Boeing, Harvard, and The Quakers

This week I travelled to St. Louis with a group of students to compete at the National ENACTUS conference. We did well, but to compete with the tier one schools, we will need to go one step higher. If the students are willing to take that step, I am willing to help them. While I was gone, I received an email from my Uncle telling me to get busy writing again. I agree with him, especially with some new research trails I have been exposed to. The semester is almost done which will allow me to pursue those trails with renewed vigor. So thanks UJ for helping me get moving again.

You may wonder, how in the heck would anyone discuss Boeing, Harvard and the Quakers in the same article? Well I will explain. Harvard and Boeing are having collective bargaining issues occurring at their places of business. The International Association of Machinists have been trying to organize the South Carolina plant for some time now, and have just canceled the vote. Harvard, on the other hand, is having trouble with its graduate students. It appears the average professor’s wage at Harvard is $205,000. I would love to get paid that much, but alas where I teach we are a bit more frugal than that. To counter this huge cost Harvard uses grad students, and part time adjuncts, to teach classes because they are paid a fraction of the salary that full time professors are paid. Columbia University, another prestigious school, also uses grad students. The grad students have filed a complaint with the NLRB because they want to join the United Auto Workers. They feel if college football players can unionize, so can they.

In both of these cases, there are labor issues. The WSJ reported this morning that South Carolina’s political leaders were vocally apposed against the IAM. The goal of Beverly Wyse, “a veteran executive who has a solid relationship with Boeing’s organized workforce,” is to run the South Carolina operation in a way that will produce the highest quality airplanes. The union, however, has stated there is an environment of harassment. According to the article this morning Boeing was accused of using intimidation tactics, etc. to ensure the union does not get a foothold in South Carolina.

I don’t know all the particulars, but I would imagine there are issues on both sides of the fence. I’ve been through several strikes and adversarial is the key word when dealing with management and labor. However, in March there was an announcement from the union stating they may cancel the vote due to a softening of support. The reasons could be intimidation, or it could have been a result of the people in South Carolina afraid of a big union.

The Harvard/Columbia scenario is one that affects all of higher education. All schools, big and small, use adjuncts. And as Richard Vedder, an Economist from Ohio University, stated, universities “are hiring their own serfs.” These serfs are being created by the continual supply of PhD’s to a saturated market where they will never get “fulltime professorial employment!” Interesting, especially in light of the Marxist critique of capitalism. The way the Capitalist keeps wages down is by the creation of an army of unemployed; in other words, a glut of workers.

Mr. Vedder then states that he does not think unionism is the best answer for grad students. The better idea is the universities, “accept some responsibility for defaults on student loans or pick up some of the tab for students who can’t find jobs after graduation.” However, his last comment is what really got me, “All of which is worth keeping in mind the next time you hear university officials lecture America about corporate greed or the wages of garment workers in Guatemala.” You have to admire how easily some people will criticize others while being blind to their own issues.

OK, so what is my point? EF Schumacher in his classic book, “Good Work,” describes how central work is to our humanity. In answering the question why do we work, he states there are three reasons:

  1. To provide necessary and useful goods and services.
  2. To enable every one of us to use and thereby perfect our gifts like good stewards.
  3. To do so in service to, and in cooperation with, others, so as to liberate ourselves from our inborn egocentricity.

Schumacher was a Catholic economist who wrote several books discussing the true definition of value. There is a level of value all of us assign to work, therefore the process is important. What may have been lost is what the Quakers identified as the covenantal relationship.

I am still a novice on the concept proposed by the Quakers, but it seems to me to be quite interesting. I have just started reading “The Covenant Crucified: The Quakers and the Rise of Capitalism,” and have just been exposed to their understanding, based upon scripture, of covenant. The purpose of this book is to “narrate the rise and defeat of the Lamb’s War.” During the Lamb’s War the Quakers were confronting England with a “covenantal, utopian alternative to the path ultimately chosen,” one of multi-nationalism.

This covenant involves the recognition of the “light, the presence of Christ, the covenant of God, abiding with every man woman and child, wherever they are, within or without the community of faith.” This reminds me of the story I read about Hannah Whitehall Smith who envisioned a sign around every person’s neck she encountered that stated “I am created in the image of God.” She then would treat those people like they were.

Hmm, maybe union and management need to practice this covenantal practice. Maybe they should see value in each other as human beings and just maybe some of the conflicts might go away. Maybe I am naïve, but I think this could work, and I plan on practicing this.

And that is my thought for the day!


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