Robert Schrank

Robert Schrank was a management consultant, the author of Ten Thousand Working Days (MIT Press, 1978), and the editor of American Workers Abroad (MIT Press, 1979), Industrial Democracy at Sea (MIT Press, 1983), and Wasn't That a Time? Growing Up Radical and Red in America (MIT Press, 1998).

  • Wasn't That a Time?

    Wasn't That a Time?

    Growing Up Radical and Red in America

    Robert Schrank

    The compelling autobiography of Robert Schrank recounts a life of empathy, principles, and activism.

    "I was born two weeks before the Bolshevik Revolution into an immigrant family that was part of New York's large German socialist community." So begins Robert Schrank's compelling autobiography. In a down-to-earth, anecdotal style, he recounts a life rare in the breadth of its experience and the depth of its transformations. From Young Communist League member and union activist to management consultant for global corporations, Schrank has lived a life based on empathy and principles, and has been an activist in some of the major political and social upheavals of this century.Schrank writes from the point of view of the rank and file, even when describing his role in the leadership of the New York State Machinists Union. A rebel in his own land, he was expelled three times from union office; and in a landmark First Amendment case (Schrank vs. Brown) the State Supreme Court twice returned him to membership. Convinced by the early 1950s of the failure of socialism in the Soviet Union, he broke with the Party. Yet he remained faithful to the ideals of his radical upbringing, even as he joined the corporate world of his former enemies.

    • Paperback $5.75
  • Industrial Democracy at Sea

    Robert Schrank and John Van Maanen

    The book presents the accounts of three American merchant seamen who were taken on as crew members for the course of a voyage from the Pacific Northwest to Europe.

    Democratization of the workplace is a much vaunted goal in European countries, especially Scandinavia. But can it be achieved? Do increased participation and autonomy improve the quality of work life? Can productivity be increased this way? These questions form the basis for the evaluations in this book, a case study of the experimental democratization of working life aboard the Norwegian freighter, the Hoeg Mallard. The book presents the accounts of three American merchant seamen who were taken on as crew members for the course of a voyage from the Pacific Northwest to Europe. Their reactions and adjustments to democracy at sea were observed and recorded by a fourth American, reporter Sidney Roger. One of Roger's findings was that despite more open mixing among ranks, having a voice in work-detail operations, and being able to use such cruise-ship amenities as swimming pool, sauna, library, and bar, the seamen's life aboard ship appeared to be as dull and unrewarding as it was on more autocratic and less lavishly appointed merchant vessels. Robert Schrank relates these on-the-job observations to the general issues of industrial democracy and five scholars have contributed essays responding to the experiences recounted by Sidney Roger. These essays are by Richard E. Walton (Harvard Business School), William F. Whyte (New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations), Einar Thorsrud (Work Research Institutes, Oslo), Birger Viklund (Center for the Study of Working Life, Stockholm), and Shoshana Zuboff (Harvard Business School).

    Both the project and the book were sponsored by the Ford Foundation. Robert Schrank, who served as project manager for the Foundation's Worker Exchange Program, also edited American Workers Abroad, and is the author of Ten Thousand Working Days, both published by The MIT Press. Industrial Democracy at Sea is fifth in The MIT Press Series on Organization Studies, edited by John Van Maanen.

    • Hardcover $35.00
  • Ten Thousand Working Days

    Ten Thousand Working Days

    Robert Schrank

    Robert Schrank is a Project Specialist at the Ford Foundation, and he holds a master's and doctorate in the sociology of work. He serves as consultant to the New York City Mayor's Productivity Council, the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Department of Labor, other governmental bodies, and universities. So another academic specialist has written another book about the values and goals—or the lack of them, or their decline, or whatever—of working stiffs, about which he knows from nothing, right?

    Wrong. This particular "academic specialist" didn't get to college until he was over forty, and earned (the right word for a working man) his doctorate when he was in his fifties. For more than forty years—ten thousand working days—from the age of fourteen on, he has held down an astonishing variety of jobs that cover both a wide occupational range and just about every level, from the top to the bottom, in the organizational scheme of things. He has been a plumber, a city commissioner, a plant manager and engineer, an auto mechanic, an antipoverty program bureaucrat, a machinist, a union official, a coal miner, a foundation professional, a farmhand. Not in that order, but the point is that the experiences, commingling in the memory, all have an equal value in human terms. Always onward-and-upward, the American-Dream-come-true, is exactly not the point.

    Robert Schrank writes about each of these jobs in a personal, chronological, specific, narrative way, but always from a perspective that has been enlarged by the scope of his professional training and and commitments. His memories give his experiences uniqueness. His sociological insights lend them a kind of universality.

    But this author is his own best advocate: "I was moved to write this book as a result of listening to and reading about what behavioral scientists, academics, and other literati had perceived at places of work. I felt that in the pursuit of psychology or sociology they had missed the humanity, the poetry, and the community of people that is created by the workers at their workplaces. I hope in this book to catch some of that sense of community, camaraderie, conflict, and humor.... I will be tempted from time to time to write in my present profession as a sociologist. But I will do my best to resist that in favor of trying to catch the language and the feel of the workplaces I am writing about. I will try to differentiate between the job and the actual work on tasks. The job I define as the container, the institution, or the structure in which a person performs something for which he or she gets paid. If we think about the job as a container, what interests me in this book is what goes on inside that container. This includes the work tasks, physical surroundings, the benefits, the amenities, and most important, the social milieu of the community."

    The author also brings critical acuteness and common sense to his examination of such issues as the quality of work (and of workmanship), work as a means of self-definition and personal fulfillment, and the point at which diminishing rewards—material and psychological—make the alternative of not working (or working at a minimal level of commitment) the preferred way of life.

    • Hardcover $12.95
    • Paperback $30.00