General Articles

A BOSS LOOKS AT LABOR

An employer and former head of Selective Service takes the stand and answers 20 questions on how business and labor can get along

ELLIOTT M. LITTLE December 1 1947
General Articles

A BOSS LOOKS AT LABOR

An employer and former head of Selective Service takes the stand and answers 20 questions on how business and labor can get along

ELLIOTT M. LITTLE December 1 1947

A BOSS LOOKS AT LABOR

An employer and former head of Selective Service takes the stand and answers 20 questions on how business and labor can get along

ELLIOTT M. LITTLE

Blair Fraser

(1) Question —What, in your opinion, is the ideal relationship between employer and employee?

Answer—Good labor relations can only be based on a high degree of trust and mutual confidence. There must be a full appreciation on the part of each as to the problems, hopes, fears and ambitions of the other.

This confidence does not come naturally; it has to be worked for—it must be earned. Both employer and employee have to work assiduously and continuously to create and maintain this atmosphere of friendship and understanding.

Management must take the lead. Management has the prime responsibility for determining the attitude and atmosphere that exist in an organization. But labor must do its share by giving a full day’s work for a fair day’s pay, sticking to its agreements and giving friendship for friendship.

(2) Question—What steps could be taken by Canadian management and labor to make such a re la tionsbip general Y

Answer—-To start with, management has to be big—-I mean in spirit, not in size.

A good manager wants his company to be a fighting unit—one whose members are fighting together and not fighting each other. He wants a thinking organization and you can’t get a thinking organization without developing an attitude of complete frankness with nothing held back from

selfish motives or fear of reprisal. Men at all levels must know that they can express their views on company affairs and get a fair hearing.

With independent thinking in an organization you are bound to have differences of opinion on company affairs, for different men will inevitably reach different conclusions. These differences of opinion must be respected, whether they fall between two workers at the same level or between a craftsman in overalls and the general manager. The craftsman must have complete assurance that he can express his views and that the boss is a big enough man to take it. And “the boss” means all the bosses in the plant, every man with any degree of supervisory responsibility. Subforemen, foreman, shop superintendents, department heads and so on right up to president are all a part of management. They all must learn to respect a fellow worker’s judgment, even if it .implies a criticism of their own.

Frankness has another aspect. When you have an atmosphere of frankness you don’t tolerate the petty gossip, the backbiting, the tale bearing that go on when frankness is absent. Management and labor share a responsibility to stamp out this kind of thing.

But morale and loyalty are meaningless unless they are backed by work. Labor is preoccupied with security and rightly so. But unless supported by work, work and more work, social security measures will be more socialistic than secure. The unemployment insurance fund will be dissipated and not available for real emergencies if workers dip into it in good times by refusing to take jobs that

are available. Family allowances, health insurance, old-age pensions are all desirable things, but they’ll only be there when we need them if they’re backed by work.

For all our sakes there must be no unreasonable restriction on the amount a man can produce. “A full day’s work for a fair day’s pay” is an old slogan, but just as sound today as when it was first statedmore so, if recent social-security measures are to do the good they are intended to do.

If a man able to lay 1,000 bricks a day submits to the restriction that he must lay only 300, he may think he’s making his job more secure—making it last three times as long. Actually he’s doing the opposite. Industry can’t support the burden of halfhearted production. It can’t afford slowdowns, needless duplication of staff, obsolete “make-work” methods; the long-run effect of these things is to cut down employment by cutting down industrial operation. In the end they make for insecurity of employment and thus react against the worker himself.

(3) Question—Do you believe in collective bargaining? What machinery is needed for bargaining between management and labor? What rules and who should set them?

Answer—Certainly. I entirely accept the right of workers to be represented by unions of their own choice. If we have the kind of labor relations and company morale mentioned in the answer to the previous question, where lies the danger in a union? Hostility between unions and management to some extent grew because those

Continued on page 61

Continued from page 12

good relations did not exist. Where they do exist, unions and management can and do co-operate for mutual advantage.

As for machinery, I’d say the less the better. Government intervention should be restricted essentially to two things —setting minimum wages and working conditions and establishing a man’s right to bargain collectively and to belong to the union of his choice. There’s also, of course, the Government’s responsibility to step in when a strike or work stoppage affects the public welfare. Hut the closer we can keep to direct contact between employer and worker, the better.

(4) Question— Do you think a company-aided union is a proper bargaining agent for employees?

Answer—It can be. provided a full measure of trust and confidence exists. There are some so-called “company unions” which work quite satisfactorily to both sides. It is true that they have fallen into disfavor with the tradeunion movement. This is partly because of abuses—real or fancied—on the part of the companies, but possibly more because the company unions clash with the trade union organizer’s desire to increase his membership.

(5) Question—What should an employer do when he learns that a labor union is organizing his working force?

Answer—He should satisfy himself, if he can, that the union has sound and constructive policies and that its leadership gives promise of seeing that these policies are carried out. I believe it to be not only an employer’s privilege, but his responsibility, to guide his working force toward a union whose efforts will be at all times directed toward furthering the interests of the company and its workers. If these efforts are not successful, there is not much more to be done about it. Under the laws of most Canadian provinces, a man has a legal right to join the union of bis choice.

(6) Question—Would you favor bargaining on an industry-wide basis, or should each employer make his own arrangement with his workers?

Answer—That depends on circumstances. Where basic economic and working conditions are similar, there’s much to be said for industry-wide collective bargaining. There is a danger, though, that in such an arrangement the individual employer would tend to get out of touch with bis own men.

(7) Question — Should employers organize for the purpose of bargaining collectively?

Answer—I’d be in favor of it, subject to the reservation in my answer to the previous question. When labor sets up an industry-wide bargaining machinery, industry should do likewise.

(8) Question — What machinery would you suggest for enforcement of contracts between employers and labor?

Answer—Obviously a labor contract ought to be as enforceable at law as any other kind of contract, but we have recently seen that strikes have not been prevented by declaring them illegal. Governments should pass only such labor laws as they consider necessary and enforceable and then see that the laws are enforced.

To int erpret the details of a contract, management and labor might work out their own machinery by consultation.

A legalistic attitude on either side does little good.

Labor itself must learn to get rid of the wildcat strike. Unless they have that much discipline, labor unions will not get far. At the present time labor is abusing the strike weapon.

(9) Question—What changes, ifany, would you suggest in Canadian labor law? Would you favor a national labor code? Why?

Answer—I have no quarrel with existing legislation. It’s obviously desirable to have similar laws and practices across Canada, but we ought to be able to work out a sufficient degreeof uniformity by consultation and agreement among provincial governments. As I’ve indicated before, the spirit is more important than the letter in good labor relations.

(10) Question—Do you think employees should have any voice in company policy? In other words, should labor have a share in the responsibilities of management?

Answer—Labor should have a very full share in the responsibilities of management. Workers are important partners in production and should be treated as such. I think management could well do more to acquaint employees with the problems and possibilities of their company’s operations.

The machinery can vary. Formal management-labor committees could serve a useful function. They are no substitute for the bigger managementlabor partnership to which I’ve referred, but where the right spirit exists they can be a steppingstone to that final objective.

(11) Question—Do you oppose or favor incentive pay? Profit-sharing plans? Why?

Answer—Speaking personally I’d like to find a sound workable scheme of profit sharing to give incentive to every worker in our organization. If one could be found I’m convinced it would be of great benefit to both the workers and the owners of the business. In my opinion it’s an ideal way to get minimum cost, maximum production and high quality, and a greater assurance of stability of earnings and security of position for all concerned.

It is difficult to devise a scheme that will work. A reasonable solution might be found in time by a healthier give-and-take in discussions between management and labor.

(12) Question—Has an employer any responsibility to help find new jobs for men displaced by technological improvements? If so, how should he discharge it?

Answer—Yes, 1 believe all of us in management must realize more fully the social implications of our actions. When we as employers throw men out of work, we, as citizens, continue to have a responsibility for their welfare.

I don’t mean that an individual company can or should assume financial responsibility for the men it is no longer able to employ. I do mean that we are under an obligation to keep employment as high as we can and make every possible effort to develop alternative employment for people whose jobs have been made obsolete by the advancing machine.

Labor also, however, has a responsibility here. The continued drive for higher wages is a continual pressure on every employer to reduce his costs by finding labor-saving devices and reducing his working force. Thus labor, by its own action, in seeking ever higher wages, often creates the unemploy-

mont which it is striving so hard in other ways to avoid.

(13) Question—What, if anything, should the employer do about providing job security in slack times? Would you favor a guaranteed annual wage?

Answer—Long-term work planning I by employers could reduce to somt'

I extent fluctuation in employment. However, the limits to this are narrow. Many of the things that determine I employment levels arc outside the I control of an individual employer, an individual industry and even of indij vidual governments—whether these I governments be socialistic or capitalistic. Variations in world markets, in price levels and in demands, tariffs and so on must all be reflected in variations of employment.

I think most employers arc willing to spread out available work in slack time« with devices like a shorter workday or work week so that everybody takes some reduction in income, instead of leaving some as well off as before and some destitute. In the past, though, an obstacle to this sharing of work has been the opposition of some labor unions.

As to the guaranteed annual wage, this can only be as good as the backing behind the guarantee. How can a company or industry guarantee an annual wage unless it has enough financial fat on its bones to make the guarantee mean something? I would prefer a profit-sharing scheme, because you arc then sharing something after an achievement, as against the guaranteed annual wage when you arc making the guarantee against an unknown and uncertain future. Workers must realize this. They cannot have both a secure annual wage and an ever-rising hourly rate. When hourly rates arc pushed too high they inevitably cause a lower income for the average worker. Labor cannot have it both ways.

(14) Qu est ion— What are your views on union security? The closed shop? The union shop? Ot her similar devices? Which, if any, do you favor?

Answer—I am absolutely opposed to the closed shop. It puts control of employment wholly in the hands of the union and it puts a serious limitation on the freedom of the individual worker. Under a closed shop, a man has to be a

union member before he can get. a job at all.

Under the union shop, an employer can lure whom he likes, on the understanding that the man will join the union within a specified time after he is hired. I am in favor of t his. 1 see no reason why any new employee, if ho wants to work in that plant, should object to becoming a member of the union his employer recognizes, and paying his share of the cost of collective bargaining. We have stipulated in our own plant that men already in the organization when the union is organized may remain nonmembers if they choose, without losing their jobs, hut 1 certainly do not urge or expect them t.o stay out of the union, and in practice most of them join.

(15) Question—Is the checkoff of union dues from workers’ wages a desirable practice? Why?

Answer—I am against the checkoff.

I think i( weakens the labor union as an instrument for t he individual worker. When labor union officers have to collect the dues themselves from members, they must keep selling their organization to the workers all the time. They have to keep it virile, alive, make it generally useful to the men in the ranks. When an employer collects the union dues, the union officials are, in my opinion, relieved of the greatest single stimulus to their own efficiency.

(16) Question — Js an employer justified in hiring strikebreakers when his own workers have walked out?

Answer I don’t like strikebreaking any more than I like strikes. Rut if an employer has dealt with a trade union and its members have walked out in violat ion of an agreement, or to impose demands that he cannot meet, then, 1 feel, he’s perfectly justified in doing anything within reason to carry on his business.

(17) Question—Should an employer deal with a union he knows to be Communist led?

Answer 1 don’t see how he can helj doing so. If the union lias majority support in his organization, the lawsays he must deal with it whether its leaders are Communists or not.

The best way to frustrate the Communists is to have good, friendly

labor relations in your plant. Communist organizers thrive on hatred and ill will, which are easy to foment when they exist but very difficult to create in an atmosphere of friendship.

(18) Question—Is it desirable for organizations of either employers or employees to take an active part in politics?

Answer—Emphatically no. Not if you mean affiliation or financial support to any political party. Both organizations can and should try to influence any party or government toward policies which they favor, but to go further is in my opinion a serious mistake.

Employers and workers organize to pursue an economic purpose — the improvement of earnings and conditions of work. For these common objectives men may join together who have very different political views. Tie the organization to any one party and inevitably you tend to split the organization itself. In the end this kind of affiliation makes for neither good unionism nor good politics.

(19) Question — In your opinion have either higher wages or higher profits contributed unduly to t he recent, rise in prices? If so, how can the interest of t he consumer best be protected?

Answer—Both have contributed to higher prices, though whether “unduly” or not is a matter of opinion. I t’s fair to point out, though, that wages are a much larger component of the cost of any article than profits, so that even where profits have increased by as great or a greater percentage than have wages, the wage increase is likely to be a larger factor in the cost rise.

Government controls, which were accepted as necessary in wartime, can’t be continued indefinitely in a free economy. But there’s a different kind of control which will work better in t he long run than government control, one which always has worked. In their own interest, management and labor have the responsibility of regulating their demands upon the consumer’s income.

If they don’t, the consumer will impose his own control. When prices get so high that the consumer won’t pay them they come down—and usually they slump below the level of a fair return.

(20) Question—Do you think Canadian management and labor, co-operating in a free economy, can maintain a high and stable level of employment through individual enterprise?

Answer—I not only believe they can do it, 1 believe this is the only way it can be done.

Free enterprise is the only system that can satisfy a man’s individual ambition, spur him to the kind of effort which advances the level of human welfare. Any other system that we know takes away from man’s incentive to work and in taking away his incentive it takes away his freedom.

We, on this continent, have proved this to be true. We have the highest standard of living, the greatest sharing of the good things of life, that can or ever could be found anywhere in the world. We also have the greatest strength. World War II showed that even with a late start, free countries can summon an energy and a power that the slave countries, with all their vaunted efficiency, cannot match. Our system has a flexibility, an adaptability to changing conditions, that no other system can equal.

The system is best. The job before us is not to change its nature but to cure its imperfections. I believe this can h«1 done by ever closer co-operation between management and labor and between both of t hem and the Government. I have said that good labor relations can only develop in an atmosphere of trust and mutual confidence; that same thing is true of national spirit. We can, and 1 believe we shall, get through our difficulties by working together.

“Working together”—-the accent is on both words. Good relations do no more than to create the opportunity to work. Work itself is the key to all accomplishment, without which no system will bring anybody anything. ★