POSTNOTE, overnight: As the World Turns Again
The television drones on within earshot, and the analysts are talking endlessly about what Singapore means, if anything. Of course, no one except a select few know what will happen when an old compulsive capitalist liar meets a young communist despot, eyeball to eyeball.
Much will be made of absolutely nothing. Anyone who knows anything about negotiations on even the simplest level knows that striking a good faith bargain takes a huge amount of time and effort.
I spent a lot of years in the negotiations arena, dealing with issues simple and not so simple.
This particular evening I remember a particularly bitter negotiations about 20 years ago involving the teachers in the very school district in which I write these words.
We were at loggerheads on this particular stormy January night, and a mediator had called us in for a last ditch effort to avoid a strike set to begin in a few hours.
It was around midnight, and about our only company was stale coffee and some remnants of equally stale donuts. Bargaining isn’t for the faint hearted over tea and crumpets. You hate being there, but the alternative is worse.
We, that particular night, were teachers and staff from two competing organizations working towards a merger, but still in the distrustful stage.
We had decided to work together on bargaining this particular year, and it was mostly successful, but one “side” was dominant by virtue of its statutory standing.
And then there was the real “other” side: management.
The players all knew each other, in some cases very well, for many years. We knew the issues and the rules of engagement. We’d been at this negotiations for months – typical for bargaining. And before that were years of other negotiated contracts, some more easily reached than others.
On this particular night, sometime after midnight, the mediator and the chief negotiator for the other side, asked me to confer privately with them, as staff for the other side.
My side was spoiling for a strike. They had waited so long. They had no particular reason to trust me – I was an agent of their state union.
But this was a deaths door matter, and I became one of the three in a private office down the hall. What was obvious was conveyed to me: the parties had reached their respective bottom lines, and there was an untenable “no mans land” remaining. Some suggestions were made; I provided the necessary cover for the other negotiator, and we went back to tell the bargaining team that we needed to reach an agreement.
There was some relief but much anger in the room. Six hours from now teachers were ready to picket the schools in the district.
I remember the awful private drive home on a very snowy, stormy night. The phone trees announced no strike in the morning; a faculty gathering in this then perhaps 800 teacher district was set for two days later to consider the package. People who have been involved with such negotiations can identify with how lonely a position one is in.
The day of the meeting came, and we presented the elements of the agreement previously reached. There was a large crowd in the then-ballroom just a few miles down the road from here.
A vote was taken: my recollection the ratification was by 75%.
The President of my side didn’t speak to me again for the rest of his career. He had staked it all on a strike (some years later he called, and all was fine, but the bitterness was palpable then.)
So, now we have “The Art of the Deal” guy out to prove the power of one where the antagonists have been at odds since about 1950, and there are huge disequities of power, (unless one considers that China is a crucial player in all of this as well.)
No doubt, our guy will announce a great victory, and their guy will go home and similarly announce victory to his impoverished masses.
The odds of swords into ploughshares is so infinitesimal as to be laughable.
Do I want success? For certain. Do I want the “talks” however brief and surficial to help change the tone? Of course, I do.
Will Singapore get it done? Don’t count on it. The meeting was private for a reason. It is meaningless, except for PR value.
Where I write, it is 8:38 p.m. on Monday, June 11, 2018.