The choice of technique in the brick making industry in the Western Cape: Opportunities for establishing worker controlled enterprises in this sector.
van der Westhuizen., Willem A
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The thesis focuses on the choice of technique as a key component in creating viable enterprises, including those controlled by their worker-members. A theoretical model of the choice of technique is presented, with its roots in the works of Pasinetti and others. Then a picture of the technological opportunities in the brick making industry is constructed through analyzing the actual technical choices made by a sample of firms in the industry. Implications for worker controlled enterprises are drawn throughout. The choice of technique function is shown to be more complex than is usually assumed. In the presence of uncertainty an enterprise has to search for a viable operating space rather than an optimum position.. The decision making criteria are firm specific decision rules built up over time. As such the enterprise can be viewed as 'embodied learning', with the power relations which characterise all social organisations. When making a choice, the enterprise has to reconcile the conflicting requirements of the technological system, the effective demand criteria and the the context in which the technique will operate. A key component of this context is the nature of the enterprise, the learning embodied in it, and the resources it possesses. The specific conditions within a worker controlled enterprise require changes to the institutional framework in which they can be successful. These are directly related to the distribution of income and the nature of the organisation of production. The former affects the capacity of a worker controlled enterprise to acquire human and physical resources required to invest in new techniques. The latter relates to the establishment of efficient management structures. The choice of technique in a sample of firms in the brick making industry in the Western Cape is investigated, and the technological opportunities and constraints analyzed. It is shown that smaller mechanised concrete masonry techniques seem to hold the most potential for a worker controlled enterprise under certain conditions. These conditions include particular state policies to foster the housing delivery systems geared towards small building contracts and squatter upgrading. These have to be supplemented with appropriate financing strategies and the provision of serviced land. The ability of worker controlled enterprises to attract efficient management skills will most probably depend on their capacity to integrate horizontally, and in so doing create economies of scale in the provision of managerial resources. The viability of an enterprise will ultimately depend on whether it is able to adopt a technique which can deliver the products wi th appropriate char act.erLst i cs , to a market segment which requires products of that nature at the cost required. In the Western Cape that growing market seems only to be possible in the sectors where housing is currently not affordable. Therefore, lack of effective demand places a limit on the viability of new enterprises until such time as state policies and the institutional context of land use and availability have been addressed.