Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 14 April 2010

Emperor's new clothes: bosses' pet management theories

Bosses are always searching for the Holy Grail of how to run their production systems. They were even envious of the growth the former Stalinist states in Eastern Europe managed for a limited time. One business guru after another has claimed to have cracked the code.

Steve Glennon, Six Sigma Black Belt

The latest magic answer has been the Toyota Production System (TPS) known as "Lean Sigma" or Continuous Improvement. This is like the emperor's new clothes; it must be right because Toyota had grown to be the largest car manufacturer in the world, overtaking not only its Japanese rivals but the giants of Ford and GM.

Just as reformists on the left sang the praises of Stalinism and its economic growth, with no time for the Marxists who pointed out that the lack of democracy would starve a planned economy of sustainability, the bosses and the accountants look at Toyota with awe.

Toyota's "Lean" system has been copied by almost every global manufacturer, and most financial institutions. To give it some scientific credibility to finish off the fine threads of the new robes, they called it "Lean Sigma".

A whole industry has been created around Lean Sigma, with company after company having managers trained as "Green Belts" or "Black Belts" in Lean Sigma, the terms reflecting roots in Japan.

Consultancies have sprung up over the past ten years to provide the training. Japanese words such as Kaizen, Poke Yoke, Kanban, and Gemba have entered the vocabulary of hundreds of thousands of workers.

Toyota's Lean system

The basic principle of Lean is to reduce all non-value adding activities and processes. Loved by accountants everywhere the method reduces expensive stocks of components and finished goods.

That is why when you go to buy a three-piece suite you will be told it will be 13 weeks before it can be delivered. It won't be started until an order has been placed, in fact only then will the raw materials be ordered. There are no warehouses full of stock as this is no longer acceptable, but the raw materials will be supplied just in time for your suite to be made.

Learning from the discredited Just In Time (JIT) of the past there are now small "Kanbans" of components and part finished goods which are tightly controlled using past data, which are there to overcome the failure of the JIT system or as it was mockingly known by most workers the "Just Too Late" system.

But Lean has failure built in. Not all fat is bad, companies Lean themselves into anorexia. They leave themselves with no extra resources for 'continuous improvement'. They create the very conditions that damaged Toyota.

Millions of cars have been recalled to fix dangerous faults which have lead to fatal crashes. Customers are shouting: "Toyota you are naked!" The BBC's Money Programme special "Toyota - Total Recall" blamed the dash for growth, as it led to Toyota's management taking their eye off quality.

A shiver went through world capitalism when Toyota's problems were revealed. Stock markets wobbled. Whilst many workers were pointing out the Emperor was naked, companies continued to use TPS. In fact it is being stepped up, with the public service being next in line. It will be coming to a hospital or council near you soon.

Lean for the public sector is fast-growing, with consultants providing new training programmes to apply Lean Sigma to public bodies.

Inherent problems

Compounding the inherent problems of Lean is the culture of management around the world. One of the cornerstones of Lean is 'empowerment' - an attempt at getting benefits from the real experts, the workers. But most managers can't live with 'empowerment' beyond a minimal level; they can't live with losing control.

The Japanese culture may allow for morning exercise before work and the relentless imposed pursuit of perfection. There are numerous sweetheart deals between Unite and other unions with Japanese car firms in the UK. But morning workouts have not caught on, only the increased exploitation of workers. The cost of growth has been quality.

So what is different about socialism, would quality still be sacrificed for growth? A socialist planned economy would not run to the same rules as capitalism - chasing profits and always cutting the bottom line. Socialism can provide what is needed - society will democratically determine the priorities, not the market.

Expertise of the working class

If the expertise of the working class were to be unleashed through workers' control and management, the increase in productivity would outstrip any capitalist economy, and that of the Stalinist economies at the height of their growth.

Replacing the market with public ownership and democracy would end the anarchic system of capitalism and provide enough food, fuel and all the necessities for the human race.

Workers all over the world are pointing to the naked Emperor of Toyota, but the strategists of capitalism have no other answers. As the capitalist system bounces along the bottom of the recession, the cuts in public expenditure could still throw the whole system into depression.

Misery for workers lasted a long time in the 1930s. The height of unemployment was seven years after the Wall Street Crash in 1929, and the banks didn't collapse until three years after in 1932. There may be a lot to come for workers striving to maintain living standards in the next few years.

Trade unionists must understand the bosses and their systems so we can fight against them. We must all point the finger and say: "You and your system are naked, so don't try to make us pay."

Donate to the Socialist Party

Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our special coronavirus appeal.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation


Your message: 


In The Socialist 14 April 2010:

Main parties promise more of the same rotten cuts agenda

Voters face 'slash and burn' policies whoever wins election

Help build a socialist alternative in the general election

Socialist Party manifesto 2010

Socialist Party manifesto 2010

Socialist Party news and analysis

Afghanistan: Bring the troops back

Kyrgyzstan - dictator overthrown

News in brief

Defend welfare and public services

RMT union challenges far-right in Barking

Socialist Party workplace news

Postal workers call for 'no' vote on deal

NUT conference calls for 24-hour public sector strike

Newcastle University - support staff face attacks on jobs and pay

STOP PRESS - BA dispute

National Shop Stewards Network 2010 conference

Socialist Party election campaign

Lewisham - standing on our fighting record

Coventry's city-wide socialist election challenge

International socialist news and analysis

Russia: Putin - ten years of the man that no-one knew

Socialist Party features

Emperor's new clothes: the bosses' pet management theories

20 years ago: the Strangeways prison riot


Home   |   The Socialist 14 April 2010   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:


triangleThe Jungle: capitalism's remorseless attack on workers' safety and conditions

triangleUniversal Basic Income: not a solution to insecurity and poverty under capitalism

triangleBristol North Socialist Party: Crisis, capitalism and class division - a discussion on perspectives for Britain

triangle'Victory in Europe' 75th anniversary: A resurgent workers' movement and the fight for socialism

triangleThe Spanish Flu of 1918 and how it "fanned the flames of revolt"


triangleTrump, coronavirus, capitalism, and the presidential race

triangleSouth East London Socialist Party: Covid-19's impact on the economy

triangleNo return to the 1930s: World War Two and 'a land fit for heroes'

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns


Fighting Fund

We need readers' support to fight capitalist crisis



Fight P&O's billionaire bosses' jobs cut plan



Energy firm plans to make 2,600 redundant



Hull Trades Council debates workers' political representation



Schools aren't safe



Eerily quiet before second wave - don't reopen schools!



No return to unsafe construction sites



Mick Cotter 21-9-57 to 20-5-20


Rolls Royce

Strong union response needed against job cuts



Postal workers' action results in double victory for union



Organising to fight for workplace safety



Posties walk out in Peterborough after manager tests positive



Johnson claims workplaces safe but HSE cancels inspections



Safe protests against Tory corona chaos continue



Trades council debates workers' political representation

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 07748 534 891

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 079 3539 1947

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 077 0671 0041



Alphabetical listing

May 2020

April 2020

March 2020

February 2020

January 2020