FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Talking Union

One of the most ingenious and effective anti-union innovations of the 20th century was the introduction of what came to be known as the “Team” concept. The HR people who thought up this device in one of their secret laboratories deserve to be given medals, because the result of this arrangement has dramatically altered the labor landscape.

Prior to the advent of the Team, there was a clear and unmistakable sense of “Us vs. Them” permeating the floor of a union shop. You couldn’t miss it. The shift-supervisor (formerly referred to as “foreman”) represented “Them” and ran roughshod over the crews, and the crews represented “Us.” It was not unlike an enlisted man’s view of the army officer corps. We did the fighting (the work), and they got the promotions.

While we all realized we were there to work, and were cognizant of who signed our paychecks, we were also aware that our wages, benefits and working conditions were largely the result of our union affiliation. The way we saw it, without a union providing the resistance that unions provide, everything that tended to work in our favor would gradually be taken from us. Simple as that.

While this “adversarial” relationship could, at times, become overheated and work against the best interests of everyone (labor and management alike), those occasions were rare. In truth, the Us vs. Them construct was a vital element in the preservation of union solidarity. And solidarity was everything.

Indeed, without solidarity, the Labor Movement—on both the local and national stage—made no sense. Without the adhesion provided by solidarity, there would not only be a perception of weakness, there would also be a tendency for workers to morph into “independent contractors,” with no collective plan and no power. Which is exactly what happened.

As for those shift-supervisors, it’s fair to say that most of the crew either tolerated or despised them. And it went both ways. Because most of the supervisors viewed the workers as being protected, if not “coddled,” by their big, bad labor union, they more or less resented everyone on the floor (and envied them for belonging to a union).

Say what you will about the long-term effects of harboring hostility, but this “dynamic tension” served us well. In fact, it was actually healthy. How healthy? The crews continued to set productivity records, capital investments continued to be made, new equipment continued to be installed, and additional employees continued to be hired. But there was still that pesky union allegiance to contend with. And that allegiance rankled management.

So, beginning in the 1980s, HR set about to reinvent the world. Realizing their one and only hope of eroding solidarity lay in blurring—and ultimately erasing—the line between union and management, they got rid of all the frontline supervisors. They not only got rid of them, they replaced them with hourly workers (union members), who were now assigned those clerical, “non-managerial” duties (as defined by labor law), thus rendering us part of the same Team.

The simplistic notion that supervisors were necessary to make sure people did their jobs had always been a misconception, one that most people on the floor resented and found insulting. The overwhelming majority of employees were diligent.

As for the lazy ones, the union had long ago managed to convince most of them that it took more effort, more calculation, and more mental strain to artfully and successfully avoid working than to actually do the work.

The upshot of the Team concept is clear. With the line now blurred, union membership is down, wages have stagnated, working conditions have deteriorated, member confidence in their unions is low, and the American middle-class continues to shrink. Meanwhile, the stock market is at a record high. All part of an HR master plan. They deserve medals.

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
April 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What Will It Take For Trump to Get His Due?
Roy Eidelson
Is the American Psychological Association Addicted to Militarism and War?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Time is Blind, Man is Stupid
Joshua Frank
Top 20 Mueller Report “Findings”
Rob Urie
Why Russiagate Will Never Go Away
Paul Street
Stephen Moore Gets Something Right: It’s Capitalism vs. Democracy
Russell Mokhiber
Why Boeing and Its Executives Should be Prosecuted for Manslaughter
T.J. Coles
The Battle for Latin America: How the U.S. Helped Destroy the “Pink Tide”
Ron Jacobs
Ho Chi Minh City: Nguyen Thai Binh Street
Dean Baker
Fun Fictions in Economics
David Rosen
Trump’s One-Dimensional Gender Identity
Kenn Orphan
Notre Dame: We Have Always Belonged to Her
Robert Hunziker
The Blue Ocean Event and Collapsing Ecosystems
Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.
Paddy Wagon
Brett Wilkins
Jimmy Carter: US ‘Most Warlike Nation in History of the World’
John W. Whitehead
From Jesus Christ to Julian Assange: When Dissidents Become Enemies of the State
Nick Pemberton
To Never Forget or Never Remember
Stephen Cooper
My Unforgettable College Stabbings
Louis Proyect
A Leftist Rejoinder to the “Capitalist Miracle”
Louisa Willcox
Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic and the Need for a New Approach to Managing Wildlife
Brian Cloughley
Britain Shakes a Futile Fist and Germany Behaves Sensibly
Jessicah Pierre
A Revolutionary Idea to Close the Racial Wealth Divide
George Burchett
Revolutionary Journalism
Dan Bacher
U.S. Senate Confirms Oil Lobbyist David Bernhardt as Interior Secretary
Nicky Reid
The Strange Success of Russiagate
Chris Gilbert
Defending Venezuela: Two Approaches
Todd Larsen
The Planetary Cost of Amazon’s Convenience
Kelly Martin
How the White House is Spinning Earth Day
Nino Pagliccia
Cuba and Venezuela: Killing Two Birds With a Stone
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Guadalcanal and Bloody Ridge, Solomon Islands
David Kattenburg
Trudeau’s Long Winter
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
Ellen Lindeen
What Does it Mean to Teach Peace?
Adewale Maye and Eileen Appelbaum
Paid Family and Medical Leave: a Bargain Even Low-Wage Workers Can Afford
Ramzy Baroud
War Versus Peace: Israel Has Decided and So Should We
Ann Garrison
Vets for Peace to Barbara Lee: Support Manning and Assange
Thomas Knapp
The Mueller Report Changed my Mind on Term Limits
Jill Richardson
Why is Going Green So Hard? Because the System Isn’t
Mallika Khanna
The Greenwashing of Earth Day
Arshad Khan
Do the Harmless Pangolins Have to Become Extinct?
Paul Armentano
Pushing Marijuana Legalization Across the Finish Line
B. R. Gowani
Surreal Realities: Pelosi, Maneka Gandhi, Pompeo, Trump
Paul Buhle
Using the Law to Build a Socialist Society
David Yearsley
Call Saul
Elliot Sperber
Ecology Over Economy 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail