You Can’t Always Get What You Want

A lot of us have heard the song from the Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want.  There are a lot of different interpretations out there as to what the intent of the song is but it does seem to represent the struggle of life from the excitement to the disappointment.  In a different way, it can  also be about labor-management relationships.

Something that’s very important to labor is to have a voice in the workplace.  A lot of times this is done through labor-management committees.  At the very least, committee meetings allow labor to learn about or voice concerns about certain work practices, rules, policies or processes.  They may not be doing problem solving but it still can be a source of information and communication for the entire labor side and for management, too. Problem solving, though, does provide labor with the ability to have input on shaping policies, procedures or processes.  It is in labor’s interest to try and develop a relationship with management to establish this within the workplace.  This is what we mean when we talk about labor-management partnerships.

While it can be very beneficial to managers to form partnerships with labor, not all managers want a partnership and sometimes do not feel obligated to share information with labor.  They see it as losing control.  When management is a willing partner, that’s a really big deal and that’s when real problem solving can occur. Labor groups usually embrace and encourage those partnerships.

It’s rare when labor walks away from having a voice but unfortunately it has happened and it’s a shame because it hurts everybody.   It can happen when one person or one side takes a position and is unwilling to accept any other options.    It’s even worse when an union leaders are the ones that reject the opportunity for voice because that also shows a lack of actual leadership ability and it can tear membership apart.  That is something no union wants.  More than likely when something like that does happen, the door is closed for any future cooperative efforts or it takes an extremely long time for both sides to get together again.  Trust levels that existed are diminished and the relationship that previously existed is damaged, sometimes permanently.  It is never an advantage for anyone to take a position because it becomes a lose-lose proposition.

By taking a position with one issue it leads to suspicion as to when the next time will occur.  Even if the cooperative process is able to be reignited, that suspicion will continue for some time.  That’s why it’s also important for leaders of both sides to be careful of expectations.  That is when the Rolling Stones song becomes reality because you don’t always get what you want.  We try to establish expectations up front so everybody understands what can and can’t be done.  Once trust is broken or a relationship has been damaged, the likelihood of being able to do the same as before is lessened.

When we start cooperative processes with labor and management, we don’t paint a rosy picture and we tell them it’s not us that makes the difference but it’s what committee members do to make the change.  We do say we provide tools and techniques and help them how to use those tools and techniques but, in the end, it will be up to them as to the outcome, or, it will be up to their commitment to the process  and that commitment must come from every member of the committee.  This is true for any group as well.  Everybody has to work to help any group they are a member of be successful.

Commitment takes work.  That can be changing negative behaviors that have been in existence for a long time.  It can also be about changing an environment of “us versus them” to a culture of “we.”  Depending on how long all of that has been going on, it may be difficult and doesn’t happen overnight.  Patience is necessary.  Baggage from previous experiences can sometimes prevent groups from moving forward.  The inability to transform quickly can also get in the way.  But for those groups that do make the transition, they are truly committed and that means when mistakes get in the way, they recognize them for what they are and make necessary adjustments.  They take the time to talk and, most important, listen to each other so they can learn from their mistakes.  It also means they have to demonstrate they want to change and that can be extremely difficult because it must happen not just in a meeting but outside the meeting room as well.

We also talk to groups about the stages of group development.  All groups go through the stages and there’s no set pattern as to how a group will go through them.  One thing that can cause a group go through what’s called the “storming” stage is new members.  This can be tough for labor-management committees especially because each side chooses their own members.  It can also be difficult for elected groups , too.  A new member may not be appealing to a labor or management member but each side must adjust.  It means going through the storming stage can be difficult.  A group will go through it and it’s how they manage going through the stage that’s particularly important.  It can make or break the group.  It can be very tempting for positions and other traditional behaviors to come out but members must refrain from going back to them in order to succeed.

Life is hard.  We all know that.  It’s no different for labor-management relationships.  There’s a lot of pressure on a committee.  For labor,  maybe even more so because leaders must work with members.  Sometimes members don’t like working with management and accuse leaders of working too closely with them.  Other times members want leaders to do more.  It’s a delicate balance leaders must follow but what is extremely important is they provide a consistent vision, a consistent message of what’s important and why.  Sometimes it requires doing something that may not be popular but it’s necessary for the long run.  Without that, confusion exists and, once again, trust, or lack of, becomes the issue again.

Labor has enough issues right now.  They are being attacked by special interests.  Membership is down and some people don’t see the value to being a union member.  What’s important for labor leaders to remember is the impact for them and their members is not just in their own individual workplaces but is about the labor movement overall.  Any judgment call in one workplace will impact lots of other workplaces.  Losing the voice in one workplace is the beginning of losing it in another and another and another…

“….You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need…”

The Rolling Stones

About CALMC Blog

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to involving employers and employees to preserve jobs, resolve workplace issues, and promote labor-management cooperation. Visit our website at
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