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The Big Juggle BY BERNARD RAPOPORT Text of an address given at UCLA’s 28th Annual Employee Relations Conference in Los Angeles, California earlier this year. It is just “natural” for those who have visited Russia and the surrounding iron-curtain countries including China to conclude that “western capitalism” with which we are familiar is the superior economic system. I enthusiastically agree!! Quickly, however, I must submit that the kind of world in which we live is one which requires an understanding that those committed to maintaining the status quo and insuring that things tomorrow must be like they were yesterday are in a dream world. If history teaches us one thing, it is whether we like it or not, there is no equilibrium in a social structure. There is constant movement. What is heartening is to recognize we can with the divine gift of intelligence control those societal movements. Recognition of this confirms that most of societies problems are of our making, either through our actions or our inactions. The worst of all conditions is to be smug and complacent and say, “I like the way things are and I want to keep them that way.” You will note the word “juggling” in the title of my talk with you this day. I guess those who determine the direction in which our society goes will, if you please, have to be jugglers, but they must be honest ones. We are not going to allude to the deleterious effects of Madison Avenue hype. This audience is too sophisticated to be bored with the review of that subject. Perhaps we have to have a better understanding of what Socrates meant when he said, “It has especially appointed me to this city, as though it were a large thoroughbred horse which because of its great size is inclined to be lazy and needs the stimulation of some stinging fly. It seems to me that God has attached me to this city to perform the office of such a fly; and all day long I never cease to settle here, there, and everywhere, rousing, persuading, reproving every one of you.” Perhaps John Dewey said it more succinctly when he said, “Every government needs a minister of irritance.” I submit that perhaps our jugglers have not been sufficiently irritating. I am concerned about a phenomenon that appears to be becoming popular in this day and time and that is to make labor the whipping boy. If we suffer from inflation, it is because wages are too high. If we have unemployment, it is because people are lazy and don’t want to work. If we have an unbalanced budget, it is because we spend too much on welfare. If business is slow, it is because unions are too powerful. The sad part of those who accept these false mythologies is that the jugglers are so easily taken in with this kind of hype. I bring this to your attention and especially to the socalled jugglers, those who are privileged to be in those vaunted positions where their juggling can, indeed, shape the future or even more importantly, determine whether there will be a future for any of us. Somehow, societies always seem . to need a whipping boy, whether it is Jews, Catholics, Protestants, blacks, Whites, Mexicans, big business or labor. There is a desire that there has to be an outlet for the hate instincts that seem to possess us. My warning to the jugglers this day is don’t make it the labor movement or, if you please, the union movement. Perhaps a few hundred years from now, Samuel Gompers will be remembered as the greatest of all labor leaders. My great old revolutionist father who was a participant in the Russian Revolution of 1905 will probably turn just a little in his grave as his only son disagrees with him as I say that Gompers greatest contribution was that he did not take a page from the European union founders who predicated their movement on socialist principles. For them, the confrontation was between the “have’s” and the “have not’s.” The Gomper philosophy was put forth on the predicate that the so-called struggle was between the “have’s” and the “will have’s.” This delineation, in my view, enabled the American union worker to have the highest standard of living of any worker in the world. That, however, and I say this sadly, is looking backward. I think it is incontrovertible that this came about because the jugglers had a proper perspective relative to the juggling of those three pillars of labor, management and government. Think about Bismarck in the late nineteenth century introducing one of the greatest social programs ever proposed by any government, one that is truly more encompassing than perhaps some of the social structures we have in our own country this very day. Our jugglers have to recognize their mission is to provide the proper balance ecologically and economically that enables our system to grow. There must be a constant affirmation of the commitment of our nation to ameliorate the quality of life for workers, not only in our nation, but throughout the world. A decade and a half after World War II, unions and; unionism had some of its strength zapped. The loss of jobs, in auto manufacturing and smokestack industries has had a tremendous effect. Also, the loss of membership among’ the Building Trades is the result of so much of the work , in the building industry going non-union. These are facts. This weakening of the labor movement is causing serious problems, not only for the labor movement, but for our nation as a whole. Michael Walzer in his book, The Company of Critics shares with us the wisdom that “The knowledge of truth is always incomplete, and the passion for truth is always impure.” But he hastens to remind us that the philosopher Julien Benda said of the so-called jugglers, “We need them, but there also must exist the class of men who depreciate these passions and glorify the advantages which are beyond the material.” In other words, the good society cannot escape the need for critics or philosophers. There is no question there has been a lessening of the commitment and the zeal for the philosophy for unionism among those who are part of it. It brings to mind the melting pot concept. This same transition has taken place in management or business as well as in government. It is what Benda was talking about and what Veblen shouted, but too few listened, “The problem with institutions are the people who run them are more concerned with self-preservation that the purpose for which the institution was founded.” Yes, that is true 14 SEPTEMBER 29, 1989