By American tradition, one neither labors on Labor Day nor gives the subject of labor a moment's thought. But on Channel 26 at 10:30 tonight, the subject gets an hour's thought via "Work Worth Doing," two back-to-back documentary inspirationals produced in cooperation with the Department of Labor.
To pass muster with government bureaucrats, informational films often aspire to be bland and innocuous. These don't, and aren't. They proceed from a lamentable but virtually inarguable thesis: America's "competitive edge" in world markets has been severely dulled and American productivity is in a crisis state.
What's prescribed through the examples cited is more worker involvementin business decisions and a cease-fire to mutually hostile labor-management relations. In the companies held up as models, both workers and executives had to admit past mistakes in order to bring about new eras of cooperative and productive harmony.
Management spokesmen, thankfully, are not the only voices heard. Workers on the assembly line and union officials also have their say, in seemingly equal measure. At the American Velvet factory in Connecticut, a union leader says of the newly enlightened bosses, "They may not agree with you, but they listen," and the company president says, "I'm happy that we have a union."
Too good to be true? Other firms visited -- the Preston Trucking Co. on Maryland's Eastern Shore, New United Motors in Fremont, Calif., and the New York City Sanitation Department's enormous repair shop -- have similar tales to tell of boosts in productivity and employe morale when worker participation was increased.
New United Motors was formed by General Motors and Toyota at a GM plant that was shut down in 1982 but now has reopened along more efficient, more congenial lines. A UAW spokesman says that under the old system, labor-management relations were "a parent-child type of affair," and a worker recalls that he viewed his job as only "eight hours of interruption of my leisure time."
"Work Worth Doing" offers considerable and credible hope that potentially ruinous declines can be reversed, if only enough obdurate lummoxes will wise up.
The programs were produced by Clare Crawford-Mason, who seems to have been determined to avoid the curse of officialism that impairs many government-sponsored films. In this she had an invaluable ally: Lloyd Dobyns, the writer and reporter.
Dobyns quit his job at NBC News just as the network news business was turning really ugly. He got out before the Laurence Tisch guillotine was installed at CBS, before NBC was bought by bottom-line-crazy General Electric (whose dealings with striking NABET technicians would never be cited as encouraging signs on a program like this) and before Capital Cities Communications, new owner of ABC, started its insulting mistreatment of ABC News.
Nothing is happening at any of the network news divisions that could possibly entice Dobyns back to the business from the seclusion of his North Carolina farm, at least not right now. But he was always one of the best clarifiers, as well as one of the best communicators, in broadcast journalism, and this talent serves him well on "Work Worth Doing."
After NBC folded its brilliant magazine show "Weekend," Dobyns, its cohost, went on to specialize in economic issues with such documentaries as Reuven Frank's "If Japan Can, Why Can't We?," which American businesses are still studying on cassette.
Although the second of tonight's two half hours repeats too much of the first, with many of the same examples cited (the films were probably not meant for one sitting), "Work Worth Doing" proves itself the proverbial job well done. It's all about waking up and smelling the coffee, and it brews a heady pot.