In the late twentieth century, U.S. industry realized they had fallen behind in manufacturing. Many companies especially those manufacturing large numbers of products and competing with similar companies in countries with lower wages, learned a great deal from their competition, radically changed their factories and management approaches, and again became competitive in both cost and quality, although outsourcing and the increasing use of technology (robots, computers, etc) allowed a major decrease in employment.
But not everyone changed back then. An article in the February 2nd 2014 New York Times magazine entitled High on the Hog, by Adam Davidson, discusses a noteworthy recovery by Harley Davidson, whose stock fell from $75 to $8 during the recent recession. Apparently at the time, it was taking 18 months to receive a motorcycle after it was ordered and workers were working at their own pace, with up to 30 percent absenteeism on Mondays and Fridays. The article is here.
Realizing that if Harley Davidson failed, there would be no jobs for their people, the union went along with a layoff of 1000 people, a dramatic tightening of assembly line discipline, new approaches, and turned it around. A new factory was built, in which motorcycles are assembled manually by teams of workers, one every 80 seconds. Robots are not used on the main assembly line. There are so many options on these motorcycles, that teams of humans can react to the variation better than robots. The workers have also been with the company for many years (average of 18), fiercely devoted to the company, very well paid, and unionized. The union and the workers obviously saw the disadvantages of the major employer in town going broke and are rightfully proud of what they have accomplished in saving it.
It makes one think about the mad dash to digitally controlled mechanized manufacturing and laying off workers and decreasing union strength with resulting social costs. I have never been a Harley person, but if I were to buy a big motorcycle at this stage of the game (unlikely - detectable loss of reaction time, balance, and strength), I might buy a Harley Davidson as a tribute to what they did in Troy.