By Andrew Gustafson
Associate Conference Minister for Stewardship & Financial Development
As we approach Labor Day, 2012, we remember the labor movement of 100 year ago, when factory workers in the streets of Lawrence Massachusetts and miners in the coal fields of West Virginia battled, in the face of violent opposition, for just wages and working conditions. To those on both sides of that divide, it seemed to be a zero sum situation, with winners winning only at the expense of the losers. These struggles continue today in the tomato fields of Florida and the hotels of Boston, still being fought as though it is only a win-lose proposition. But is there another way? Two articles appeared in my e-mail box last week, one in the Boston Globe and one in the Faith and Money Network newsletter, both suggesting that cooperative and collaborative models create win-win situations.
In Andrew McLeod’s article in the Faith and Money Network newsletter he takes on the idea of capitalist competition by saying “However, that’s not how Jesus worked. He repeatedly drew his followers toward collective solutions to their problems in ways that are now echoed by cooperatives.“ Using the feeding of the 5,000 and the practice of the early church recorded in Acts, McLeod goes on to show how these principles are being lived out today in cooperative ventures. He points out that “The cooperative model touches the lives of nearly a billion people worldwide, helping them achieve security and dignity through mutual aid. “
Robert Hughes writes in an article in the Boston Globe entitled “Tackling the jobs issue – not each other” about how collaboration between labor and management can transform corporations. Hughes cites a Harvard Business Review article where “General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt writes that collaboration consists of “engaging the entire workforce, from design to development to assembly” and “having the best people but also empowering them to execute.” Labor and management address problems as a team. Immelt believes collaboration (or “human innovation”) is critical to America’s ability to compete in the global marketplace.” Hughes goes on to note that “Collaboration is helping GE to regain its competitiveness in the appliance business, to create thousands of new American jobs, and to return jobs that had previously gone overseas.” Hughes ends his article with “We all agree on the problems — lack of job growth and security. And we know that our current culture of conflict, both in politics and in the workplace, is not working. Political, labor, and management leaders should turn their energy from fighting against their fellow Americans to fighting for their fellow Americans.”
The idea of “competition” has become the new “golden calf” to be worshiped as the answer to all our problems, whether public schools, healthcare or economic development. But 2,000 years ago Jesus gave us a different model for our economic relationships based on justice, shared prosperity, cooperation, respect and dignity for everyone. Real world examples cited in both these articles demonstrate that the way of Jesus is not a utopian dream but still works today.
The late Andy Gustasfon served as the Associate Conference Minister for Stewardship and Financial Development from 2004 to 2014.