Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Facing Extinction

The Founders of this nation, including Alexander Hamilton, the brilliant mind who laid the groundwork for today's market economy, were as fearful of unbridled capitalism as they were the tyranny of monarchs.

I only have two experiences with labor unions: one during a brief stint before law school when I worked as a production foreman in the plate inspection area for Kaiser Aluminum Trentwood Works and another a year earlier while researching and writing a college senior thesis about Wayne D. Holley, who was a labor leader and a active member of the Communist Party in this country while also an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon,) now the most politically conservative of all religions in the nation.

Of course, I should probably include the last year of high school debating both sides of the notion of compulsory arbitration for labor-management disputes. USW-New-logo

These experiences are also my only window into the thinly veiled political motives exhibited by some Republican Governors bent on trashing collective bargaining.

My personal experience with USW-Local 838 workers at Kaiser was positive.  Folks there worked hard and several helped teach this then-management-novice the ropes and how to get the most productivity without crossing the line.  This also happened to be the same union in which Holley was active at Geneva Steel just north of where I obtained my undergraduate degree in history.

But I've heard the war stories about unions.

Not just corruption which, while far more publicized and reviled, is really no more prevalent than management white collar crime.  This includes the current mess which has resulted as described in an op-ed published last week by President Reagan's budget chief and “trickle-down-economics" guru David Stockman in “a quasi-bankrupt nation saddled with rampant casino capitalism on Wall Street and a disemboweled, off-shored economy on Main Street."

I think union reform begins not with trashing collective bargaining, but internally by getting rid of anything that protects or rewards people who don't do their job or that erodes productivity or throttles innovation.

Unions today and the country in general need people like Wayne D. Holley, not because he was able to juggle two seemingly contradictory values such as deeply, conservative Christian beliefs with Communism and Socialism, but because he refused to be pigeonholed by either/or labels.

Incidentally, Holley was my current age when I conducted hours of interviews with him on the big lawn at the house he shared with his wife Helen (who passed away a few months ago at age 92) in the small town of Mapleton, Utah, just south of where I was nearing college graduation.  The 32-page paper that resulted suddenly came to mind again when I received a recent message via Facebook.

It seems that two young college students were unable to find a copy of that 1972 paper.  They apparently could see it cited in a few other papers and speeches published by true scholars, as well as in university archives. Unable though to put their hands on a copy, they wondered if I happened to still have a copy and if could I send it to them digitally.

So I dug out my fading forty-year-old mimeographed copy (the format required at the time,) scanned it and created a link for them to access, and at the same time, to better preserve it for the family history I'm creating for my grandsons, who are now nearing ages 6 and 8. 

It is weird now that I’m retired to read something I wrote prior to the beginning of my career.  I had forgotten how early on I gained appreciation for iconoclasts, something for which my current hometown of more than two decades is well known, and a term some occasionally applied to me during my now concluded four-decade career in community marketing.

Today, we could use more people like Wayne Holley, who passed away eight years ago at age 93, not just because he was a Mormon and a Communist and a labor leader but for the reasons I revisited while rereading my 40-year-old Introduction to that paper:

“It has long been understood that an imperative requirement for survival in any society is the ability to maintain a flexible, viable, changing posture.  It has been common experience that those institutions that insist on facing the complicated, multi-factored problems of modern society with unchanging, inflexible and rigid attitudes face extinction.  The core issue involved is the age-old difficulty of getting along with those who think differently, learning to accept disbelief systems with a graceful, open mind.”

The response I received from the two students after I forwarded a digital link to this old student paper was “not bad Dude!”  But I think they meant “not bad” for an old Dude facing extinction.

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