The Changing Scene in Labor Relations
- A.Q. Sartain (Southern Methodist U.)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- November 1968
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 1,271 - 1,274
- 1968. Society of Petroleum Engineers
- 7.5 Professionalism, Training and Education
- 1 in the last 30 days
- 110 since 2007
- Show more detail
- View rights & permissions
A fundamental labor relations problem is understanding and motivating the "new model" of American worker with his increased information and insistence upon equality and dignity. Unionization shows little promise of meeting this problem, but unfortunately neither do management thinking and actions. Apparently, best prospects for unionization are professional workers.
It would seem that, in an age of many and tremendous changes, almost everyone would be aware of those changes and of their nature and extent. Such however is far from the actual situation.
For one thing, many changes, while very large in the aggregate, may be the result of small daily or weekly variations and hence difficult to see, especially for the nearby viewer. For another, we have prejudices and preconceptions that block our appraisal. This is true in the technological field, but even more so in human relationships.
A single illustration will have to suffice. There are a host of beliefs about human beings, widely accepted and seldom questioned, that have no evidence to support them but that at the same time provide the explicit or implicit basis for much decision and action. Examples are "Human nature never changes," "Everyone is out for himself to get as much as he can for as little as he can put out," "People (and especially people in the lower classes) have an inherent resistance to change," "The only way to a worker's heart is through his pocketbook," and literally dozens more (including much of what passes for "principles of management"). All of these statements are false if not positively and seriously misleading; and they greatly distort and guarantee the inaccuracy of our conclusions.
Labor Unions in the United States
Like the managements of many companies and even like management in general, labor unions in the U. S. are the victims of this pseudo wisdom. Misconceptions about them vary all the way from the naive view that all unions and even all union members are basically alike, to serious distortions as to the goals and the ideology of American unions. Let us use some of these mistaken views to make some pertinent observations about labor unions in this country.
For one thing, American unions are not committed to basic changes in or overthrow of our principal social institutions or our accepted beliefs. They are not by intention socialist, communist, or devoted to radical welfareism (though their actions, like ours, may have unanticipated consequences, especially when expediency governs decisions).
In the second place, American unionism is a blue-collar phenomenon. White-collar, sales, professional, and unskilled workers in the U. S. have not been significantly attracted to unionism or at least have not been organized in large numbers. Incidentally, even among blue-collar workers it is the better paid who typically become union members.
In the third place, unionism has changed much less since World War II than it did before. At the end of that war about 25 percent of the labor force in the U. S. was unionized. That figure has not varied much in the last 23 years.
Finally, the great variety to be found in the hundreds of labor unions and the tens of thousands of labor contracts in this country is frequently overlooked. As an example, there are many companies in which managements and unions have long worked together cooperatively and successfully (and we seldom hear about these); and of course there are many in which belligerence, strife, and discord are characteristic (and we seldom fail to hear about these).
The Future of Labor Relations
Nature of the Worker
The most important and most overlooked development in employer-employee relationships in the U. S. today is the changed (and changing) character of the average worker. One relevant fact is what has happened to his information about what is going on in this country and in the world. Three factors have been outstandingly influential: education, travel, and communication. The average number of years completed in school is now about 250 percent of what it was in 1900 and about 200 percent of what it was in 1917; and at the same time there is simply no comparison between a year in a one-room rural school of the 1900's and one in a modern public school. Furthermore, we in the U. S. believe in education for all to the limit of ability and are one of the world's very few countries if not the only country that so believes. The result is that the information gap between the lower and middle classes has now all but disappeared. No one knows what this will mean in another 10 to 20 years, but one thing is sure: the average worker will never be the same again.
|File Size||439 KB||Number of Pages||4|