The dirt on the contract building cleaning industry in Toronto cleanliness and work reorganization

Luis Leonardo Marques Aguiar
Sociology, York University - CANADA, 1999
July, 1999
Full text (external site)


The reorganization of work continues to be a central preoccupation for academics in Canada, the United States, the Americas, and across the Atlantic. This is hardly surprising given globalization and its impact on re-shaping national economies in the contemporary period. For the most part, analysts of this process rely on the leading production industries (e.g. auto, steel, etc.) to make sweeping statements about what is taking place in industry thereby implicating most other industries in this train of homogenous change and inevitability (Albo, 1990; Drache and Glasbeek, 1989). While these are worthwhile studies pointing out what is happening in the leading industries, it is a mistake to take them as model for what is likely to occur in smaller industries characterized by different patterns of ownership with different levels of national and international integration. This study identifies some of the changes taking place in the building cleaning industry. Some of the changes do indeed resemble those identified in the leading industries. However, I argue that the scale and direction of change is complex and much more intricate than some of the patterns identified in the academic literature. The building cleaning industry is only now experiencing the penetration of taylorism with important implications for the organization of work, and cleaners' sense of pride and self-worth in the workplace. This thesis questions the usefulness of the "post-fordist" approach to capture the reorganization of work in the changing building cleaning industry. It shows how the reorganization of work is compromising workers' autonomy and discretion in the performance of their cleaning tasks. Management has turn to "science" to reorganize work and strengthen control in the workplace. I also argue that changes in the means of labour and the organization of work are part of the processes being introduced into the contemporary workplace. Indeed, in the case of the building cleaning industry, a new definition of "cleanliness" seems to parallel the technical changes in the labour process. This definition has a profound impact on how work is organized. This finding makes an important contribution to the literature in that it supports an investigation of discourse in the workplace. This investigation reveals the workings of a cleanliness discourse. These two central arguments are supported by analysis of the industry, primary sources, and literature on and by the industry. In addition, I interviewed over ninety people including industry consultants, trade unions, community activists and local politicians.