This expression reportedly has its origins in the saying “that is the best government in which an injury to one is the concern of all” (Knights of Labor, one of the most important American labour organizations of the 1880’s.) They promoted the social and cultural uplift of the workingman, rejected socialism, anarchism, demanded the eight-hour day, and promoted the ethics of Republicanism. Amongst these ethics of Republicanism, public-spiritedness features prominently. Interestingly this public-spiritedness is also strongly evident in Republican Marxism, interpreted as a form of communitarian global solidarity. “ALL” it would appear, in the original saying, refers to a boundless humanity or as we refer to it in Africa, uBuntu.
In times more recent “An injury to one…” has become more associated with Union movements serving the express interests of the group to which we generically refer as “labour”. Within this false dichotomy (the other party being “capital” represented by Management Labour) both parties, sadly, can get trapped in the perpetual conflict, as to who has the power to get the biggest slice of the spoils from the “wealth-creating-partnership”. This happening whilst the other two “partners” (Suppliers and Customers) to the value chain stand by helplessly and suffer the consequent financial effect on their own respective suppliers, customers, labour and capital.
But is the conflict really between Capital and Labour? The days of the Luddites (led by Jed Ludd) are long gone, or are they?
The Luddites arose in protest against job losses as a result of the investment of Capital in the innovation of mechanisation and harnessing natural power, in particular the invention of steam power, creating the first Industrial Revolution (1760-1840). Innovators generally retained ownership and control of their invention as they were the only ones who possessed the skill to create and manage it and so was born the Management role and the start of the conflict between “capital” (Management) and “Labour” began.
The invention of Mass Production, Electricity and the Assembly Line ushered in the second Industrial Revolution (1870-1940), the Third Industrial Revolution (1960-2010) with automation, computerisation and Internet and now with the invention of Cyber-Physical-Systems we have entered the forth Industrial Revolution. With each revolution the need for Technical-Management-Labour and People-Management-Labour has grown. Again the reality has given this Skilled Labour a greater involvement in the affairs of the business and scarcity of skill has driven more attractive remuneration and perks. Both of these factors have led to Skilled Labour being perceived as aligned with Capital and hence not interested in the welfare of those less skilled As such a division between these two subgroupings of Labour has developed, and in some instances it has been as damaging (if not more) than that caused by the Luddite conflict.
An interesting development, evident in the Organisations developing out of the fourth Industrial revolution, is the proportion of an Organisation’s Labour that is regarded and treated as “Skilled”. Management generally affords employees greater freedom in decision making and involvement in decision making coupled with very much flatter organisational structures. Communication and engagement has improved, as can be expected. Resultant business performance improvement is significant, with noticeably less industrial strife.
In the same way as the Blacksmith, the Cobbler, the Cooper and many other trades have all but disappeared, are some of our management skills/practices, that have their origins in the first, second and third industrial revolution, now past their “use by” date.