Saturday, March 28, 2009

We're Always Right

Years ago, a union leader asked for my opinion about labor's chances of winning a political election on a particular issue. He was shocked when I replied that the chances were slim because most voters distrusted the labor unions as much as they did the corporations.

In his eyes, the unions were always the good guys. He'd grown up with stories of the early labor struggles. Although we'd gone far past those days, the old stereotypes still existed for him. On one side were the "working people" and on the other side were plutocrats resembling the little rich man on the Monopoly cards. He regarded rigid solidarity as the unity of the workers ("Never cross a picket line!") and not a slogan for mindless obedience.

You can find, of course, similar attitudes on management's side where eyebrows automatically move upward at various labor proposals. Due to a lack of trust, each side operates with a "Give them an inch and they'll take a mile" skepticism.

What has always perplexed me is the utter inability to engage in self-critique. The most effective labor and management representatives are capable of appreciating the other side's virtues and their own vices when it comes to any particular issue. The least effective are reluctant even to entertain the notion that their counterparts across the bargaining table just might have a point.

This attitude might be excused if it were some bargaining ploy - often it is - but the automatic demonization or dismissal of the other side ultimately warps objectivity and good judgment.

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