Reshuffling Paperworkers: Technological Change and Experiences of Reorganization at a Québec Newsprint Mill

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Abstract

This article offers an historical-geographical account of how an aging newsprint mill located in Gatineau, in the Outaouais region of western Québec, with serious obstacles to cost-effective production, came to be chosen for a complete in situ technological reorganization project in the early 1990s. This apparent paradox is explained by locating the mill with respect to the production system and corporate strategy of its parent company, with respect to changing production and demand requirements, and with respect to its particular labour relations history. We focus on the process through which this drastic reorganization was implemented at the mill, showing how logistical considerations particular to this type of continuous-process industry, as well as procedures laid out in the labour contract, influenced the company's timetable and labour deployment strategies during this period. We show how the process of technological reorganization helped create the conditions for the subsequent implementation of functional flexibility. We also refer to the unpredictable contingencies that necessitated building flexibility into the timetable for downsizing the workforce by some 450 jobs. As well as considering the constraints faced by local management, we explore how the reorganization process was experienced by workers, especially those facing prolonged uncertainty as to their future at the mill. We examine the seeming paradox of the prevalence of overtime at the mill even as workers were being laid off. In conclusion, we critically discuss the appropriateness of concepts such as management strategy and numerical flexibility and point to the need for further concept development to facilitate analyses of labour deployment strategies adopted during periods of production reorganization.

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