The 24-hour news cycle guarantees that the old truism “Don’t [expletive deleted] up on a slow news day” remains evergreen. Just ask Gilbert Gottfried – or, on second thought, don’t ask him, so we don’t have to hear that nails-on-blackboard voice.

Aflac got an “F” in history by not studying Mr. Gottfried’s history – particularly in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when he gave a live demo of what “too soon” means – to learn that they were hiring a loose beak as their spokes-duck. They weren’t wrong to fire him, my question is why  they hired him in the first place. Surely he isn’t the only barely-employed voice talent that can make the word “Aflac” sound like a duck on steroids.

Now, in addition to having to find a new voice for their duck, Aflac needs to smooth the feathers of Japanese customers – 25% of all households, according to Aflac CEO Daniel Amos – who are left to question why the corporate voice thought making jokes at their expense after the worst natural disaster in recorded history was a good idea.

Another “F” in history goes to supporters of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who’s proud of breaking the back of public employee collective bargaining. Oh, except for police and fire unions – they’re heroes, they should still be able to negotiate salary and working conditions issues, right?

The history lesson is this: if you’re on a payroll, and work 40 hours a week, you owe a debt to the labor movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This Friday (March 25, 2011) marks the centennial of what was, until Sept. 11, 2001, the worst workplace disaster in US history: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which 129 women and 17 men either burned to death, died of smoke inhalation, or leaped out of 9th floor windows to their deaths.

That disaster led to significant workplace reforms, led by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), the NYC Fire Department, and the New York State Legislature.

In the ensuing century, unions have mismanaged themselves into anachronism. Human systems will always include greed if they include money – just ask Jimmy Hoffa. No, not THAT Jimmy Hoffa – his son, James P. Hoffa, who’s the current Teamsters Union president. However, not allowing workers to band together to ask for better wages, or better working conditions, flies in the face of a central tenet of American life: self-determination.

Scott Walker’s efforts would be less visibly political if he had NOT exempted police and fire unions from his anti-collective-bargaining approach. He may have saved a few budget dollars, but I wonder how many of those dollars will remain after the next round of negotiations on a cop or firefighter contract.

My point? Never assume you’re operating in a vacuum, whether you’re in a corporate marketing meeting or a state legislature. Study the past, if for no other reason than to avoid repeating it. The scrap-heap of historical cautionary tales is already piled pretty high.

That’s my story, and I’m stickin’  to it.

Failure to Study History Leads to Lather, Rinse…Repeat
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