Editorial: Defining Businessmen

History is my thing. I find truth more fascinating than fiction. Recently, I found a miniseries about the construction of the RMS Titanic. I enjoyed it in spite of historical inaccuracies (oops) but was most intrigued by its approach to the business end of Harland & Wolff. In 1910-1912, Ireland was in an uproar between warring Catholic and Protestant fractions, as well as shifting into a unionist state. Jim Larkin, a successful union man, was in Belfast stirring up members for the union party. This left local businessmen in conflict as they chose how best to deal with union strikes, while trying to make their deadlines with their contractors.

Harland & Wolff was one of the largest businesses in the city and employed over 15,000 employees: riveters, foremen, steel workers, architects, copyists, secretaries, designers. Shipping lines such as White Star commissioned them to build ships, and Harland & Wolff did everything from construction to outfitting and interior design. The chairman at the time was Lord Pirrie, the former mayor of Belfast, and a well-respected businessman, family man and advocate for “the working man.” Lord Pirrie worked with the union strikers to ensure fair wages on their part and that his ship would be completed on time.

One of the most poignant scenes comes early on when Jim Larkin meets Lord Pirrie outside Harland & Wolff. He’s handing out union pamphlets to employees going through the gates but is reluctant to give one to Pirrie. In turn, Pirrie asks, “Am I not also a working man?”

It’s a question that resonates, since we see different varieties of workers in the social classes: the riveters, who do back-breaking work and are paid by the rivet, men such as Thomas Andrews, who worked their way through every department in Harland & Wolff and whose priority is the safety and cost-effectiveness of the work, and Pirrie, who deals with the contracting, financial backing, government legalities, and task of keeping the business afloat for the sake of its many employees and their families.

What defines “working class”? By the standards of Jim Larkin, it doesn’t include Pirrie. Does it include Thomas Andrews? Or is it just the lower class riveters?

Without Lord Pirrie, none of the characters would have a job. He needs them to succeed, and without his success, none would profit. Both benefit the other. The series ends with the sailing of Titanic. What it doesn’t tell us is that Harland & Wolff is still in business today, in large part thanks to the management and wisdom of Lord Pirrie. Yes, he profited from his business, but so did everyone else.

Being successful at business is not bad. Getting rich is not a sin, but indicates sound financial investments that profit the economy and employ millions.

Isn’t it time we have someone in office who knows what’s best for “the company”?

9 Replies to “Editorial: Defining Businessmen”

  1. You know–I originally read Harland & Wolff as “Wolfram & Hart” from the series “Angel” and was like “Oh no they strike again–hang on wait this is based on an actual historical event 😛 ”

    “The ignorance out there astounds me. Sometimes I wonder if people ought to pass an IQ test before voting”

    Haha—I remember someone once said that elections made them feeling like starting their own country with an IQ test as a requirement for immigrating 😛

    I am inclined to agree that being rich is not a sin, neither is it a sin to inherit, be born into, or seek to acquire wealth. The Bible does mention Christians who were apparently wealthy, or failing that, engaged successfully in commerce. Individuals of wealth and power have furthered the arts and sciences throughout history. Without them we would have no Sistine Chapel or Notre Dame cathedral. No steam, or gas powered engines. Fewer medical advances,

    Yes, I would say that Lord Pirrie is a working man, in the sense that he has a job, for which he reports daily, and strives to do it well. But, unlike most of his workers, especially those on the bottom rung, he is not a few days from his next meal, with the constant gnawing worry of bullying landlords and difficulties of feeding clothing large family. He is however (judging from your description—you’re now REALLY making me want to check out this movie)—an individual possessing both a conscience and keen sense of responsibility. Sadly, when men become enamored of worldly, rather than spiritual treasure, this mindset becomes the exception rather than the rule.

    The problem is that often in the pursuit of riches, men discard ethics in favor of profit. Hence the Biblical warnings about love of money being the root of evil, and the camel and eye of the needle. The sad truth is that during this era and the preceding decades, many businessmen (and others in the chain of command, supervisors, division managers, inspectors etc;) ignored the fact that workers were maltreated and injured in their factories. Breathing toxic air, or losing limbs to the machinery. Even in the face of numerous eye witness testimony and documentation. This, along with long hours, low pay led to the formation of labor unions, and the early 20th century popularity of Socialism, even among intelligent, compassionate individuals. There was even a movement of “Christian socialism” among various churches. Helen Keller became a socialist for a while in her adult life, although like many, she became disillusioned/disappointed after the Russian revolution and subsequent events.

    When it comes to modern politics—I don’t really get the whole “Republicans only care about the rich…” Because well, Democrats are rich too. At least the politicians and celebrity supporters are, an awful lot of them. Well into the millions, and I don’t see them queuing up to donate 10%, or heck, 50-75% to charity. Obama himself is a millionaire, as are many in his cabinet. Can you accuse conservatives of allowing themselves to be corrupted by corporate interests? Sure! But I don’t see left-wingers turning up their noses at campaign contributions from billion dollar conglomerates either. Not to mention the things that have happened on the Democrats’ watch, like the BP oil spill. So much for Obama being the “greenest” candidate. (Though my Mom claims he kept this promise, candidate yes, president no 😛 )

    Forgive the rambliness, but this election has just got me thinking!

    1. I’d sign up for that country, and hope I could pass the required IQ test. I figure, if you have to pass an exam to become an American, you ought to have to pass an exam to vote here!

      Wealth only becomes a problem for those who place it ahead of “loving God and/or their neighbor.” Seeking wealth is not wrong provided it is not an idol in your life. Without wealth, as you said, we would not have so many charitable organizations and outreaches as we do. I give what I can, but would like to give more — to give more, I must have a better income.

      Our country has, over the last couple of decades, begun to develop a real “class envy” hatred toward those of wealth. The irony is, as you point out, a great many of the wealthiest people in our society are liberals, who profess to fight for the “working class” without being a part of it. But if wealth is universally hated and over taxed, what incentive is there for the lower class to strive to become the upper class? What incentive is there to do better, to make more money, to employ more people, and to be a success if all you get at the top is guilt and loathing?

      True, Lord Pirrie was never far from his next meal, or his next brandy — but what most people don’t realize is much of the wealth among the wealthy is superficial, and a great deal of it is tied up in investments. Had Harland & Wolff collapsed, Lord Pirrie would no longer have been wealthy! No, he might not have wound up on the street, but he would have been forced to downsize considerably. (I guess my point is — either you manage your money well or you don’t. It’s like in North & South, where the workers think the Thorntons are wealthy and they’re really not — most of it is outward appearance, but in the end, the union strikers run them out of business.)

      It’s always hard for me to keep my modern-day opinions in check when reading about the socialist movement in the early 1900s. They had a point, because it really was living day to day in those times among the lower class, and many individuals such as Lord Pirrie or Thomas Andrews did support a “socialist liberal” view; it’s easy to look back now and shake your head, but in those times, the idea of socialism was entirely “Christian” — look after another and share everything. As different countries have found out since, that never works; someone will always take advantage, and benefit more than someone else.

      Thanks for commenting! I always love intelligent discussions on interesting social / political / historical topics. 🙂

  2. Across the pond I’ve got your election on my mind as well. And I know who I very firmly DON’T want to win.

    I’m constantly astounded by the people who manage to get into a position to run for office (in both the US and UK), and the kind of laws that sometimes get pushed through. We had an act come up for consideration recently that allowed worked to buy shares in their company… in exchange for giving up their right to receive fair notice and reasonable cause for firing them. So your employer could then fire you at any time, for no reason and with no warning – but hey, you own some shares! -_-

    1. I guess when you’re shivering under a bridge, you could always burn the shares to keep your hands warm. =P

      The best politicians I think are the ones who really didn’t want to run in the first place. For them, it’s not about power so much as filling a need in their country. You don’t want the people who DO want power to be in office; they’ll abuse it. “Good” people stay away from politics, which is why we get stuck with bad candidates sometimes. We’re involved at a local level with politics and it’s like pulling teeth to find people willing to serve. They don’t want anything to do with it!

      1. Yes, I’ve thought something similar myself. I think it’s the irony of any large organisation; you need a certain ruthlessness to make it to the top, but often the people who have that have misused it and so are not the people you want AT the top. It’s the guy who doesn’t care about power that you really want in charge, but of course he’ll never run.

        1. That’s one thing that impressed my mom about Mitt Romney — someone asked his wife if she wanted him to do this, and she said, “Of course not!” She hasn’t wanted him to run, ever, and he hasn’t enjoyed it, but that’s why they ran — so someone would who put making a difference ahead of what THEY wanted most (peace and quiet, and not to be in politics).

  3. “Being successful at business is not bad. Getting rich is not a sin, but indicates sound financial investments that profit the economy and employ millions.”

    Well said! It’s both nerve-wrecking and exciting to discover what the people will vote with their freedom to chose. Of course, I know what I’d like the outcome to be but with so many uninformed, it’s frightening. November 6th cannot come soon enough – either way, I want it to be done and over with.

    1. The ignorance out there astounds me. Sometimes I wonder if people ought to pass an IQ test before voting. I’m fairly certain I know the (positive) outcome of this election, but I’m praying like mad anyway, since we need God’s intervention to save this country from going down the tubes. I’m really tired of politics — all the lying, all the ignorance, all the deception and slander and name-calling. I just want it to stop. The real shame of it is, October is my favorite month of the year — and I’m having a hard time enjoying it with a life-changing election looming overhead.

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