We need a new approach to solving labor-management problems. Strikes, poor working conditions, mistrust, can be abolished. But their elimination requires a new way of thinking by both labor and management.
THE YEAR 1970 will go down in history as a "Year of the Strike." It has been a disastrous year for labor-management relations. The cost to workers, industry and the public has been phenomenal.
Entire Cities Crippled
Cities have been crippled by strikes. Postal, railway, and auto workers, teachers, truck drivers, garbage collectors, firemen and even policemen are now resorting to the strike. They want "their share" of the national wealth. In the United States and Canada 400,000 people were out of work for nearly ten weeks when the United Auto Workers struck at General Motors. For many American citizens the strike was a disaster. It will take 66 weeks for striking auto workers to make up the pay loss. Meanwhile, the automobile industry says the prices of cars will go up. Britain has also been plagued with strikes. British working days lost in 1970 because of strikes were double the 1969 number. Merchant seamen, dock workers, farmers, nurses and factory workers were all in on the rush to get more money into their wage packet. As a result of a strike by 65,000 public-service men, mountains of garbage were piled on London's sidewalks. Millions of gallons of partially treated sewage poured into British rivers. No country seems to be immune. Of all industrial nations, only Japan could be said to be free of costly strikes. Why have the basic grievances between Management and Labor remained unsolved? Is there no better way to settle labor-management disputes than by heated arguments, strikes, and lockouts? What are the causes which have produced such suspicion between worker and manager?
When Labor Strife Began
Strikes, of course, never occurred when nations were made up of small communities composed of family farms and family businesses. But about 150 years ago the Industrial Revolution began. Workers were recruited by droves from the farms to work in the new city factories. Working conditions became horrible and the work both tedious and laborious. Even women and children had to work long hours in the factories. In some cases, both worked up to sixteen hours per day in sweltering conditions unfit for human beings! Periods of unemployment and high prices made life unbearable. Many employers just did not concern themselves with the needs of employees. This concern would be expensive, employers reasoned. Crusading editors in the industrial cities said this "industrial slavery" was worse than the Negro slavery of the Southern United States. Health of individuals was frequently broken before the age of fifty. There were no disability or retirement payments. Many workers felt their only recourse was to organize themselves into unions to improve their working conditions. It became a moral issue in its day, based on religious standards of compassion and equality. But the labor-management haggling today is not over points of morality.
The "sweatshops" of the 1800's showed the cruel fruits of management's upper hand. The closed union shops of the middle 1900's have demonstrated the other ditch in the economic road labor in control. It's labor's day today. They call the tunes and management is forced to pay the piper (or pipefitter, as the case may be). Wages per man-hour have increased 80 percent since 1958 in the United States, while output by the same men in the same hours has increased less than half of that. The cost of living increased only 35 percent, by comparison. In recent years, the comparison has been even more striking. In 1967, wage settlements increased 5 percent; in 1968, 6 percent; in 1969, 7 percent; and in 1970, 8 percent. In 1969, output actually stagnated while wages skyrocketed. All these wage-increase rates have been faster than the inflation increase, and thereby excessive labor demands insure greater inflation in future years! We have, in a sense, mortgaged our future for present satisfaction. In the words of the New York Times: "Some think we are seeing the results of an atmosphere of selfishness in which every man is encouraged to get his. Others might say that workers are only trying to win their share in an economy evidently up for grabs" (April 6, 1970). Management wants all the profits it can get. Workers, in too many cases, want the HIGHEST wages they can get for the least amount of work. It is, after all, a getting type of world. Not many are on the giving side.
Unions Can't Control Greed
Now, even disgruntled union members are increasingly losing faith in the value of their own unions! Union leaders find it more difficult to get all factions to cooperate and to control impatient and aggressive members. Militant unionists are now using the "wildcat" strike to push for bigger wage increases. Everyone is grabbing for his slice of pie. But have they stopped to ask: "Who is providing the pie?" All of us are! Every citizen must pay a high price to satisfy the getting attitude. When hordes are getting, other hordes must give. The Government is usually the big loser when labor strikes. A decrease in wages and profits means a decrease in taxes collected. And in Britain, for example, the Government also has to pay out money to support a striker's family. Mr. Harold Wilson, former Prime Minister of Britain, said: "One man's wage increase is another man's price increase." Higher wages for auto workers, for example, have helped push up car prices. The cost of living rises. There is little or no real gain in purchasing power. The result is a wage-price spiral that appears to have no end. And after a worker retires on a fixed income, the trend he helped start will continue to deflate his fixed retirement pound or dollar.
Is There a Solution?
Must the laborer always live in fear that management will take advantage of him at every turn? Must management worry about employee disloyalty, theft, strikes, and work slowdowns? No one wants to see costly strikes continue to increase. "A strike is never a good thing," said Henry Ford II. "When one occurs, it means that at least one party has over-reached the bounds of reason and responsibility." What then can be done to prevent labor disputes from strangling the economy of Western nations? Is there a solution that will work? Or is the problem unsolvable? One writer team says: "The constant effort to bridge the gap between management and workers must go on; but it is not a problem that can be solved permanently, for it is a permanent problem like growing or dying. "It produces strikes and every trouble known to management short of strikes (and there are many) even in the most enlightened firms for a completely harmonious and democratic organization is IMPOSSIBLE just as a paternalistic one is obsolete" (The Boss by Roy Lewis & Rosemary Stewart, pp. 254-255). Others think new laws are needed to curb unofficial wildcat strikes. But when government workers defy the anti-strike laws already on the books, will more laws really be the solution? Still others advocate more control over the power of labor unions. Would that solve the problem? Would changed methods of bargaining and making contracts be the solution? Some believe wage and price controls are needed to harness runaway inflation and thus make the demands for higher wages unnecessary. Inflation is a major factor in causing strikes. It is a symptom of a sickness in the structure of our economy. These proposed solutions only attempt to treat the observable symptoms the effects of a much deeper illness. Few realize strikes and labor strife and lockouts are the result of something wrong with our way of life. This world's approach to life operates on the philosophy of self-centeredness. It is the selfish way of getting instead of giving; taking and acquiring instead of sharing; the way of envy, jealousy, and hatred instead of concern for others. These are the two opposing philosophies or WAYS of life. Humanity has followed the self-centered, getting way. The basic cause of labor-management disputes involves the basic attitude of management and workers toward each other. Both have the selfish attitude of trying to get something from the other. This selfish attitude of the individuals on both sides must change. Yet this is perhaps the most difficult thing for human beings to do. But change we must! What, then, should be done to get at the basic causes of management-labor problems and solve them permanently?
The Required Changes
First, management must have true concern and respect for the employee. And there must be good communication between management and workers as well as a friendly atmosphere among employees themselves. The family atmosphere that exists in small, family-owned companies is usually free from the conflicts harassing big industry. In big industry the impersonal assembly line makes employees feel like endless cogs in an impersonal machine. A strike at Britain's Pilkington glass works illustrated the point. The strike last spring was said to be the ugliest and costliest in England's recent industrial history. It was the first strike in the 144-year history of the company. It is easy to understand why. Founded in 1826, Pilkington had become the largest family-owned company in Britain. The workers were well-cared for. The company paid good wages, provided recreational facilities for its workers and maintained a harmonious relationship with its employees. Until ten years ago, there was a strong loyalty to the company. The atmosphere among the employees was one of helping each other. Everyone was happy. There was no need to strike. Then the company began to expand rapidly. Thousands of employees moved into the area to work in the factory. The old spirit and atmosphere among the workers was crushed. There was no longer any real job satisfaction. The outcome? Demands by employees, fear of management a strike! Such a strike occurs only when effective relationships have broken down. But labor disputes and strikes will further damage an already bad relationship between management and employees. A strike always leaves the relations between the two parties in a strained atmosphere of bitterness.
Why Jobs Don't Satisfy
Management must have a personal relationship with workers. Employers should be just and fair in dealing with employees and treat them with dignity and respect. A worker should be allowed to make suggestions and discuss his problems directly with management. Some companies have set up work involvement programs to give employees more opportunities for responsibility, achievement, creativity and job enrichment. These are the areas which give workers the most satisfaction with their jobs. Such a program is the key to better industrial relations, greater efficiency and higher productivity. To survive, business must be able to change and to adapt to new technological discoveries, shifting economic policy and demands for better working conditions. But more than this, greater concern must be given to the psychological needs of workers. Management must find ways of instilling a sense of skill, variety, responsibility and achievement in what are now tedious, boring and mundane jobs. Company managers are also responsible for the welfare of their workers. They should be concerned about occupational facilities, living conditions and opportunities for education and self-improvement that will help workers to better their status in life. That education should include the development of character in order to enable a man to find greater happiness to learn how to live as well as how to earn a living. Increase in pay and even better working conditions, however, do not fully satisfy workers' needs. Workers have other needs that, if fulfilled, would give them longer-lasting satisfaction. Workers need a sense of achievement need to do jobs that have purpose. They should be recognized for accomplishing something of importance. Where possible and necessary, they should have a part in decision-making and should have opportunities to advance in their field of work. Factory workers are fed up with being human machines assembly-line slaves. This is one crucial reason for the recent auto-worker militancy that led to the strike against General Motors. Most assembly-line workers despise their jobs. Their bitterness can hardly be understood by anyone performing interesting tasks in pleasant surroundings.
The Worker's Responsibilities
The worker, on the other hand, also has responsibilities to his employer. He should give a full day's work for a full day's pay. He should want the company to make money. Yet, employers find it difficult to recruit people who are willing to give a full day's work. Too many are clock watchers. The fellow who is really interested in his job and works diligently sticks out like a sore thumb in many shops. Then consider the cheating and stealing taking place in the businesses and factories of our, country. Stealing tools, materials and goods from the company is now commonly accepted as the worker's "right." Stealing time from the company by being absent without a good reason is another problem confronting employers. One estimate said a staggering 100 million man days per year are lost through unwarranted absenteeism. Slipshod, indolent work done in a couldn't-care-less manner is another increasing problem. How many have the desire to work hard and efficiently to produce a quality product? There is no such thing as something for nothing. Incomes cannot increase faster than productivity. Workers should be loyal to their employers. They should support the company by building it up instead of tearing it down. And employers should be loyal to their employees. Management and workers should think of themselves as being partners working in harmony! Each should cooperate with the other for the betterment of the business and the salary.
Eliminating the Strike
If workers followed these principles and if employers fulfilled their responsibilities, there would be no need for strikes. There would be no need for unions to help workers battle against their employers. Everyone would act according to sound reason and in a responsible manner. In short, this requires a change in attitude a change in human nature. This is the permanent solution to the strike problem. And it admittedly looks rather naive in our dog-eat-dog world to think man might change his nature. Yet, why should such a solution be thought of as naοve or fundamentally impossible? It isn't a new idea. Almost two thousand years ago a great religious leader, Paul of Tarsus, counseled his church members in the following terms: "Whatever you [employees] do, put your whole heart and soul into it, as into work done for the Lord, and not merely for men... you employers... your responsibility is to be fair and just toward those whom you employ" (Colossians 3:22 through 4:1, Phillips translation). Here was the way the principle of giving! If our workers put these principles into practice, there would be no strikes, no lack of concern for employees. The economy both personal and national of all nations would rise to new heights, surpassing the wildest dreams of economists.
Such a drastic change in our American and British way of life should not be considered naοve or impractical by either employers or employees in our nations. It should be obvious this is the only way to economic prosperity with justice. Both the old sweatshops and recent union shops should have proved to us that neither greedy management nor greedy labor can gain any real advantage by getting the "upper hand." We have swerved to both sides of the road, and it is time to try for the first time the middle of the road: service, mutual respect, and consideration. These are expressed in just salaries (freely offered), hard work (happily supplied), and mutual sharing of the company's prosperity. You whether company president or assembly-line worker are in a position to change whenever you want to. The spirit of service can spread through your company just as easily as the spirit of greed and competition. Some companies have tried it, and they now have happy employees, hard workers, good salaries, and the satisfaction of a job well done for a fine company. But if this solution still sounds naοve to you, then your company, your salary, and even your nation will continue to be plagued with economic woes, spiraling inflation, embezzlement, distrust, loss of profit, and every economic woe that accompanies the selfish, grabbing, and greedy way of life. The decision is in the hand of each of you.