America celebrates Labor Day on September 4th this year. The US Department of Labor website states;
Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.
It is interesting to look at why a date in September was chosen instead of a date in May for Labor Day. May 1st was already unofficially celebrated as “International Workers’ day” (May Day). A possible reason for choosing September has been cited as it being the end of summer. Another reason has been cited as the day being in the middle of Independence Day (July) and Thanksgiving Day (November). Jonathan Cutler, associate professor of sociology at Wesleyan, gave another reason for not choosing May 1st as the day for Labor Day. On May 4, 1886, protesters in Chicago gathered to demand an 8-hour workday. Toward the end of the day, a peaceful demonstration devolved into violence when a bomb was hurled toward the police, killing one officer instantly and injuring others. The police responded by firing into the crowd, killing a still undetermined number of people. The goal of the rally was an 8-hour work day (40 hour week). The first Monday of September was chosen for Labor Day in by the then US President Grover Cleveland (1894) as an attempt to avoid the May date altogether. Cutler in an interview with NPR said;
“May Day has always been linked to the demand for less work and more pay [sic]; Labor Day celebrates the ‘dignity’ of work,”
The usage of “Dignity of work” is particularly interesting, and it connects with the concept of “Respect for People” in TPS.
Norman Bodek (the great publisher and previous owner of Productivity Press) tells a story of a man at an automotive plant. That man did nothing but put tires on the line for forty-three years. He would pick up a tire and put it on the hook to go to the assembly line. That was it. He did this same operation for forty three years. Norman stated;
“You can imagine the excitement of getting up in the morning to go to the plant and put tires on a hook for forty-three years… Work is seen as an evil necessary for survival. It does not have to be like that.”
Respect for People is about developing them so that they can increase the value of what they are doing. It is about letting them come up with ways to solve their problems, eliminate waste in what they are doing, and increasing their self worth. It is about the “dignity of work.” In Norman’s words again;
“The task of management is not to make the changes that are needed, but to establish a system that encourages all workers to become more involved in their work, and allows them to make those changes”
Given the chance to improve his work, it is highly unlikely that the man in the above story would want to continue simply putting the tires on the hook every day. It is likely that he was doing as he was told – nothing else. This story demonstrates a “missed opportunity” to demonstrate Respect for People.
I will finish off with a story from writer Paulo Coelho;
When he died, Juan found himself in an exquisite place, surrounded by all the comfort and beauty he had always dreamed of. A man dressed in white spoke to him:
‘You can have anything you want, any food, any pleasure, any diversion,’ he said.
Delighted, Juan did everything he had dreamed of doing while alive. Then, after many years of pleasure, he again searched out the man in white.
‘I’ve done everything I wanted to do. Now I need a job, so that I can feel useful,’ he said.
‘I’m sorry,’ replied the man in white. ‘But that is the one thing I can’t give you; there is no work here.’
‘How awful!’ said Juan angrily. ‘That means I’ll spend all eternity bored to death! I wish I was in Hell!’
The man in white came over to him and said softly:
‘And where exactly do you think you are, sir?’
Always keep on learning…
In case you missed it, my last post was Own Your Lean Journey: