To management: don’t put down labor — Labor: don’t bite the hand that feeds you…

June 4, 2009

When the big-time executive world of the good ol’ boy clubs makes it where each other is protected by golden parachutes and performance really means nothing, we call it “networking”.

When the working class joins together to improve its prospects for happy retirement and to protect itself from the ravages of health care expenses we call it “legacy costs” and left wing politics.

And when Wall Street bankers get paid million-dollar bonuses for losing money we call it contractual obligations that cannot under any circumstances abrogated.

But there is no obligation to those legacy costs or to hard-fought wage increases and benefits.

I haven’t got that quite right perhaps, but close enough. I’m no union person but at the same time since there are far more workers than big time executives it seems that the condition of workers ought to carry more weight.

What set me off here is when I saw outgoing GM executive Bob Lutz on a cable news show blaming GM’s woes on the so-called legacy costs of its retired auto workers. Did not GM agree to all of that in labor negotiations? And what about all those golden parachutes executives get and what about the fact that even though executives are paid in the millions they could not keep American-made cars competitive with those made elsewhere in the world?

(Actually I think maybe that consumers have been robbed over the years by a cabal of networked management and union labor.)

And by the way, under the leadership of folks such as Lutz, GM has filed for bankruptcy. His salary last year, according to Wikipedia, was estimated at $6.9 million.

Yes, I think that the auto workers did probably help cut their own throats and maybe that should be a message to other unions, but I also know this:

Even though in American labor’s history there have been episodes of leftist (communist) politics, for the most part and in these past several decades, the U.S. labor movement has been quite closely connected with mainstream capitalism; it just has done everything to get its share.

I once had a political science professor in college who expressed puzzlement as to why the labor movement in this country did not tend more toward socialism (maybe he just wondered that for purposes of instruction – I’m not sure).

My answer was something to the effect that the average American wage earner always holds out the promise that he and she can get ahead and once he or she is ahead would rather not be saddled with helping others do what they should do for themselves. We have the promise of individual opportunity.

But when business leaders casually dismiss the needs of labor or blame labor for business failures instead of themselves and excuse their own extravagances, they might do well to keep in mind that what keeps us a free nation with a capitalist system is that hope to create a better life. And the answer is probably not that everyone can be in business for himself. There will always be those who do the work for others.

Best to keep them happy.

And to labor:

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you or kill the goose that laid the golden egg.