There is no question. If we look carefully enough at the labor/management conflict currently underway at Hostess Brands between the company and the Bakers’ Union we will see that this fight is clearly a full-blown intractable conflict.
For those of us who study these types of disputes, there are several signs that signal the presence of an intractable conflict -- i.e., humiliating dignity violations from both sides, hostile stereotyping by each side, and a merciless effort by each party to blame the other for everything that’s wrong.
All of these dynamics are now clearly at play in the conflict at Hostess Brands. Given this, there’s no doubt this dispute, at one point or another, is going to become a textbook example of an Intractable Conflict.
The sad thing about this is that neither those who are trapped in this conflict (employees, senior management, and labor leaders alike) nor those of us who are watching it really understand how fundamentally unique this dispute has become.
All of us are familiar with substantive conflicts, i.e., disputes over the allocation of scarce resources like money. We see these kinds of labor/management disputes all the time.
But today, in Judge Robert Drain’s court, the Hostess Brands’ dispute has devolved beyond this simple level and, as intractable conflicts are wont to do, has morphed itself into a ‘to-the-death struggle’ where each party is focused on not coming out of this fight as a loser, on not letting the other side successfully blame you for the problems at Hostess, and on a ‘no holds barred’ effort to avoid being labeled as “responsible” for the demise of Twinkies.
These are the kinds of dynamics that make the fight at Hostess Brands “intractable.”
And these are exactly the kinds of reciprocal, ritualized, behind-the-scenes dynamics that most of us don’t usually watch out for. In the beginning, this dispute between the Bakers and Hostess Brand’s senior leaders was simply a conflict over wages and working conditions.
But now, after countless dignity violations and persistent threats to each other’s identities, the conflict at Hostess is a completely different animal; it has become the kind of conflict that we used to think of as only possible in places like the Middle East and Bosnia.
Unfortunately, what most of us are not yet willing to acknowledge is the fact that what’s going on at Hostess Brands has in fact become the kind of intractable conflict that’s all too possible anywhere in the United States.
Dave Nicoll, PhD.