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Issue No. 244 29 October 2004  

Raking Over The Tea Leaves
Prepare yourselves; you are about to enter the Twilight Zone, a strange world where logic collapses in on itself, where enemies are new friends and assets become liabilities.


Interview: The Last Bastian
AMWU state secretary Paul Bastian has been at the centre of the three year battle to bring James Hardie to account.

Unions: High and Dry
Jim Marr unpacks the recent High Court Electrolux decision to test whether the ruling matches the media hype.

Security: Liquid Borders
The Howard Government loves to trumpet its national security credentials but a close look at its record in shipping sinks the myth argues MUA’s Zoe Reynolds.

Industrial: No Bully For You
Phil Doyle reports on how bringing dignity and respect to the workplace is undermining bullies.

History: Radical Brisbane
Radical Brisbane extends the 'Radical City' series into the Red North. Two experienced activists, academics and writers turn South East Queensland history on its head.

International: No Vacancies
More than 1400 hotel union workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 2, are on strike at four major hotels in San Francisco, California, writes Andrew Casey.

Economics: Life After Capitalism
A situation that all anarchists dream of? Michael Albert has been more than dreaming., writes Neale Towart

Technology: Cyber Winners
Labourstart's Eric Lee looks at a good news story of global online campaigning that has delivered a victory.

Poetry: Do It Yourself Poetry
Teaser: Wondering why the polls are all over the place? Ask our resident bard and psephologist.

Review: Hard Labo(u)r
The Voice of Southern Labor highlights the role music played in the 1930's US textile strikes, but more than that it provides a lucid insight into the roots of modern capitalism and some truly organic organising, writes Tara de Boehmler.


 Cameron Flags Fightback

 Latham on Union Mat

 Union Shelters WA Roofers

 Bosses Trip on Electrolux

 Drivers Derail Game Boy

 Asses Get Carrot

 Families Pay More For Homes

 Commonwealth Banks on Sackings

 Back Gong Back in Gong

 "Joke" Fine Death Boss

 Division Over Hardie Laws

 Activists What's On!


True Lies
Labor Council secretary John Robertson argues It’s Time – for an IR reality check.

The Westie Wing
Much work has been done in the past to ease the plight of clothing outworkers in New South Wales. It's time to step up the pressure, as sweatshops and clothing contract work are thriving stronger than ever, writes Ian West.

The Soapbox
Who Started the Class War?
Evan Jones looks across the Australian political landscape and asks who are the real class warriors?

The Locker Room
First Past The Post
Phil Doyle is coming up in class and is all the better for recent racing

Westie Wing
Our favourite state MP returns for his monthly Macquarie Street wrap.

Positive Action
Australian unionists are helping give hope to Filipino workers living with HIV/AIDS.

 Honesty Is the best Policy
 Nothing To Stand On
 It’s The End Of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
 Dear Mark letter
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Letters to the Editor

Honesty Is the best Policy

Dear Editor

We hear a lot of corporate and government leaders speaking about the greater

need for integrity, honesty, and systematic transparency. Yet, at a deeper

level we all feel let down by many of the broken promises they make,

however, that doesn't stop us from hoping that one day, a leader, or leaders

will actually deliver on what they continually promise.

In the meantime, what I would propose is a more critical approach in

assessing and challenging what our corporate and government leaders espouse

as ideal behaviours and actions and how that actually translates in 'real

life'. I call it 'Discussing Undiscussables', which is a reality based

approach that should bring us all greater protection from ourselves, because

let's face it, we have seen the enemy and the enemy is us. By keeping

silent about the obvious gaps between high sounding rhetoric and the failure

to 'walk the walk', we only have ourselves to blame.

Having said that, this is not as easy as it first sounds, because there are

obvious pitfalls associated with boldly challenging those in positions of

power. It is no fun being a lone 'whistleblower', in fact, you sometimes

stand a better chance of howling at the moon and being heard, than you do by

standing on your principles and being heard.

In order to illustrate what I mean, I have borrowed from the research of

others, such as Chris Arygris, who is Professor of Education and

Organisational Behaviour in the Graduate Schools of Education and Business

at Harvard University. Also worth noting is Eileen Shapiro, author of Fad

Surfing in The Boardroom and former consultant with McKinsey & Company, Inc.

The Barrier

The key emphasise of Arygris' research focuses on learning dysfunctions that

seriously inhibit organisational learning, he claims, „There is much that we

are not allowed to talk about in our organisations. Special codes of silence

mean a whole range of issues that ought to be discussed are not. People know

what can be discussed and what cannot. But, but not being able to talk about

some things seriously inhibits our capacity (individually and collectively)

to learn.‰

Arygris is the pioneer of organisational learning, exploring the behaviours

that make an organisations smarter that it's competitors. His work predates

the more faddish 'learning organisation' of Peter Senge and others by

several decades.

He gave us the 'theory ˆ in -use' and and theory ˆ in ˆ action' contrasts

that helps explain why leaders do different things from what they think they

do. When leaders explain why they do the things they do (their 'theory -in

-use') it is often the case that this does not match up with the actions

actually taken by those leaders (their ' theory ˆ in -action).

Arygris gives us the concepts of 'single loop' and 'double loop' learning,

explaining why so many of us deal with problems without learning from them,

and thus are unable to prevent the same problems from arising again.

'Single loop' learning allows us to respond to a problem and fix it; 'double

loop' learning enables us to ask why the problem occurred in the first

place. If you can only do the first and not the second then you are likely

to be fixing a lot of the same problems over and over again (for those who

complain about being so busy putting out fires, that you are never able to

get around to doing real work, this will be obvious to you).

Undiscussable Issues

One of Arygris's more practical but underexploited concepts is the idea the

there are matters in all organisations that are simply undiscussable.

Further, the undiscussability of these matters is also undiscussable.

Even at a glance, this goes a long way towards explaining why sometimes the

people in organisations cannot see the wood for the trees, and continually

do things that are known to lead to failure. If a detour from the pathway

that is known to lead to failure involves wandering into undiscussable

territory, then we can predict that the organisation will press on with the

well known paths to proven failure. Such organisations cannot learn.

This anti-learning mechanism is explained by Arygris as 'primary inhibitory

loops'. He describes these as 'self ˆ reinforcing patterns of action

strategies and anti-learning consequences'. Managers or politicians, in

trying to solve problems, tend to resort to tactics that prevent them from

speaking about situations truthfully. This leads them into a 'loop' of

avoiding the real problem, which is followed by more conversations that

avoid the real problem. After a bit of this, those involved in this process

all agree that they are wasting their time but don't understand why this is

the case. Everyone leaves the discussion feeling dissatisfied but not

knowing why nothing was achieved.

Leaders are trapped in these loops for various reasons (Arygris calls them

'conditions of error') such as vagueness, ambiguity, untestability,

scattered information, information withheld, undiscussability, uncertainty,

inconsistency and incompatibility. The 'undiscussability' error is common

knowledge to most people working in organisations. Most people know the

matters that cannot be raised openly in discussion in their organisation,

and if such matters are raised they are likely to be ignored. Such matters

are clearly known to all, but mentioned by none.

These loops are part of the phenomenon Argyris calls 'organisational defence


„These actions and policies, enacted within an organisation setting, that

are intended to protect individuals from experiencing embarrassment or

threat, while at the same time preventing individual's, or organisations as

a whole, from identifying the causes of embarrassment or threat in order to

correct the relevant problem.‰

These routines are entirely logical and rule-driven. Essentially the logic

comprises four rules:

1.Craft messages that contain inconsistencies.

2.Act as though the messages are not inconsistent.

3.Make ambiguity and inconsistency in the message undiscussable.

4.Make the undiscussability of the undiscussable also undiscussable.

A simple but common example of how the rules apply is when a CEO announces a

new initiative, such as encouraging employees to be more innovative,

empowered, and customer ˆ focused. Most employees go along with the new

initiatives despite knowing that the CEO does not mean it ˆ those who act on

the new initiative (do something different, use their own judgement, refund

an unhappy customer) risk getting in trouble. Some do get into trouble and

are dealt with. The whole process is known as a charade but no one talks

about it in that way. The failure of the CEO's initiative is attributed to

other reasons, such as lack of commitment by employees. The initiative is

soon forgotten. The organisation has gained nothing and learned nothing.

Here are some other classic examples of typical 'undiscussables' that

should be familiar to everyone. Eileen Shapiro, presents it as 'The Rules

Of The Internal Game Balance Sheet' in her chapter on 'Decoding The

Corporate Culture'.


Espoused rule (sounds like a corporate asset)

Real rule (Functions as a corporate liability)

Quality comes first.

Get the tones out no matter what.

Never sell the customer something they don't need.

Get the order; he who books the most revenues gets the most goodies.

Innovate! We need innovation and we celebrate honourable failures.

No matter what, failure is a failure; it's far, far worse to have tried and

failed than to have never to have tried at all.

We take the long term-view of our businesses.

Miss your budget numbers and you're dead meat.

We have an open environment; speak up if you ever have a concern.

Accentuate the positive and just sublimate the negative (unless you have a

death wish)

Teams are our lifeblood.

Promotions go to individual contributors.

Developing our people is our most important task.

Managers who spend their time developing their people are weenies, neither

tough enough personally nor strong enough analytically to do the job around


We are a learning organisation; help us improve continuously.

Don't rock the boat, or else!

Compensation is a private matter between you and your boss; do not discuss

it with others.

Share compensation numbers with peers; it's the only way to create a

reliable ruler for measuring how well you are doing.

We are a nonhierarchical collegial organisation and we follow the golden

rule of reciprocity in our treatment of each other.

Golden rule, ha!; I kissed up to my boss to get where I was going and now

you need to kiss up to me.

Run this business as if it were your own; manage for the long-haul.

Fast trackers never stay in the same job for more than two years so go after

actions that look big initially (but someone else has to implement) or that

give great initial results (no matter what the long ˆ term costs).

Kind regards

John McPhilbin


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