In and Around the Workplace: Christian Directions in the World of Work
Mississauga, ON: Christian Labour Association of Canada, 1992, 137 pp., $9.95
Executive Director of the CLAC from 1972-1989, Ed Vanderkloet has also been, for many of those years, the editor and main contributor to The Guide, the official publication of the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC). This modest book of 47 bite-size chapters and 137 pages (including index and bibliography) is an anthology of Ed's writings.
Over the years, Ed has written about a range of topics having to do with the workplace, including: its characteristics, the conflict inherent in it, the freedom offered by it and the responsibility required therein, workplace democracy, the place of religion and "neutrality" in work, questions of equality and inequity, the role of authority, and so forth. His treatment of these difficult themes is balanced, nuanced, and consistently articulate. He is never rigid and ideological, but always gentle, with a touch of humour now and then. Ed has a deep grasp of things theological and their impact on things earthly. And he is able to reduce profundity to simple, straightforward language.
In and Around the Workplace exhibits considerable balance. For instance, those who are most comfortable on the left side of economic matters will not like what Ed writes on the topic of profit: "For a business enterprise to 'do good' means that it must make a profit.
That's the nature of things" (p. 12, emphasis in original). And I wonder how happy Bob White would be to read these words:
Managerial gifts and an entrepreneurial spirit are indispensable ingredients in any business. That's what is constantly forgotten by those who forever harp on the "labour-versus-capital"theme and always carp about the profit motive. They fail to realize that the "wealth of nations" consists not of capital but of entrepreneurship, organizational talent, and a skilled work force, (p. 72)
Then for those on the right, Ed writes this about industrial democracy: "You cannot withhold responsibility from your workers and at the same time demand that they act responsibly" (p. 67). Again, just as you are thinking you have him pegged as the typical unionist demanding management rights for workers, we have a balancing statement, a reality check, as it were: "Neither the law, nor the unions, nor the management can force people to be responsible. Ultimately, responsibility is a matter of the heart, not of the structure" (p. 79).
Throughout, Ed's analysis is Christian. It is not a preachy, moralistic, grabbing-the-high-ground kind of Christianity frequently exhibited by church bureaucracies which like to opine on matters safely remote from their daily experience. Rather, it is down-to-earth and salted with a wisdom garnered from intimacy with these events. There are so many quotes I could propose using to support this, but there is no space to do so; and why spoil the pleasure you'll get from reading them yourselves first-hand.
I will, however, choose one example of solidly Christian thinking about the role of governments in society. It occurs in a series of chapters that—take note—supports a number of calls for affirmative action.
We live in a society that sees government as Mr. Fix-It, some kind of omnipotent agency that can cure all our social and economic ills. Political parties raise the hopes of the electorate with wild promises. Many of the promises are unfulfillable, because there are many things a government simply cannot do and should not attempt to do. (p. 117)
Earlier in this same series of chapters that—note again—recommend affirmative action we read: "Deep down, the law cannot eradicate all sexism any more than it can abolish infidelity in marriage or all dishonesty in business" (p. 111).
Ed Vanderkloet refuses to be pigeonholed!
For those of us who have had the privilege of knowing Ed and holding him in great affection, this book is much welcomed as a reminder of how much we have learned from him. For others who have simply enjoyed his articles over the years, In and Around the Workplace is a wealth of good Christian thinking forged from years of hard experience. It should not be missed.