Friday, February 25, 2011

"Once upon a time ... You threw bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?"

Today's traditio features a video that is a pleasant throw back, as is the song. So, Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone goes out those who, in these difficult times, when the gap between the rich and the poor are greater than ever and growing, seek to deny the right of laborers to collectively bargain. What I find even sadder is powerful interests are succeeding in dividing people against each other and that many have been conned into working towards political goals that are contrary not only to their own interests, but those of the common good. The economy exists for people, not people for the economy. In short, people do not exist to serve powerful and anonymous interests, but the true and living God.

In his encyclical on labor, promulgated on the 90th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum, Laborem exercens, Bl. JPII asserted "a principle that has always been taught by the Church: the principle of the priority of labour over capital" (par. 12). Nonetheless, JPII continues, what tends to happen is that capital is often deployed against labor. Hence, "There is a need for ever new movements of solidarity of the workers and with the workers…The Church is firmly committed to this cause, for it considers it to be its mission, its service, a proof of its fidelity to Christ…"

As Fr. Joe Scott wrote over on Busted Halo: "Today there are great changes taking place in our national economic structures, as the development of a world economy changes the way companies and factories do business. Labor unions have declined in strength and the most difficult and physically demanding forms of work are once again performed by recent immigrants to our shores. Many of us have forgotten the better working conditions won for our grandparents through the efforts of organized labor. It’s important for us to remember the tradition of our Church in supporting workers in their efforts to achieve a better life."


  1. There is a movement in the Faith to follow conservative political ideologies no matter how conflicted they are with Christianity.

    I am surrounded by people talking of smashing the unions while collecting unemployment and others enjoying 40 hour work weeks with paid vacations.

    Have they forgotten? No, I think they "have theirs" and simply don't care about what unions continue to do for everyone else. They want office buildings constructed by laborers who, at the end of 25 or 30 years, have nothing but a worn out body to show for their efforts (like my fiance). They want their coffee served to them by waitresses who have no medical insurance (like my daughter). And then they ridicule all of these people as "bums" if they use public programs to help them make ends meet. They want to deny food stamps, WIC, and educational benefits to children all the while touting a "pro-life" agenda.

    I'll be honest, I love my Faith but I've never been so alienated from the faith community. Being around most Catholics is actually bad for my soul. I'm not sure how to reconcile it.

    /end rant :)

  2. Well, we have had this discussion, so I don’t really want to beat a dead horse.
    However, I think that a case can be made, considering the WI situation, that there is a distinction to be made between public sector unions and private sector unions.
    I would wholly agree that the economy exists for the people. That being said, public sector workers exist for the people. In the current debate, public sector workers in WI work for the people. The current financial crisis indicates that the unsustainable benefits given to these workers will come on the backs of the middle class, who will see higher taxes even while the middle classes own level of benefits and pay has been adjusted due to new realities.
    JPII challenges us when he teaches that there is a priority of labor over capital. As Catholics, we need to take that challenge seriously to our work places. However, the public sector does not generate capital. The work of the public sector exists for the service of the civil society. It does not make profit.
    Therefore, I think we need to be very careful in the way we are going to apply the Church’s teachings to those employed in the service of society and are paid through funds collected from its citizenry.
    Are people working against their own interests when they see a vast distinction between public labor unions and private ones? I honestly think that the two are different categories.
    Private labor unions arose out of the need created by intolerable working conditions, long hours, and hazards in the work place. The stories of many who died in West Virginia mines because corporations cut corners to maximize profits has no parallel for government union workers.
    It is for this reason, that I believe that the social worker documents don’t really speak to the situation of public servants, who serve society.

  3. While I agree that it is an important distinction, Dan, it is not one recognized in Church teaching nor should it be. After all, one should not have to surrender one's rights to work for a state government. The Wisconsin bill seeks to deprive public employees of their right to collectively bargain. This makes it an unjust law according to Church teaching. I have to honestly admit to wondering to where the Wisconsin bishops are in all of this.

    Of course, public employees serve the public. Of course during these difficult times, times of reclining revenue, like everyone else they have to tighten their belts and make concessions. Further, I have no problem scrutinizing benefits that may be overly generous. However, this is not what the Wisconsin law seeks to do. Gov Walker would do well to take a cue from Gov Christie in NJ.

  4. Catherine:

    It would be difficult to imagine a more labor-unfriendly state than our Utah. We are a place where so many would benefit from organizing.