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The solution to labor — management problems

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.


Labor's Day

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?