Why Leadings?

Not to lead, but to be led            -- by the Holy Spirit.

See Leader, Servant, or Slave? in the section below, "Walking the Walk".

Jack in Denali National Park, 2012.

God's Wrath

Why was Sodom destroyed? Ezekiel tells us in chapter 16, verse 49: "This was the sin of your sister, Sodom: Pride, full-ness of bread, and abundance of idleness. Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."

That's also why Jerusalem was destroyed.

And now, with greed as our national virtue, what hope is there for the United States of America? We are afflicted by imperialistic pride, obesity, and entertainment addiction, and we are all called to do our part to "strengthen the hand of the poor and needy".

"Strengthen the hand" is the King James wording. Modern translations say "help the poor and needy." And there's a world of difference between the two. Helping the poor = as little as throwing some cash in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time. That's charity. It's doing for, not doing with.

My Grandmother was right about charity. On a below-zero day, she went out on the back porch with a skillet to throw hot grease on the back-yard snow. She shivered as she re-entered the kitchen and said, "Wooooh, colder than charity."

Strengthening the hand is much different. We get personally involved with another person who needs help, and we work with her or him to get the needed help. That's risky. You're vulnerable. It takes prayer, time and patience. You need knowledge and wisdom from the LORD. There are great rewards, however. You get a brother or sister.

Strengthening the hand is great work for our churches -- which we ignore far more often than we perform. Why? Because we're afflicted with the Ameri-can curse of individualism. Christians are to be a tribe -- a tribe that takes care of each other. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls us "the Israel of God" -- the new 13th tribe.

Jesus said, "The poor you shall always have with you." He didn't mean that as a curse -- the notion that the poor are an inevi-table nuisance and expense, to be hidden in the slums. Rather, He was saying, "You shall always be among the poor."

When you strengthen hands, you fulfill Deuteronomy 15:4-5: "However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God . . ." It's a glorious responsibility and promise.

And how do prosperous Americans fulfill that promise? Generally, by making sure they have no contact with people who are poor -- and we have been that way from our beginnings in the 17th century. Early villages in Massachusetts solved the problem by out-lawing poor people. Today, we deal with the same problem by confining the poor in urban reservations, our slums.

As the Supreme Court Bailiff says at the beginning of each session, "God save the United States of America..." 



Art McKechnie was unforgettable.   He was from Harlan County, Kentucky, and I worked with Art in 1967 at General Eletric’s aircraft engine plant in Cincinnati’s northern suburb of Evendale.  I made a serious error as I worked with Art.  I focused on Employee Relations for him.  I should have been collecting his sayings. They might have been the plant’s most profitable product.

Art managed the Structures Department in the basement of Building 700, which had the largest floor area of any building in the world for nearly a year, until the Pentagon was finished in 1943.

The plant legend was that Art had made and lost millions twice over as a roughneck in the Oklahoma oil fields. It may even have been true.  He looked the part.  Well over 6 feet, with slender, rangy body and large head, Art was in his late ‘50s.  Art’s Appalachian roots were evident in most everything he did. Here’s an example:

“Ya know, your boy of 14 reminds me of myself at that age – always scheming.”  Another:

Two Week Bump

One afternoon at the end of first shift, one of the welders, in anger, bumped shoulders hard with his foreman. We got word, and Art immediately called the Unit Manager.  The welder was suspended.  [For perspective, you should know that the penalty for slugging a foreman is immediate discharge.]

Art sent me to investigate right away.  Some of the men from first shift were still around.  I collected their versions of the incident, as well as interviewing the foreman, the unit manager, the expediter and the move man. 

Each story had unique variations.  So, I realized specifically what every attorney should know – but which we weren’t taught in law school – even when you gather information immediately after an event, you can’t really know what happened.  The on-lookers all saw and heard the same event, but their emotions and their viewing angle filtered the event.  So, no one told identical stories.

I reported my findings to Art, concluding with the comment, “And Art, there’s some real junk in this situation. Two of the guys told me that when you were the welder’s foreman, he slugged you and got away with it.”

Art came right up over the table and into my face, “That’s a dirty, damn lie.  He’s still alive, ain’t he?”

Note:  We suspended the welder for two weeks without pay.

A Month in the Hills

My wife, Margaret, our infant daughter, and I lived in a rental house at the south end of Walker Street – at the edge of a 300-foot slope overlooking downtown Cincinnati and the Ohio River Valley.  One Sunday afternoon, we held an open house with invitations to many friends.

Art and his wife, Mattie, lived in an eastern suburb which was quite level.  They came to the open house, and I greeted them by saying, “Good to see you two.  It’s quite an occasion when you flatlanders visit us folks who live her in the hills.”  Art caught the Appalachian allusion and chose to ignore it.  Instead, he replied, “Well six years ago, I spent a month on this hill – right over there at the Christ Hospital.  And you know, there was a whole lot of people ‘fraid I wasn’t gonna . . . die.”

Production Interference

Reality:  Many corporate managers are scared of unions.  Union leaders can sense the fear and exploit it. Because Art had come up through the ranks, he wasn’t intimidated.  When he could, he worked well with everyone in Structures.  When he needed to get tough, he knew how to do it. 

Most General Electric plants were organized by the IUE, (International Union of Electrical Workers) but not at the Evandale plant, where the UAW (United Auto Workers) represented most hourly workers. The skilled machinists were in the IAM (International Association of Machinists).

In the Diversified Frame Unit, we had a second shift foreman who was a sad example of a common corporate problem.  Let’s call him Harry.  He was an excellent boring machine operator, so they promoted him to foreman. Harry tried to run the second shift like he ran a boring machine – but people aren’t machines. I spent many evenings working with him on writing replies to grievances, trying to coach him on management skills. But I’d leave his office sure that Harry’d make another blunder within the hour.

Jim, the UAW vice-president was 34, smooth and canny.  By the union contract, General Electric paid him and the president to work on union business 40 hours a week.  He regularly volunteered for Saturday overtime and was a good worker.

Jim recognized that Harry was easy pickings.  So, he made evening visits to Diversified Frame with staged disruptions and verbal attacks on Harry – who tried replying in kind and tried ordering Jim out of the area. Everything Harry said set Jim off on another hilarious round of improv.  Next day I heard that the whole Unit lost two hours of production for fourteen men and machines – a waste of thousands of dollars.

Interference Precedent

Art, the Unit Manager, and I conferred.  Art said, “Here’s what you tell Harry to do tonight:  ‘Don’t pay any attention to Jim.  He wants an audience and a patsy.  Don’t be one.  Tell Harry to say, “Jim, you’re interfering with production.  I’m asking you to leave.”  Then, Harry, go into your office and write down what you said, what he said, and the time.  Wait ten minutes and go back out.  Tell Jim, “You’re interfering with production. I’m asking you to leave.”  Go back in your office and again write the remarks and the time.  Don’t worry about getting anything done on that shift.  Just keep giving Jim the same message every ten minutes.”  Then Art told us:  “I want Harry’s report here on my desk when I come in tomorrow morning.”

Jim returned on second shift that night and stayed for over an hour.  Harry followed orders.  Next day, Art and I calculated what he had cost General Electric in lost production.  We told Union Relations what we wanted to do.  Jim was called into the office and was suspended for a month without pay.

Of course, the Union filed a grievance and took it to both second and third step.  (Third step was Headquarters in New York.)  At each level, GE denied the grievance.  So, as the UAW-GE contract provided, the UAW bargaining unit at the Evendale plant was entitled to strike – and did. For three days. Costly? Yes. But, that’s how Art established the GE precedent that union officials could be suspended for interfering with production.

Jim gave us no more problems with interference.

Jim and Harry weren’t our only problems in that Unit. At a staff meeting one Tuesday, Art summarized the situation. “Up there in Diversified Frame, we got no plans, no measurements, no controls. We’re like a blind dog in a meat house. We know there’s something there, but we can’t get at it.”

Who You Callin’ “Boy”?

There were three groups among the hourly employees in the late ‘60s.  Appalachians, African-Americans, and other European Americans, with the Appalachians dominating the UAW.  This was at the height of the Black Revolution.  And Art navigated the revolution well in spite of himself.

Art was deeply prejudiced – an African-American had raped his cousin in Kentucky, but that didn’t stop Art from recognizing ability.  As a Unit Manager, he had been first in the plant to promote an African-American to foreman.  As word spread in the work group about Wallace’ promotion, three white fellow-Kentuckians came into Art’s office.  “Ya know, Art, we ain’t gonna work for Wally.”  “Boys, I know just how you feel.  Now don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.”

In ’67, tensions between whites and blacks in the plant were running high.  So, Art invited the plant’s black spokesmen to his home on a Sunday afternoon.  He served the Jack Daniels and said, “Well, boys, we got some problems in the plant.  I’d like to hear about ‘em.”

Nobody – but nobody – but nobody but Art could have gotten away with “boy” in 1967.

Why did the men give him a pass?  Because Art called everybody boy – his unit managers, foremen, finance man, engineers and me.  So, the men and Art had a good talk and cleared a lot of air.  Art didn’t have the disadvantage of a college education, so he stil related to others at gut level.

Evendale Crucifixion

A lot of tension existed between Manufacturing management and Employee Relations.  One of our roles as shop relations reps was to make sure management honored its responsibilities under the GE-UAW bargaining agreement.  When management on the factory floor used poor judgment – which occurred occasionally – we shop reps had to tell Manufacturing to pay hourly workers for injustices.  As a result, Manufacturing tended to see us as robbers.

In the management lunchroom, Manufacturing and Employee Relations usually sat at separate tables. But one noon hour we had an exception.  Five of us reps were at a rectangular table – three on the west side; Vince and I on the east, with a vacant chair between us.  Vince had been Art’s Relations rep before me. So, when Art strode into the lunch room, Vince sang out, “Hey, Art, come join us.”

Art walked to the vacant chair, held the back, looked at each of us and stated angrily, “Well, I don’t rightly know as I want to put myself in the place where Christ was crucified.”  Then he sat down and joined us for lunch.

Code of Conduct

At one second step meeting, Frank Bolton, the shop steward, went on and on about his rights.  Art grew indignant and challenged him.  “Well, Mr. Bolton, you seem to know a whole lot about your rights.  Now I’d like to hear you say – just what are your responsibilities as a General Electric employee?”

“Well, Art, that’s easy:  Be here.  Be here on time.  Give a full day’s work for a full day’s pay.”

“That’s right.  And I’d add only one thing to it:  Conduct yourself properly.”

I realized I was in the presence of genius, and I wrote down their conversation verbatim.

Their exchange became the opening lines for the General Electric – Evendale Code of Conduct.  Except that the Employee Relations Manager changed the fourth line to “Obey the Rules.”  Rules?  For example, machine operators shall wear safety gogles at all times in work areas.

Those four simple statements were widely used around the Nation in GE manufacturing plants.

Across I-75 from GE-Evendale was Lincoln Heights, the second largest black municipality in the Nation. In 1969, Millcreek Valley Employers set up a system so that every senior at Lincoln Heights High School received (1) employment training in school, and either (2) a job with career potential after graduation, or (3) a summer job if he or she was going on for higher education in the fall.

At the High School, the seniors in job training began each class by saying the code of conduct as if it were the pledge of allegiance:

Be here.

Be here on time.

Give a full day’s work for a full day’s pay.

Obey the rules.



Purpose of this blog is to compile a book for my grandchildren to read in 25 years.

Copyright © 2012 by Jack Towe


I welcome your reactions.  Please click below on "Post a Comment".