Sunday, April 14, 2019

Labor + Community + Environment = Australia’s Green Bans

Earlier this year I was able to attend the AIRAANZ conference in Melbourne, Australia. At the end of one of the conference days, there was an optional Green Ban Walking Tour. I had no idea what the “green ban” part was, but walking around Melbourne after being at a conference all day sounded like a great idea. It turns out that green bans in Australia were an interesting way in which labor unions were fighting for broader community concerns in the 1970s. Not only is this interesting in own right, but a greater community orientation is something that today’s worker centers have embraced, and it’s a mindset that some advocate as a way to revitalize the labor movement in the United States.

A green ban is a protest against property development that is perceived as harming the local community. Most of the history I can find online gives first credit to the New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) who responded to a plea from a local group of women about blocking development on a local green space in a Sydney suburb in 1971. After seeing widespread community support, the BLF refused to work on the development, and when the developer threatened to use nonunion workers, the BLF refused to work on that developer’s other projects. In other words, it issued a ban to its members from working on these projects—which was successful, and Kelly’s Bush remains green space today. In Melbourne, however, they say that the first ban of this kind was issued by the Victoria branch of the BLF to stop the development of the Hardy Gallagher Reserve in Melbourne in 1970. Far be it from me to get in the middle of yet another Sydney-Melbourne rivalry!

At the time, strike orders were called “black bans” and even the Melbourne history seems to admit that the label “green ban”—because it was in defense of green space rather than to improve wages and working conditions—was first applied in Sydney. Another green ban in the early 1970s prevented the Royal Botanic Gardens from being turned into a parking lot for the Sydney Opera House.

And then I never would have learned that 19 species of ferns have been named after Lady Gaga!

But I digress.

Green bans expanded to cover redevelopment of existing buildings in addition to the protection of  undeveloped green spaces based on the protection of affordable housing and other facilities that served the existing (often working class) community as well as the protection of historic buildings. Again, this was a tight-knit partnership between labor and community groups, with labor sometimes advocating against its own narrow self-interest by blocking development that would have provided construction jobs. According to a pamphlet I received, these unions asked their rank and file:
Will you stand in solidarity with your fellow workers not just over wages and conditions, but in the streets where they live will you take control out of the hands of employers and make decisions that are in the interests of communities, against the interests of building companies and other employers, when that solidarity is called upon?
The Green Ban Walking Tour in Melbourne, offered by the Earth Worker Cooperative, highlighted a number buildings that were saved. Perhaps ironically, some of the historic buildings that were saved were banks, theaters, and fancy hotels that served the elite, not the working class. But other saved properties have tighter connections to the working class, such as the city baths:

Another Melbourne landmark saved by a green ban that served the working class was Queen Victoria Market:

Though development is again threatening the market:

As concerns with the environment, communities, and redevelopment are again prominent in many areas of the United States, Australia, and elsewhere, and as the future of the labor movement in many countries is also debated, this was a fascinating historical walk with a lot of relevance for today. With respect to labor, what is its role in the community? Can it be more than a voice on the job? The green bans movement is example where it certainly was.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Great Uprising of 1877, The Great Divides of 2019

The 1870s ushered in an era of intense and violent labor conflict that would continue for decades, and I wonder whether we’re on the cusp of similar social strife, albeit not as overtly violent. A massive depression in the mid-1870s caused severe unemployment and wage cuts, and union membership plummeted. A six-month coal strike in eastern Pennsylvania in 1875 involved open battles between strikers and company-paid police. The coal company hired an agent of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to infiltrate the miners (two decades later, a Pinkerton even infiltrated the legal defense team representing union leader Big Bill Haywood). The strike ended when the miners agreed to a 20-percent wage reduction. Although it may have been fabricated, the Pinkerton agent’s testimony led to the death penalty for 10 miners accused of killing several mine bosses.

But this was just the beginning. After a series of wage cuts, railroad workers reached their limit with a 10-percent wage cut in July 1877, and went on strike. The strike quickly spread until railroad activity in large sections of the country was affected. Large crowds stopped trains, spiked switches, and took over depots and roundhouses. Two hundred federal troops were first sent to Martinsburg, West Virginia, and violence flared elsewhere. Nine people were killed in rioting in Baltimore; the state militia fired into a crowd in Pittsburgh, killing 20 and prompting a night of conflict, fire, and destruction that resulted in $5 million of railroad property damage.

These events became known as the Great Uprising of 1877 because this was much more than a railroad strike. More workers were involved than in any other labor conflict of the 1800s. Many of these were not railroad workers—coal miners, ironworkers, and others significantly aided the railroad workers in many locations. Black longshoring workers in Texas and sewer workers in Kentucky struck for higher pay. There were general strikes in Chicago and St. Louis. State militia and federal troops were used to forcefully end demonstrations and restore order in many locations. Yet despite its widespread intensity, the uprising ended nearly as quickly as it began, and railroad traffic resumed normal operations at the end of the month.

The Great Uprising of 1877 is probably more notable for what it represents than what it accomplished. The numerous strikes clearly reflected pent-up grievances of workers in many industries and locations struggling with the forces of industrialization and the conflict between labor and capital. The uprising also demonstrates the shared concerns of workers and is frequently used to define the beginning of the modern era in U.S. labor relations—one in which capital and labor are often sharply at odds. As such, the Great Uprising of 1877 laid the foundation for future labor–management conflict, not cooperation.

More broadly, in his book Age of Betrayal (Knopf, 2007), Jack Beatty characterized the Great Uprising of 1877 as a “social earthquake.” Some of the violent attacks on railroad property may have resulted not from work-related grievances but from frustration with the invasion of railroads into local communities, often against the wishes of local residents and small retail shop owners.

Fast forward to today and we can see parallels. Then and now, new technologies and new forms of employment relationships caused significant disruptions to work and communities. Then it was the railroads and industrialization, now it's computing-based technologies and gig work. Then and now, the rhetoric of protecting the individual liberty to hire or work on terms of one’s own choosing is used to weaken workers and unions. Then it was armed repression of unions, now it’s rulings like Janus. Then and now, individuals turn to collective action and protest when they feel otherwise powerless against threats to their work and their community. In recent months, we’ve seen vibrant teacher strikes, often in states that are not labor friendly, and walkouts at McDonald’s and Google over sexual harassment. We should be trying to create workplaces and communities that are inclusive and enjoy broadly-shared prosperity. Instead, we have increasing insecurity, widening disparities, and polarization. History shows us that trouble follows.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

What Causes Conflict? A New Three-Dimensional Framework

Put yourself in the shoes of a  manager who believes that a dispute is preventing two co-workers from working together effectively. What do you do? Possibilities might include encouraging them to get along, locking them in a room until they work out their differences, threatening them with consequences if their work doesn’t improve, giving one of them authority over the other, reassigning one of them, or extending a deadline on a project to give them more time. But here is an important complication: each of these possible solutions will only work if it matches the actual source of the dispute. So before jumping to a preferred intervention, we need to explicit identify the sources of a particular dispute.

In the case of the ineffective co-workers, there are numerous causes. Perhaps the two workers believe that they are competing for scarce resources, such as administrative support or a single promotion opening. Maybe the workers come from different cultural backgrounds and perceive a lack of respect for each other. Perhaps one had an emotional outburst that created lingering bad feelings. It could be the case that they disagree over tasks because they foresee different uses for a product they are developing. Maybe one or both of them face difficulties communicating. Maybe all (or none) of these causes underlie this particular dispute. Not all dispute or conflict resolution methods will be equally effective in these different scenarios, and a failure to diagnose and resolve the source(s) of a conflict can cause it to persist if not escalate.

For a dispute resolution method to be successful, the parties must first understand the sources of the conflict to choose an appropriate solution. But what are the possible sources of conflict? Alex Colvin (Cornell), Dionne Pohler (Toronto), and I scoured the multidisciplinary scholarly and professional literature on conflict and have created a three-part typology of the roots of conflict. We label the three key categories as structural, cognitive, and psychogenic.

Structural conflicts are result from the relationship between the parties’ interests or goals, rights, and sources of power. The classic conflict over scarce resources is when these interests are focused on things to satisfy material needs and desires. But conflicts are also possible over clashing value orientations (e.g., differing emphases on fairness, inclusion, or respect) or identity needs for a sense of purpose and meaning in one’s life, including those connected to group affiliations such as racial, ethnic, or religious affinities. We label this category “structural conflict” because the nature of these conflicts is determined by the rules, institutions, and practices in which this relationship is situated—in other words, by the structural nature of the relationship.

Cognitive conflicts relate to mental functioning. This is a broad category that includes a variety of ways in which cognition may cause or contribute to a dispute: interpretation, perception, information processing, decision-making, and communication. The human brain is not unitary or always internally consistent. So conflicts can arise because individuals perceive the same problem differently, such as when one uses a heuristic and another approaches it analytically. Common types of cognitive bias that result in conflict include loss aversion, anchoring, framing, fixed-pie perception, exaggeration of conflict, illusions of transparency, decision fatigue, and overconfidence. Individuals can also be motivated to process information in ways that validate preexisting beliefs, rather than by a search for accuracy, and in ways that magnify in-group/out-group differences. Individuals may also have different preferences or differences of opinion over how to interact or solve a problem, perhaps influenced by cultural or other differences. Lastly, communication is a cognitive activity that can lead to conflict when it breaks down. Miscommunication can result in many ways, such as noisy communication channels, different meanings, incorrect filtering of intent, and misinterpretation of nonverbal cues and personal demeanor.

Lastly, psychogenic conflict arises from the psychology of feelings. This has two main subdimensions. First, emotions and moods can cause conflict through the behaviors they create or by influencing decision-making. For example, anger, frustration, contempt, jealousy, and other hot emotions can lead to aggressive communication behaviors (e.g., criticism, contempt, and shouting) while lessening constructive communication behaviors (e.g., active listening). The recipient of negative emotions often tries to counter this by lashing out or other responses that distracts them away from processing information and making sound decisions; conversely, happy individuals tend to make riskier decisions which can also be a source of conflict. Second, personality differences can also cause or contribute to disputes. Individuals with high values of neuroticism and extraversion and/or low values of agreeableness may be more likely to be contentious, antagonistic, irritable, and even want to dominate others, whereas those who score low on openness and conscientiousness tend to be inflexible and disorganized, which can clash with those who prefer a different approach. Personality can also affect conflict by affecting an individual’s attributions—for example, different personality types tend to see a conflict as either task- or relationship-based.

Returning to the opening scenario, did you stop and consider possible sources of conflict before moving ahead to an intervention? Effective dispute resolution must be rooted in a comprehensive and accurate understanding of a conflict’s roots. But disputes can be multi-faceted with numerous causes that interact in complicated ways. Just look at the complexity of the conflict over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. My co-authors and I submit that it is important to conceptually distinguish different aspects of the full range of sources of conflict to appreciate the nature of each particular dispute. So in analyzing any conflict, look for structural, cognitive, and psychogenic aspects. Not all will be present in every dispute, but it’s better to look for them and rule them out than to not look at all and miss a major factor.

Source: John W. Budd, Alexander J.S. Colvin, and Dionne Pohler (forthcoming) "Advancing Dispute Resolution by Unpacking the Sources of Conflict: Toward an Integrated Framework," ILR Review. Click here to read the full paper.