Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

The Strength of Manufacturing, Today and Tomorrow

During a recent staff meeting, I grabbed a can of soda from the mini-fridge in the conference room.  There was one lonely can of Vernors Ginger Ale amongst the plethora of cans of Pepsi, and Diet Pepsi.  Normally, I don't drink regular soda because of the sugar, but a spicy Vernors sure did sound good.  If you aren't familiar with Vernors, it's a long-time Detroit favorite.  A once regional product, it has become a nationwide staple.  Different from Canada Dry or Schwepps ginger ale, Vernors has a unique darker color and spiciness that makes it an acquired taste. The logo of Vernors has always been an old style wooden stave barrel with riveted wrought iron bands.  Even this particular can was dressed up like an old barrel.  While holding the can in my hand, my mind was flooded of thoughts and memories about my connection with Detroit, and my grandfather, great uncle, and great grandfather that were in the barrel and crate business.  The business later transformed, just

Richard Winters: Integrity In Leadership

Maj. Richard Winters      While I was watching HBO's " Band of Brothers " mini-series, for the twenty-something th time, I recognized something poignant. Maj. Richard Winters , who serves as the central connecting character, continually demonstrates exceptional middle management virtues.  His leadership is exemplary, not just in a military sense, but for any organizational setting.  He led by example and was always willing to go first, where he sent others.  He knew how to balance compassion with expectations. When it was necessary to be stern and authoritative, he was. When it was necessary to show empathy, he did.  He learned to delegate, even though it was never easy.  He gained the respect of his peers and his subordinates through his actions, not by intimidation or cruelty. Damien Lewis as Richard Winter s      Richard Winters knew he wasn't perfect. He didn't demand perfection, he demanded ultimate accountability. In contrast to Herbert Sobel's b

The Mentor of a Middle Manager - Joel Bussell

       I have been writing this article for almost a month; bits and pieces at a time.   I wanted to finish it before December 26 th, on what would have been my father’s 84 th birthday.   Joel Bussell was the most important mentor in my life.   I have had many people who have influenced me during my journey into middle management.   Supervisors, department managers, coworkers, and even direct supports have helped guide me through numerous challenges.   However, my father was the first and most significant mentor of my entire life.   An engineer, and later an attorney, he was not ever a C-suite executive or a world-renowned leader. To those he taught in his classes or hired and developed in his 40-year manufacturing career, and 15 years as an educator, he was an invaluable mentor.        As I look back on my life, I can visualize many of the times my father advised me.   It was his idea for me to spend my summer mornings as 14-year-old, selling donuts door to door in office building