The drama playing out between management and unions at The Boston Globe looks like classic brinksmanship: each party is trying to bluff its way out of a tight spot. The trouble with brinksmanship--other than the obvious one of potential annihilation--is that the real objectives of negotiations tend to get lost as leaders' egos take over.
One brinksmanship story historians love to trot out is the Jack Kennedy-Nikita Khrushchev stare-down over Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962. The pithy quotation about eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation that emerged from this crisis--"and the other guy just blinked"--suggests macho posturing and a winner-take-all approach to diplomacy. But what actually played out that October was much more subtle.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff pushed for an invasion of Cuba, and even made an appeal to Kennedy's ego, suggesting that anything less was the moral equivalent of a defeat for the United States. But the Kennedy brothers (Bobby was Attorney General and very much involved in the negotiations) opened--and kept open--as many diplomatic channels as possible. Kennedy used all his official contacts to reach Khrushchev, and the White House even encouraged unofficial negotiations between high-level contacts in the two governments. Kennedy stayed focused on the desired outcome: diffuse the crisis without instigating a war in Europe that might quickly go nuclear, an outcome Khrushchev also wanted.
Members of The Boston Globe management and its unions would do well to remember that they share the same goal--the survival of the business so that it can continue to support them and their families, create value for the shareholders, and serve the community. The difference is that management wants to bring this about at the lowest possible cost while the unions are trying to keep as much of their compensation as possible. If the parties indulge in ego-driven brinksmanship, where one side wants victory without concessions, chances are good they'll both fail.
Note: This entry was co-written with Marcia Noa.
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