Friday, March 27, 2020

Labor-Management relationship

A look at the relationship between labor and management from a sociological and philosophical perspective.

Aaron S. Robertson

Labor has always needed management/ownership. It is management that creates the conditions and sets the tone that leads to the various economic opportunities available to a society through the processes and activities of vision and foresight, identifying market need, planning, organization, staffing, procurement, and negotiation. Not everyone can be in management, nor does everyone wish to be in management. Management is simply not for everyone.

Management/ownership has always needed labor, but in different ways at different times in different eras. In the nineteenth and well into the twentieth centuries, much of the labor force needed by management came in the form of sheer physical strength and an ability to endure endless repetition fit for an environment of manufacturing and heavy industry. During this period, labor was arguably more disposable – a worker could easily be replaced, if necessary, and for any reason, by another worker with similar physical endurance. Labor was not required to think much or deviate from what were often mundane, repetitive tasks. There simply was no need to.

As the linear line of natural time and evolutionary progress went on, a combination of labor unions, public outrage, and a variety of laws and regulations sprung up to put a damper on runaway practices by management – child labor was eliminated; trusts were broken up; safety and environmental concerns addressed; the standard eight-hour workday put into place; fairer wages and hiring processes implemented. Technology naturally improved and became more readily available, helping to make manufacturing processes less physically-intensive for labor and more economical for management/ownership. New industries and professional fields emerged. More and more in labor’s ranks began pursuing higher education as it became easier to access. All these factors, combined, created the conditions for a thriving middle class and a better-equipped consumer.

Now well under way in the twenty-first century and in an era of information and innovation often referred to as “the knowledge economy,” management/ownership needs labor for another reason – their mental strength and ability. Again, this is all in accordance with the linear line of natural time and progress. While it was arguably easier for management to quickly replace a worker in the previous period with someone of comparable physical strength and ability, it is arguably more difficult for management today to find a replacement with the ideal mix of comparable, ready-to-go intellectual capability, talents, interests, skills, and practical experience. With the variables no longer confined to sheer physical metrics, coupled with a strong emphasis on the need for knowledge in an ever-complex economy, each worker today is truly unique – truly differentiated from everyone else – because each mind is truly unique.

Management has also always been dependent on labor in the sense that managers come from the ranks of labor. Put another way, labor provides and stocks the pipeline of managerial candidates, serving as the sole source of fuel. This holds true whether a particular manager in question has come from the ranks of labor within his or her own work organization at the time – the concept of promoting from within – or if the manager has joined his or her current organization after immediately coming from labor at a prior organization. Even if the manager has come to his or her current organization from a previous one as a manager, the lineage of his or her time spent within the ranks of labor can be traced back to some earlier point in his or her career. One does not enter the ranks of management without ever first spending time in the ranks of labor.

With this context established, then, that management is, and always has been, reliant on labor, and vice-versa, the dialogue for the conversation of a strong organizational culture backed by high levels of employee engagement and abundant professional development opportunities becomes more apparent and easier to have.

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