Labor-Management Committees


By COLONEL HERMAN W. STEINKRAUS, President and General Manager ofBridgeport Brass Company, Bridgeport, Conn.

Delivered before the Kiwanis Club of Bridgeport, August 19, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 726-728.

WAR accentuates so many relationships that factors with which we live every day during peace time, but never notice, become so magnified in war time that they force themselves on our attention very strongly.

For example, during peace time we took for granted that there would always be sufficient gasoline for our cars, and oil or coal for our furnaces; yet today the war has emphasized their importance to human existence so strongly that we find it difficult to get along without these things which we have been taking for granted for many years.

In a similar way we could mention a long list of things, such as good water to drink, of which we have an abundance in this city because of the farsightedness of our water company, but which in the lifeboat of Eddie Rickenbacker would have been worth its weight in gold—even in cupfuls!

In other words, a war of the magnitude we are in today makes us reexamine and revalue almost everything in life from a new angle. Some things we are learning to appreciate more than we ever did before, while some things we used to think were very important we now know we can very well get along without.

One of the major relationships in life which have been greatly accentuated by the war is the relationship of human beings with each other. Under peace time conditions each of us has gone around in his own little circle of business and family acquaintanceships. We more or less felt free to live our own lives with little consideration of others; but today, with war time conditions, all this has changed.

Today we find society women and famous actresses vying with each other to make sandwiches and serve coffee and drinks to the soldiers and sailors in canteens—the lucky dogs! Some people who may have previously seemed selfish now are giving generously of their money and time for the great cause. Human relations, whether in the neighborhood, in the plant, or on an international bases, are undergoing great changes, and we are rediscovering the brotherhood of man because of the great dangers which have been threatening the very foundations of civilization.

Basically, the war has forced us to realize all over again that the spirit of good relations among all classes of people is essential to a winning war effort, and is fundamentally the key to a happy world.

In the early stages of the war it seemed as though the biggest problem of our armed forces was lack of proper relations between the Army and the Navy, resulting in poor cooperation, climaxed by the terrible destruction at Pearl Harbor. All through that early period, also, the question of whether relations between the leaders of our Air Forces and the leaders of our Army and Navy were good was the concern of many. It seemed as if the Air Force had to fight its way uphill to recognition by the public and it was the power of public opinion that finally got greater recognition for air-power from the heads of our fighting units. Happily most of these problems have been solved since that time.

Now, all of these matters are really basically a question of human relations—of human understanding of the relative value of different men. materials and plans. Only as thereis mutual respect and mutual recognition of each other's importance as well as of each other's responsibilities can real teamwork be possible.

In recent months the North African campaign and the Sicilian campaign have proved the tremendous power of cooperative effort, not only between the various branches of our own fighting forces, but also between the British, the American soldiers, sailors, aviators and the merchant marine, not to overlook the teamwork between Roosevelt and Churchill.

In short, in peace time we don't feel the need of cooperation which we feel today, but in war time we have a feeling of interdependence among our people as well as among the nations we trust, so that each of us wants to do his share for a common cause. We rediscover the almost limitless power and capacity of a group pulling together to accomplish things, whether it is in our own community, in our nation, or in a group of nations.

Now, what is the application of all this to us in Bridgeport? It is just this—no industrial plant in this city can accomplish its maximum effort for this war unless the human relations, the human understanding among all of its people, are right. What may have been a satisfactory manner of dealing with employee relations during peace time has been proved from coast to coast to be not enough under war conditions. As every weakness in our fighting forces, in our fighting equipment, is accentuated in time of war, so every weakness in our plants is also accentuated in time of war.

Just as a fighter plane or a bomber, when put through the gruelling test of an engagement with the enemy's best equipment and men, soon shows up its points of strength and its weaknesses, so each company or plant, so our entire industrial system, our free enterprise system, have been put through the same gruelling test as to whether they could stand up and deliver in war time all the planes, the tanks, the guns, and the ships that are needed for victory.

Thank God the free enterprise system has demonstrated to the world that it is the finest system ever developed by man, not only for producing the greatest quantity, but also the highest quality of war materials of all kinds.

Every fair-minded man and woman who gives the matter Some thought must admit today that without our great industry and agriculture built up under the free enterprise system, this country would never have been able to help our allies stay in the war when everything seemed lost. Another thought comes to mind in this connection. The millions of young men in uniform, who have worked in our factories, mills, and mines, and on farms, have been put to the test and have proved they have acquired skills superior without question to those of any other nation in the world, in handling the intricate instruments of warfare, the tanks, planes, and other mechanical equipment of war too numerous to mention.

Do you recall the story which appeared in the newspapers in the early days of the war about two American airmen in Java who were among the last to leave the island? Although they had never taken a Flying Fortress off the ground theypatched up a damaged one which they found, took off by lantern light with a load of refugees, and flew safely across the Indian Ocean to Australia without instruments or maps. And there are thousands more like them.

Such a spirit of courage, confidence, and resourcefulness, inbred from childhood in the atmosphere of a freedom-loving people, has enabled our fighting forces to show character that is astonishing our enemies and astounding the world.

Getting back to the subject of our war effort in Bridgeport. Here, as in other cities, many ingenious programs have been devised by state and government to assist industry to create better understanding among their people.

For example, are you familiar with the "Training within Industry" courses? These include Job Methods Training, Job Instructor Training, and Job Relations Training, all available to any manufacturer free of charge, and they are accomplishing outstanding results in many companies in Connecticut as well as right here in Bridgeport.

Many other courses are being utilized for the purpose of improving understanding between people in a plant, and for learning about the fundamental principles which govern successful operation. Time is too short even to outline all of these efforts, but one of them on which I would like to speak for a few minutes is the War Production Board's program of organizing Joint Production Drive Committees, or so-called Labor-Management Committees in those plants throughout the country who are engaged in war work.

These committees were first suggested by Donald Nelson, with complete details of the plan outlined in his instructions of March twenty-fourth of last year. The immediate reaction to his proposal varied throughout the country. Some people felt that it was an attempt to put labor into management. Mr. Nelson found it necessary to make a detailed statement of its purposes, and he said in part:

"This drive is designed to increase the production of weapons now and not to further the special interests of any group. It is not a plan to promote company unions. It is not a device to add to or tear down the power or position of any union. It does not interfere with bargaining machinery where it exists. It is not designed to conform to any plan that contemplates a measure of control of management by labor.

"It does not put management in labor or labor in management. It is not a management plan, a labor plan, or any other plan. It is the War Production Drive plan. It is a perfectly simple, straight-forward effort to increase production.

"The plan calls for greater plant efficiency through cooperation. That means if anyone has a suggestion as to how we can do our job faster and smoother, that suggestion must be passed along to where it will do the most good—the most good for our country and for free men and women everywhere."

Today many of the companies who started out on this great experiment for the purpose of trying to make it work have been able to make contributions to the war effort way out of proportion to their early expectations.

Our company was one of the first to adopt the War Production Board's program, and jointly with our union leadership we launched our program on March 30, 1942.

A large number of our people have taken part in this effort. In fact, over three hundred are working on various committees at the present time. We know that these committees have helped us to improve production greatly, and in doing so have increased the understanding and respect that we have for each other here at the Bridgeport Brass Company.

Incidentally, the Labor-Management Committee is running a picnic for our employees at Pleasure Beach next Saturday, which is a delayed celebration of our having been the first company in New England to win the Army-Navy "E" for the fourth consecutive time. They tell me that over 20,000 of our employees and members of their families have signed up their intention of coming. I don't know what we shall do with all of these people, but apparently we are going to have a big time on Saturday.

Getting back to this labor-management plan, let us consider what some of the elements are which make such a simple idea so potent if carried out with the right spirit.

The first thing I think it does is to give an opportunity for the man actually doing the work at the machine or the bench to sit down and talk things over frankly with the man who gives the orders, the foreman, or the big boss.

But just as the Army and Navy big shots had a tough time at first getting to the point where they were willing to sit down and recognize that unless they pulled together the war would be lost, especially in the light of the Pearl Harbor catastrophe, so some management and labor big shots have been unwilling to sit down and talk things over. In fact, some management and labor little shots have been slow to see the light too.

But as soon as the way has been cleared for sitting down with each other, whether through representatives of a union, or whether through representatives of various departments of their own choosing, it is surprising how many things management learns are being done, or left undone, that could be improved but they have never thought of asking the workman about it before.

The number of suggestions developed through Suggestion Committees and the value of those suggestions are really surprising, especially if the employees are given some training on courses like the Job Methods Training course, which helps them to learn how to look for improvements, or the Job Instructors' Training course, which shows foremen how to instruct others properly in production.

I have heard executives of large companies right in this part of Connecticut tell with enthusiasm of outstanding improvements made in their methods at the suggestion, sometimes, of an ordinary worker who had no special skill, but who kept his eyes open. I could tell you of such cases in our plant, if time would permit.

Just another thought, when the person in your factory who may be doing the dirtiest, hardest job, which requires mainly a strong back and no fear of dirt, begins to recognize that he is receiving the respect of others for doing his share and that he is playing an important part, he begins to think somewhat differently about his work, about the importance of being on the job regularly and about the company he works for.

But, I repeat, the first essential is an honest willingness to sit down and talk things over with each other, labor and management together. That must be the starting point.

In order to make the meetings together worth-while there must be willingness on the part of management to explain patiently to its employees and their representatives, or through its own publication, anything they want to know about, especially anything about which they feel disturbed or uncertain. I will admit this is sometimes hard to do, but if management takes the attitude, "That is none of your business," or gets angry because a question might infer a criticism of its methods, then there will not be built up a basis of confidence and mutual understanding, which is such a valuable asset to any company. Resistance to the new andresentment of criticism are the two greatest impediments toward progress.

I have said for many years to people in our organization that the most important asset of any industrial company is not its plants, equipment, or cash in the bank. It is the men and women in that company, with their ability, and their loyalty. Plants may burn down, equipment can be destroyed, cash can be lost, but with the right group of men and women a company can start all over again and be a success.

Yet we have all been prone to overlook this basic truth. Instead of organizing to pull together as a team, we have too often permitted differences, ranging from petty jealousies to critical labor disputes, to disrupt our most valuable asset and to destroy the foundation stone of successful production. How much better to sit down together, and to reason out what is the fair thing for both sides, and agree on a program which is mutually satisfactory, after careful consideration and discussion in an open and frank manner!

One of the outstanding men in the country on labor relations, in my opinion, is Whiting Williams. He has had an experience of almost thirty years, working in plants all over the world to find out what the workers are thinking of and then interpreting their thoughts to management.

At a recent meeting of our Foremen's Club, Whiting Williams stated that if he were asked to put his lifetime of experience in a few words the first one would be: "Explain—explain—explain!" Taking the time to explain to your people what you are trying to accomplish, what some of the problems of management are, what happens to the money that comes into the business, what are the functions of different departments, gives them a basic understanding, which makes them fool-proof to the many false things that are said about any company, about industry and industrial management in general. If you are honest with them, you will get a response from them that is equally sincere and honest.

The second word which Whiting Williams said would express an important part of his life's experience is, "Appreciate". Showing appreciation of work well done, expressed in word or in action, is so often neglected, leaving only the criticism of things that may have gone wrong. Any man who receives recognition of his good work when earned does not resent it when he does something wrong if that, too, is explained to him, even in a critical way.

For deep down in the breast of every man is the desire to be worthy, to be able to do something well. There is a craving for recognition of one's ability and accomplishments, which is a greater driving force than any financial reward alone. The fear that we might not be doing as well as we

ought comes to each one of us at times, but when a friend, be it a neighbor, a member of our family, or our boss, gives us a word of recognition and praise, this is the mainspring which causes us to go on again with confidence to greater accomplishments.

That's just how human we all are, and that is the reason that labor and management should really not be quarreling with each other, because their interests are fundamentally the same. Only as private industry succeeds can American labor have real security of employment and the opportunity for future growth. If we should ever lose in this country our right to believe that every young man has the chance to become President of the country some day, or to become the head of a big business organization, or to earn a million dollars, we lose something which has helped to make this country great.

Social security is fine, in years gone by we have not done nearly so much as we should have done in this regard,—and no doubt we shall go still further along that line; but social security can never replace the privilege of opportunity, of greater chance for advancement in whatever line we wish to choose, even though there are risks involved. I believe that one of the outstanding gains of this war will be the better understanding of human relations in our plants, in our country, and throughout the world. I believe that as the last fifty years have shown the brilliant progress of industrial engineering and manufacturing, by which people have enjoyed more and more physical comforts and convenience at lower and lower prices, so in the next fifty years there will be greater progress in what a friend of mine calls Human Engineering, the exploring of the unlimited possibilities of human beings working together for a common cause, through mutual understanding, respect, and teamwork.

I believe those companies who, in the midst of what seemed impossible production requirements for war purposes, have discovered and used this great force of cooperative effort in Labor-Management Committees, will continue to use this same force when peace returns.

If it is possible to give full employment in the pressure of war, we must leave no stone unturned to try to make it possible for everyone to work in peace time, not for destruction, but for a better world.

The opportunity for human growth and development must be preserved at all costs. The better we plan our human relations in industry the more secure and the more productive will be this great free enterprise system we have in America, which is the foundation stone of this nation's greatness.