This weekend Americans “celebrate” Labor Day. Originally instituted to recognize laboring people who build much of what we take for granted. It also has been a day to celebrate labor unions. It’s not that I have no class consciousness. I am aware of the varieties of class. But I grew up in a very small town (1,000 pop.) and now live in a small city (20,000 pop.). So, I’ve never lived in a middle-class or upper-middle-class ghetto as I imagine many American readers of the blog do. My neighbors range from business owners to concrete masons, teachers, school administrators, even (gasp) a lawyer.
Just as I just wrote about some shortcomings of management (without, I hope, implying that all managers are bad, evil or stupid), I have the same feelings of unions. These thoughts were triggered by this column in the Sillicon Alley Insider (Business Insider) where the author begins with I hate unions. I studied this sort of thing in grad school from both philosophical and sociological points of view. (Over a beer or two, I can discuss Marx’s theory of alienation of human from his/her work.) But there was a time when owners viewed workers as slaves. Think of the “company towns” in West Virginia and other places in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Something had to give.
On the other hand, I’ve had the joy of trying to install a machine in an automotive manufacturing plant where you would go to the union office and ask for a millwright. Then wait. Then ask for a plumber. Then wait. Then ask for an electrician. Then wait. All the while, I’m paying my technician to sit and wait. Or setting up a booth at Chicago’s McCormick Place for IMTS or Comdex in the 80s.
So what I disliked were:
- Battle lines drawn in concrete
- Innate suspicion of the two sides to each other
- Tremendously finite rules (I’m not a “rule follower”, I’m a “common sense” person)
- Indeed, downright hatred of managers and workers
I respect people who can work with their hands as much as people who work with their heads (actually, to work with your hands, you’ve got to use your head, too–a fact overlooked in most of our education system over the past 50 years). I respect laborers who do good work. I respect managers who do good work. I think that proper management gets everyone on the same page and develops an excellent place to work, which develops an excellent service to customers, which develops profits, which keeps us all in work.
So, on this Labor Day, my plea is to not look down on others. Respect those who deserve respect because of good character and a job well done. Help those who need to grow in those areas. Ignore those who refuse to grow.