Research Seminar: Salem Elzway

Research Seminar: Salem Elzway

Marxist Manipulators: Robots on the Line at Lordstown

Virtual Event

Time 12:00 p.m.

The paper is a chapter draft from Elzway's dissertation tentatively titled “Arms of the State: A History of the Industrial Robot in Postwar America” which explores the diverse actors and sociotechnical dynamics that shaped the technology's emergence and development after World War II. The chapter provides a case study of the world’s first “mass” robotized factory—the General Motors Lordstown assembly facility in northeast Ohio—and the role of robot’s in the UAW’s infamous strike of the plant in 1972. First, it will briefly trace the almost decade long process of GM’s planning and work towards building a new, highly-automated factory in Lordstown, OH where ground was broken on the plant in 1964. Second, it will detail GM’s history with industrial robots generally and with their first applications at Lordstown in the late 1960s specifically.

The chapter will then shift subject positions to the United Auto Workers (UAW) leadership and rank-and-file to examine the bureaucracy’s position on robotization and the shop-floor’s social experiences with the industrial robot, particularly in terms of the racial dynamics. The subject position will then switch back to chart GM’s selection of Lordstown as the home of the Chevrolet Vega in 1970 and the management takeover of the plant by the General Motors Assembly Division (GMAD) in 1971. GMAD’s managerial style—which one rank-and-file member described as bringing “a return of an old-fashioned line speedup and a ‘sweatshop style’ of management reminiscent of the 1930's, making the men do more work at the same pay”—and the workers responses to this on the line will then be detailed to better understand how robots contributed to rising tensions between labor and management as GMAD established its dominance. Finally, the chapter will investigate what role “robotization”—both of the assembly line and of the workers—played in the lead up to and break out of the UAW’s infamous strike of Lordstown in 1972.

Nelson Lichtenstein of the University of California, Santa Barbara will provide introductory comments.

Attendees are encouraged to read Elzway’s paper, ‘“Marxist Manipulators: Robots on the Line at Lordstown," which may be obtained by contacting Carol Lockman at

Registration for this event is via Eventbrite.