I am not sure if you have ever sat on the footpath outside a building site with your Grandson. If you have you will share my delight; if you haven’t you have something to look forward to. For more than an hour we watched three tower cranes lifting building materials skyward, cement trucks manoeuvring into very tight spaces, huge semi-trailers backing between stacks of scaffolding and whatnot, and workers of every size, nationality and gender doing their thing. But the thing is, I don’t think there was one of them that did not notice the little three-year-old sitting with his grandfather watching the action. The truck drivers had to watch their mirrors but still noticed Lucas and honked the horn. The crane doggers took a special interest and gave him the thumbs-up while they blew their whistles and the load they had just secured would spiral way above our head.
It felt so good to see men and women at work with such humanity. They were working hard, and I have no doubt their bodies would ache at the end of the day. From the footpath, they seemed to be happy. I was reminded of so many people I had dealt with in therapy, and raised the importance of ‘purposeful action’ – these people may have become physically tired, but emotionally they felt part of something that gave them purpose and meaning.
Looking at my photos later I noticed on the security fence: ‘Choate Construction – 100% employee owned.’ I had to google that later and find out what sort of company it was. Yes the sign meant what it said, and I also learned they had just taken out a national workplace safety award. They pride themselves in being a ‘family’ and looking after each other. Their patented railing system is used on building sites all over the country. I am sure the ‘thumbs up’ to a little boy was part of a deeper job satisfaction. In a world where so much attention is directed toward stuff being pulled down and destroyed, these workers were lifting up and pouring concrete. And, in the land of corporate capitalism where so many workers do not share fairly in the rewards for their effort, here was an inspiring example of people-as-family, not just ‘employees’.
To get to this land and come home again we flew Qantas. Yes, we were part of that well-publicised delay in Dallas, Texas, and I do not intend to join the pile-on against the national carrier. But I do want to say this. Travelling folk understand things can go wrong, after all the machines that take us across oceans are complex and to leave one country and arrive in another requires a lot of moving parts. And a lot of people. That is my point. The travelling folk, or at least as far as I could tell, the several hundred we were with, can deal with things that don’t function as they need to, but what made people angry was there were no Qantas employees to be seen or heard. The little we were told came from non-Qantas staff, and they seemed just as confused as we were about the representatives of the company being missing in action. Perhaps they didn’t care, after all their company is still fighting in court for their right to dismiss staff without proper consideration, legal or moral. The very opposite of ‘family’ rather than employees.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Since the early eighties, I have had an interest in successful well-run companies. A book entitled ‘In Search of Excellence – lessons from America’s best-run companies’ came out about that time, and I remember reading about Delta Airlines. So while in Atlanta recently, we had the opportunity to visit the Delta Museum. What a delight. I found out that what has become one of the world’s best airlines began as a crop dusting company in the Louisiana delta region. Formed to deal with the boll-weevil devastating the cotton crops, it soon grew into a passenger carrier and then a major global airline. The early aeroplanes are on display, along with the major types of post-war propeller planes through to modern jets. Very interesting, especially the opportunity to walk all around them as well as inside.
The thing that struck me most was that during the fuel price increases and economic hard times during the eighties, Delta refused to cut staff. This prompted three cabin staff to organise a fund-raising campaign to raise three million dollars to buy a next generation jet as a sign of gratitude and confidence in the airline’s future. Not surprising, after nearly thirty years’ service, it is an aeroplane proudly on display and housed in its own hangar. I don’t think there is anything like that at the Qantas museum in Longreach. It is difficult to raise funds to buy a new jet if you are missing in action, or worse still, without a job at the airline.
I write about a little boy sitting on the footpath; of cranes, cement trucks and aeroplanes, but it is people that count. They are integral to the many moving parts, and when they feel a sense of belonging and family loyalty, of being appreciated and valued, they make a worthwhile contribution. Things get built, and people get to faraway places. I just hope it is this world that my grandson gets to play his part in. I can hear the dogger’s whistle and see their thumbs up to that.