The Unnecessary Management-Labor Battle

Labor unions are much maligned by corporate management and by conservatives in general. This hatred is not entirely without reason, as some unions are at times intransigent. However, capitalists tend to hate all unions at the outset, the reason being that all union activities tend to limit their greed in favor of a decent income for union members.

Capitalists tend to hate all unions at the outset.
Unions tend to oppose things management wants.

Likewise, unions tend to strongly oppose things that management wants, probably because those things are seen as automatically opposed to the interests of unions and their members, which they usually are. This dysfunction is unnecessary. Both sides would be better off cooperating with each other.

In school systems, poorly performing teachers are hard to get rid of, and administrative actions can be cruel and arbitrary. In business, management can ruin the lives of thousands with a single ill-advised action and no input from the union. Unions can sometimes hold a company hostage to unreasonable demands. But there are lots of cases where cooperation has produced far better results.

In better school systems across the country, teacher unions work closely with the administration to make teachers as good as possible. There is a certain irony: in a school system, everyone knows who the bad teachers are, but it has traditionally been difficult to get rid of poor teachers, especially after they have been around a while, often because administrations can take arbitrary and unfair actions against virtually any teacher who has caught their unwanted attention, regardless of the teacher’s effectiveness. And they do. I’ve seen it happen. The union is then bound to protect that teacher, no matter how good or bad he is.

Both sides would be better off
cooperating with each other.

But once a cooperative system is in place, both parties can identify problem teachers and try to bring them up to snuff. Underperforming teachers are given individual assistance, after which they become satisfactory or not. If they can’t or don’t want to improve over a year or so, they are either asked to resign or fired outright. Most who can’t or don’t want to improve leave of their own accord. In large school systems where cooperative arrangements are put in place, unsatisfactory teachers leaving the system have gone from a few in a decade to a hundred or so in the first few years of the new system. Everyone is happy to have an equitable way to move poorly performing teachers out, and the system is left with only satisfactory teachers.

In Germany, the law requires that industrial unions and management work together to improve the manufacturing process. Typically there are daily meetings to discuss how to make the manufacturing process maximally effective. These factory production teams are in constant contact, with the common goal of making the product the best possible. Even with high labor costs, such companies produce superior products that are competitive on the world market. Cooperation for a common goal is the name of the game. In both cases, school and factory, close cooperation is vastly superior at improving results compared to the adversarial system more commonly seen in the US, which is often more like a running battle, with the wounded and dying littering the battlefield and costing a lot of money.

The adversarial system is like a running battle,
with the wounded and dying littering the battlefield.

Some companies seem to evade the union question entirely by instigating and guarding a system in which the workers are paid fairly and rewarded for initiative and good work, in which their input is taken seriously. In such places workers feel free to offer suggestions for product or process improvement. They may earn higher wages by learning new skills. As long as the workers believe their best interests are being protected, a union may seem unnecessary. The opposite is true when management is seen as screwing the workers at every corner, which may be the more common condition.

In cooperative systems management learns that unions want the best outcome, and quit fighting them every inch of the way. Unions learn to trust that management is not trying to make them worse off, and become free and enthusiastic in helping to improve the company. But a change to less perceptive management may reverse the situation.

When you think about it, both management and unions have the same goal in producing the best product they can, whether that product is a car or a student. Each has its own interests to protect, but they can easily come to understand that working against the other side’s crucial interests is also working against one’s own crucial interests.

Published in: on 2013/01/10 at 12:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I believe the main problem with conservatives the world over is that they are governed by and live in fear, They long for the good old days of the early 19th century when they could employ and rule by fear; they can’t understand why we wont allow it to happen anymore.


  2. I think the greatest strength of the co-operative movement, is its potential to move beyond the traditional labour v capital divide. It can avoid the suspicion and rigidity of continuous battle that some firms are stuck in.


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