Trade Unions and Injustice LO7128

Tobin Quereau (
Thu, 2 May 1996 10:53:25 -0500 (CDT)

Replying to LO7106 --

On Wed, 1 May 1996, Mariann Jelinek wrote:

> I'm much persuaded that educating everybody in the company about
> the economic realities of current operations is imperative. "Open book
> management" is a powerful antidote, perhaps, to the cynicism that
> envisions eternal acrimony as a way to "win." Still, the very same
> awareness on the part of all parties that a business must operate in a
> competitive environment, and make its profit by being at least competitive
> in its costs, is often missing both among workers and in the strategic
> plans of managers. I often see strategies that set goals - but don't
> appear to realistically assess their likelihood against what the
> opposition is able to do, or what the data says the environment will
> demand.

As you raise this idea, Mariann, one of the things that has to happen, it
seems to me, is that the boundaries of "me/we and not me/we" have to be
expanded. Open book management is one possible way of doing that--showing
everyone in the organization that "we are in this together". It can help
to reduce suspicion and defensiveness (as long as everyone understands
what "the books" are saying in similar ways). It may not be appropriate in
many cases, however, precisely because of the competitive conditions that
exist and the percieved need to keep that information private.

The task at a larger level may be to shift the way things "are"--which
brought about the antagonism and confrontive tactics that are being
exhibited in some cases--in a direction which no longer divides in order
to conquer. As in the cases that Barry Mallis has mentioned where
organizations can become "communities" of shared values, when all parts of
an organization feel a part of a larger whole, there will be incentive to
seek the health not only of a small part--the heart or the muscles, for
example--but of the corporation (the body) in its entirety.

This requires, of course, that the organization be directed at goals
beyond just maximization of return on investment or increase of
stockholder value. What we need, perhaps, is an exploration of what would
be "stakeholder" value--with those whose energies and lives are the
investment being considered as fully as those whose capital is their claim
to value. Some fairly heavy duty "reframing" on all sides may be
necessary, of course, for such a transformation to take place. (And making
employees stockholders really doesn't, on its own, address what I am
talking about. It can just make the split in an organization more
confusing if all else stays the same--now the employee has to participate
in adding to the very pressure for actions which he/she has suffered from
in the past.)

> "Injustice" in a work setting, it seems to me, is as much illusion
> as anything else: illusion that the two sides of management and workers
> really can survive without one another; illusion that wishes are not
> ultimately tested against external, more or less objective realities
> uncontrollable by ourselves; illusions that we don't have to do the hard
> work of improving our operations, listening to our customers, or finding
> the compromises that share the rewards of achievement. Unions in their
> birth in the US sprang from the need to force power elites (managers) to
> recognize the legitimate claims of workers. Now, it seems to me, both
> managers and unions need to return to developing a shared sense of what is
> just, what the market demands, and what they can do together.

And, if we carry this notion of expanded identity even further, we may
find that our "competition" out there doesn't have to be eternally in
opposition and conflict with "us". The value of partnering and
collaborating to reach a larger goal may make it possible for the
organization, community, region, industry, nation, or (dare I say it?)
globe to prosper in unexpected and unimagined ways. An example of the
latter might be the Natural Step movement which began in Sweden and which
has implications world-wide. I know this could be raising the "woo-woo"
factor fairly high, but it's just a thought....

Tobin Quereau
Austin Community College

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <> -or- <>