “Not even a very detailed description can portray certain methods of work and technical details with the same clarity that is conveyed by a film. In the United States, hundreds of films about technical processes or methods of increasing productivity have been produced and shown by companies, business associations or government agencies. To the extent that these films—they are all cine films—are relevant to European conditions, they will be synchronised and shown in the ERP countries.” (Der Schlüssel 1953, Ib).
The ÖPZ newsletter “Produktivität” which had been launched in July 1950, first mentioned US films in ÖPZ archives that offered practical information concerning managerial and technical issues in its fourth number in October 1950 in an article titled “Large Selection of Technical Films.” (Produktivität 1950/6, 6f) As early as spring 1951, 100 film projectors were set up in Austria in co-operation with the ECA mission in Vienna to “permit the films to be shown at the workplace” (ERP Aktualitäten 1951/87, 10f). In addition, the films were also made available to be shown in Viennese cinemas. The film service also had two film lorries so that the films could be shown throughout the provinces upon request. These film lorries were purchased and fitted out in 1952. These ÖPZ mobile cinemas made a crucial contribution to the educational drive to popularise productivity among the general public. It was only with the use of the film lorries that we can speak of a decisive turning point in the comprehensive popularisation of productivity (McGlade 1998, 13). Evidence of this is seen in the large number of visitors and the socially diverse audiences that extended beyond the company’s immediate environment. The films also addressed the non-working public, above all housewives, by tackling issues such as increasing efficiency within the home and by providing consumer advice. By building up the film office and developing a network of projector sites and the mobile cinema, the ÖPZ also became a central institution for promoting efficiency outside a business context (Der Schlüssel 1951/5, 2). By 15 June 1953, film hire and use of the mobile cinema had made it possible to organise some 46,000 events (Produktivität 1950/1, 2; Produktivität 1950/6, 6). The productivity films were shown periodical in the cinemas in Vienna, the capital city of Austria, but also systematic in a lot of smaller villages in the country by mobile cinema. Taking into account a mass audience that certainly exceeded one million and that consists mainly of apprentices and schoolboys, it can be assumed that the productivity films played a decisive role in shaping the collective memory with regard to improved efficiency in factories, offices and in the home (Produktivität 1950/1, 2).
On the basis of these results, it can be concluded that as of 1952 (Lackner 1987, 108), (from which time onwards the ÖPZ embodied the productivity consensus between the social partners), the ÖPZ productivity campaign was launched on a broad basis and decisively influenced public opinion in the 1950s in Austria with regard to a positive assessment of Taylorist and Fordist production and management methods.
Economic cooperation administration and its information division
In the US, the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA), an independent federal administrative agency, was created to oversee the distribution and spending of Marshall aid. Within the ECA was an information division that was responsible for the dissemination of facts about the Marshall Plan in Europe (Hardach 1994, 52; Arkes 1972, 34). The purpose of the division was twofold. First, it intended to instruct and educate Europeans on how Marshall aid was being used and could be used in the future. Second, it worked to make the US efforts visible to all Europeans and foster appreciation for American efforts (Hemsig 1994:269-274). This was done by means of films, posters, radio broadcasts, concerts and even puppet shows. Within each participating Marshall Plan nation there was a country mission (see ECA– Mission 1949-1951; ECA–Mission 1949; ECA Information Office 1950-1952; ECA 1950; Amerikanische Wirtschaftsmission o.J.). These missions each had a team of American and foreign bureaucrats who assessed the political and economic situation of the country, proposed recommendations and comments on ECA policies, and conducted negotiations about recovery operations within the country (Hofbauer 1992, 129; Bryan 1991, 489-507). The ECA emphasized investment over consumption because it hoped to create self-sustaining European economies that could stand on their own and continue the program of reconstruction without further funding from the US (McGlade 1988: 67).
Part of this effort to create a self-sustaining Europe was dependent upon the publicity efforts of the Information Division. Whereas propagandizing American citizens seemed too subversive, doing so in Europe was acceptable, if not necessary, because of Communist efforts to undermine the ERP (see Kolko/Kolko 1972; Hogan 1985; Mähr 1987). The European effort was also considerably better funded that that in the US because ECA abroad received five percent counterpart funds to pay its administrative costs. Counterpart funds consisted of money levied by each Marshall Plan nation to match American donations. This money was generally used for reinvestment and for infrastructure improvements within the country.
The goal of the ECA in Europe was to make “clear to as many people as possible the fundamental purposes of the Marshall Plan as an expression of American foreign policy”, as well as to dramatise “the contributions being made through it to European recovery” (see Record Group 511.63, NA; see also Rogin 1984). It was not enough to simply instruct nations’ governments on the utilization of the funds. There also need to be an outreach to the citizens of Europe if the program were to be successful. It was hoped that the farmer in southern Italy would know how the new farming techniques and technology provided by Marshall dollars was helping him to be more productive. So should the factory worker in Germany understand how new methods of production could increase the industrial output of his country. The idea behind it being that the ECA could reach adults, fifteen percent of which were illiterate, by educating their children. Because the impact of the Marshall Plan was less visible than such former aid programs as Lend-Lease, publicity was necessary to make the American effort visible. Whereas donations of US military supplies during the war were quite observable, internal and economic improvements brought about by the investment of Marshall dollars were not so easy to see, unless one was a banker or an economist.
Aside from making the ERP visible, the ECA hoped also to invoke a feeling of appreciation among its transatlantic benefactors. While it did not want to give Europeans an inferiority complex by making them think they could not recover without American aid, the US did not want their generosity to go unnoticed. The ECA reminded Europeans in various ways that each American citizen was giving up two months salary to fund the Marshall Plan. Also, materials coming into Europe were often labeled with “ERP” or “For European Recovery—Supplied by the United States of America.”
It was Article 2 of the Economic Cooperation Masterplan, signed by all the countries involved, that allowed for both the US and the individual national governments to engage in the dissemination of information. A section of the Masterplan signed with Austria read: “The Governments of the United States of America and Austria recognize that it is in their mutual interest that full publicity be given to the objectives and progress of the joint program for European Recovery…[the] wide dissemination of information…is desirable in order to develop the sense of common effort and mutual aid which are essential to the accomplishment of the objectives of the program” (511.63/5-1551. US Legation, NA; see also Halbritter 1993, 22-25; Rainer 1999, 74).
Though this Austrian document may not speak for the whole of Europe, it is worthwhile to examine because Austria was particularly hard hit by ECA efforts due to the high levels of Communist activity after the war (Rogin 1984; 1994). While the Information Division was initiated in 1948, it started out slowly. This slow start was due in part to the assumption that local information agencies would, to a significant extent, work to educate their people about the Marshall Plan. However, a December 1949 poll in the New York Times showed that many Europeans thought American aid was suspicious and questioned American motives (Schröder 1999, 321). This suspicion was exacerbated by the anti-Marshall Plan propaganda techniques of the relatively strong European Communist parties, who said that the “ERP was designed to enslave Europe, foment war, create unemployment, dump American surpluses, exploit downtrodden labor and effect military penetration of sovereign nations” (Halbritter 1993, 23f).
Because the European branch of the ECA was funded by five percent counterpart funds, it was never at a loss for monetary support. This allowed it to churn out large amounts of high quality information with little regard for expenditure. Its high budget allowed the Information Division to use film, a rather expensive medium, for the dissemination of information. The Paris Film Unit, which was the central location for ECA filmmaking, was composed of some of the most prominent members of the American and European film community. According to Stuart Schulberg, who was chief of the Unit from 1950-51, the Paris Film Unit grew “into a compact, efficient organization…Together they formed a multi-lingual international team able to plan and supervise films all over Western Europe”(Schulberg 1951, 10; see also Ellwood 1985, 229).
Paul Hoffman, the chief of the ECA Office in Washington pointed out the “psychological warfare” of the Information Service: “To run the ECA without a strong information arm would be as futile as trying to conduct a major business without sales, advertising and customer-relations departments.” (Price 1955, 242). He summarized the concept of the information politics of the ECA in the following demands: “first, to make clear to as many people as possible the fundamental purposes of the Marshall Plan as an expression of American foreign policy” and second: “to dramatise the contributions being made through it to European recovery” (Metz 1998, 3). The primary scope of duties of the Information Service was “to utilise every possible material an psychological means to create a respect, for the American attitude and purposes, and thereby to vitiate the propaganda of competing political philososophies” (Hiller 1974, 174).
Film was attractive for three reasons. First, it promised a large audience in a growing society of moviegoers. Second, it held the viewer’s attention. As a report of the Austrian mission pointed out, “The medium meets the spectator seated and is almost certain of finding him there at he end of the performance, something radio cannot assure” (Wagnleitner 1991, 70). Thirdly, for those living in the rural parts of Europe who had never been exposed to motion pictures before, film would leave a lasting impression. Films were often shown in rural villages by means of mobile theatre units. In Greece there was even a showboat that traveled to the isolated Greek islands carrying the message of the Marshall Plan through film.
In addition to the general image campaign for ERP investments within the scope of the reorientation initiated by the US administration, the majority of the copies managed by the ÖPZ film service concerned technical assistance, the main area of ÖPZ activities (Tweraser 1995:91-115). Almost 60 percent of the US films supplied to the ÖPZ by the ECA– Mission and later on by the Mutual Security Agency, dealt with production methods designed to reduce operating costs and rationalisation potential in the metal working industry and agriculture (exact 13 per cent). 31 per cent of the films promote the benefits of the Marshall plan.
In general it should be said that the most films (exact 27 per cent) that were managed in the filmservice of the ÖPZ are “work studies” that are based on “time and motion studies”, as we know them from the experiments of Taylor. The technical advice in the films was addressed to different target groups according to their individual requirements. Thus the film series “Industrial Management,” (exact 6 per cent) with its scenes and case studies, addressed middle management, engineers in the field of work planning and scheduling, personnel planners, industrial psychologists and sociologists. The import of the “liberal” US -management that focus worker’s participation was minor and unimportant. Mostly the films that came with the ERP to Europe were produced during World War II, because the US Information Service was instructed not to bring the latest know-how of industrial production to Europe.
The largest series, “Machine Shop Work,” with 97 titles, was designed to provide apprentices with the necessary discipline for the basic steps of industrial production. The series “Agricultural Work” taught farmers the use of mechanical tools, seed recognition and methods of animal breeding in their regional dialects. Local filmmakers were included in the project with the aim of reaching the local target groups in the individual ERP countries, particularly in the agricultural sector, and increasing acceptance on the part of the national and regional audiences. In place of the traditional authoritarian concepts of human labour that emphasised “obedience” and “working to rule,” the US films in the series “Industrial Management” placed the human factor at the heart of managerial considerations and promoted more participatory management concepts that emphasised a more subtle relationship between capital and labour. At the same time, these films prepared the way for and signalled the import of modern US management methods to Austria and Europe. A new school of managers emerged who had been trained and impressed by study tours to the United States. The central message of the films regarding leadership was to utilise the special skills of the employees. Film series such as “Industrial Management” were supposed to motivate managers to establish company structures that were not based on exploitation and oppression and in which performance and success were considered the expression of a “personal” need for social participation. The basic idea contained in US films targeted at business was to show how rule based on personal-charismatic and hereditary authority in the production process could be replaced by a material authority based on “objective” insights and reason, that would produce both higher wages for the individual as well as general prosperity. The intention of the films was to offer alternatives to an exclusively hierarchically-oriented concept of corporate organisation—a less rigid, less formal style of management that required employees to show initiative even seemed more efficient. One third of all films supplied to the ÖPZ within the scope of the ECA mission showed organisational and theoretical methods such as Human Resource Management or Human Relations that the ECA Information Office in Vienna considered more productive approaches (Maier 1991, 172). These were to replace the authoritarian production regime that was believed to have prevailed in small and medium-sized companies during the National Socialist period.
Time and motion studies
The US films that subjected workers’ bodies to the regime of timed studies in the time and motion studies were of central importance for the import of US production methods (see Barnes 1980: 19, Niebel: 213f., Price: 61, Mandel: 11). These films are an excellent illustration of the importance of film for the rationalisation of work (see Rabinbach 1981; Carew 1987, 1991; Braun 1992; Reichert 2000b: 207–219). In the time and motion studies shown in the films work operations are broken down into discrete units (see Reichert 1996, 1998:1-2, 2000a:7-11). The mechanics of the film, where the filmstrips were exposed 24 or 18 times a second, break down the sequences of the motions made by the worker. On the basis of this discontinuous sequence of motions, isolated individual images can be spatially arranged and compared with one another. The basic motions of the work broken down in the time studies form the elements for optimising the work processes. As Walter Benjamin put it, film as the medium of short closure times reveals an“optical-unconscious,” that the workers who are represented in the media are unaware of (Benjamin 1996: 38f., see also Benjamin 1997: 126ff).
The new rationality of work, the selection and combination of “time-saving” movements in the laboratory or planning office, consists in separating the action from the will of the worker. Through the spatial and institutional separation of planning (target time) and execution (“actual time”), experts have a monopoly on knowledge of the complex production processes that should remain closed to the workers (Gilbreth 1920: 54, see also Lassally 1919: 16, Barnes 1931: 902, Niebel: 215, Yost: 223, Nadler 1962: 190, 195; Nadler 1955:34). In the working office and the laboratory, the individual image is then evaluated solely in terms of wasted working time and the work is broken down into elementary micro-“best times.” This requires from the workers a new standard with a conscious attitude toward work. Thus the film first analytically records the object of the study, the working body (see O’Malley: 204ff.).
The motions of the working body do not represent a reality that has always existed in the past, but an “area that had previously been invisible,” that first has to be developed. Of course, the aim is not to develop the reality of the working body under the conditions of an abstract, scientific-technical culture of an aesthetically concrete experience and thus to save it, but to directly subject this reality to the abstraction of science and then indirectly to standardise and mechanise it. With regard to the observing body, that of the ergonomist, this is a strengthening of the visual perception. The Taylorist can dissolve work motions into motion sequences with the naked eye, recognise conformity with the laws of motional efficiency, appraise the efficiency of a motion and illustrate the trajectory. Just as the film is set in motion when it is shown, it records the movement as a movement and permits any number of “repetitions.” In this way, the film, itself a reproducible medium, permits at the level of representation, what Taylorism wishes to achieve in practice: the identical reproduction of the standardised movements.
“Time and Motion Studies” films also served directly as “teaching material,” because they were shown to the workers (see Barnes 1980: 132, Niebel: 243, Kaminsky/Schmidtke: 156, Nadler 1962: 195). On the one hand, they used pictures of the old working methods that had originally been taken for study purposes and which were now used as negative examples with a deterrent effect. On the other hand, footage was also shot of selected workers carrying out the new working methods. These workers had practised the new techniques and functioned as positive examples to be followed by the other workers to multiply the effects. The workers who are allowed to view the photographs and films are moved from their customary position as study objects to become study subjects. In fact, however, the two subject positions differ in one decisive respect: While the ergonomists regard the pictures from a distance, the workers are supposed to identify with them. Moreover, thanks to slow and fast motion, the film is able to show the work step not only at the speed most suitable for analysis, but also at the speed that is the standard target.
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Motion Picture, Sound and Video Branche, Record Group 306
George C. Marshall Foundation, Lexington, Virginia
Catalogue of Information Films Produced in Europe for the Marshall-Plan 1948-1953 by the Film Section, Information Division, Special Representative in Europe, Economic Cooperation Administration, Mutual Security Agency, July 1954
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