Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day

Today is a day that honors workers. Work is honorable. Work gives us dignity. It does not matter what work you do, as long as you are contributing to the good of society. It seems that we live at a transitional time for workers as traditional jobs either disappear or are sent overseas and the jobs that replace them are often less skilled and lower paying. This is the global economy, at least at present. Even good jobs are different, computer and technology driven, work in the information age, which requires a massive shift in vocational training. I come from workers. My Dad was an industrial worker and spent his working life, first on a road construction crew, then working on a dish washer assembly line and, finally, landing a job in a waste-water treatment plant. He also went to barber school and worked on Saturdays in a Barbershop near the dishwasher plant. I used to hang out there a lot as a little kid. This is where I learned most of my politics. It was a pretty good course in political science from the bottom up. My Mom worked in a pay roll office. Even now, after her "retirement," she continues to work.

Issues surrounding work are vital in this election. Foremost among these issues is health care. One of the leading reasons that U.S. workers have been rendered far less competitive in the global economy is the unsustainable cost of health care in this country, which is footed by the companies and workers. It also continues to increase at an almost exponential rate. Even in some countries where wages are higher, like Canada, companies, like G.M., are more likely to keep plants open because health care is not paid for by the company, making it profitable to keep these plants open. Now, this is not an argument for a single-payer government system. It is an argument for the recognition that health care, like roads, is a social, not a private, like big screen t.v.s, good. As Catholics we believe that adequate health care is a human right. Access to pre-natal care is an important component of being pro-life.

Another issue, of course, is wages. The right of workers to organize, that is, form unions for the purpose of collectively bargaining, is a right workers have without reprisal, so says church teaching unequivocally. Bob Edwards Weekend this past Saturday dealt with this issue extensively. Edwards spoke with Steven Greenhouse, a New York Times reporter who talks about his book The Big Squeeze, which chronicles the decline in the treatment of U.S. workers. He also interviews Philip Dine, who talks about the challenges facing workers, including the hostility to unionization despite the desire of some 53% of unorganized workers to organize. The hostility often takes the form of implied threats about plant closings, etc.

Finally, the issue of immigration looms large here. We need a humane solution to this problem and it is a problem. While it is true that there are jobs that immigrants do that U.S. citizens won't do, primarily seasonal work. In far too many instances it is the case that immigrants are willing to work for wages that U.S. citizens cannot make a living earning. Besides, illegal workers are often given no benefits, are cheated on wages, and exploited in many other ways. There is good news on this front, both candidates make a great deal of sense on immigration and both propose comprehensive and humane legislation and enforcement to deal with this vital issue.

In a Labor Day statement, written on behalf of the U.S. bishops, Bishop William Murphy, of Rockville Center, New York (i.e., Long Island), chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, writes:

"An informed conscience moves beyond personal feelings and individual popularity. An informed conscience asks first what is right and true. An informed conscience examines the candidates and the issues from the perspective of human life and dignity, the true good of every human person, the true good of society, the common good of us all in our nation and in this world."
This is as good a way of explaining both proportional reasoning and seeking the common good as you will find.

Number 52 of Faithful Citizenship puts the matter rather clearly:
"The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. Employers contribute to the common good through the services or products they provide and by creating jobs that uphold the dignity and rights of workers—to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to adequate benefits and security in their old age, to the choice of whether to organize and join unions, to the opportunity for legal status for immigrant workers, to private property, and to economic initiative. Workers also have responsibilities—to provide a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, to treat employers and co-workers with respect, and to carry out their work in ways that contribute to the common good. Workers, employers, and unions should not only advance their own interests, but also work together to advance economic justice and the well-being of all."
In the meantime pray for the people of Cuba and pray that Gustav decreases in force and speed as it makes landfall, sparing the cities of the Gulf coast that stand in its path.

On a lighter note and only because Cathleen Kaveny went there first, The Daily Show and Colbert on [Gov.] Palin. WARNING: Daily Show language from 3:00 to the end is quite crude.

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