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There Would Not Be Labor Day, Without the American Laborer

As Labor Day approaches, I again have been contemplating what it takes to be a valuable middle manager.  I grew up in the Detroit area and have worked in Michigan for half of my adult life.  As an engineer I was attracted to heavy industry.  The first third of my career was spent at a large integrated steel mill with 3500+ employees organized by the United Steel Workers of America.  As a 28 year old general foreman, nothing prepared me for the daily confrontations of an organized environment.

 My father, taught me important lessons relating to why companies become organized by unions, and how it has been usually the fault of poor management.  Poor management directly correlates with the poor treatment of the workforce.  During the middle third of my career, I joined a newer steelmaker that was a vibrant and growing leader in the steel industry.  The management of the company were also its owners, and fully understood the integral part that the workforce played in the success of the company. The company was production bonus driven, safety conscious, and awarded stock options to each and every employee. Likewise, efforts to organize the workforce failed, and the open shop environment succeeded. Leaving the company two years ago was one of the hardest decisions that I have made in my career.  There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about how those Indiana farm boys were the best Steelmakers I have ever had the honor to work with side by side.

Now, back in the Detroit area, I once again work in an organized environment.  Although it is a much better labor-management relationship than that which I experience early in my career, the daily confrontations still exist.  It takes a great deal of energy to manage in the organized environment due to a lack of trust, resistance to rules, and an pervasive "Us and Them" tainting of the shop floor.  What keeps me in the game, and coming to work each day are the values that my family taught me.  The basics of respect, consideration, and compassion that are necessary to manage with a heart (even if it is a small one, in my case).  I always remember that my great uncle Joe Bussell, the younger brother of my grandfather Harry Bussell was taken in the ensuing machine gun massacre that ended the Ford Hunger March of 1932.  At the age of sixteen, he was killed as the demonstration broke down into a melee when security forces sprayed machine gun fire into the crowd on the orders of Henry Ford's chief henchman, Harry Bennett.
Joe Bussell at 16

 I will always balance my responsibilities to lead and manage with the necessity to honor the men and women who perform the work and tasks that is the motive force of American manufacturing.  The "Made in America" products on the shelves in your favorite store, the car you may be driving, and the aircraft flying you on your next trip are all brought to you by the US workforce.  Even though manufacturing doesn't dominate this country's GNP like it did in years prior, it is the source of our might.  The ability to turn natural resources into energy, hard goods, and the infrastructure which is the backbone of this country is an absolute necessity.

Millions of Americans make their daily living through manufacturing jobs of all kinds.  Millions of American workers fought hard for the rights that so many enjoy today.  This Labor Day is for them.


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