I have to express my personal dismay that for the first time in my life it seems that powerful economic and political interests (as the powers in play in Wisconsin reveal) have succeeded in getting people to advocate against their own interests. This odd state-of-affairs favors the perpetuation of the status quo; an economic environment in which more and more wealth is concentrated in the hands of an increasingly smaller percentage of people. This does not bode well for our present or our collective future.
Labor relations are supposed to be a balancing act. Employees of a company have to realize that the company must remain profitable. Public sector employees need to realize that their wages are paid largely by the taxes of their fellow citizens, or at least by revenues generated by the government, making those revenues the common fund of everyone. Conversely, those on the ownership, management end of the table need to show that they care about those who perform the work without which their enterprise would collapse. Nonetheless, the answer cannot be seeking to legally strip workers of their rights. Neither can the answer be refusing to make concessions during very tough economic times, which are not likely to get easier any time soon.
As Bishop Stephen Blair of Stockton, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development wrote in this year's annual Labor Day statement,
Union workers are part of a smaller labor movement and experience new efforts to restrict collective bargaining rights. Hunger and homelessness are a part of life for too many children. Most Americans fear our nation and economy are headed in the wrong direction. Many are confused and dismayed by polarization over how our nation can work together to deal with joblessness and declining wages, debt and deficits, economic stagnation, and global fiscal crises. Workers are rightfully anxious and fearful about the future. These realities are at the heart of the Church’s concerns and prayers on this Labor Day
The bishops' Labor Day statement goes on to confront our current difficulties head-on, noting that
"[t]his year is less a time for celebration and more a time for reflection and action on current economic turmoil and hardships experienced by workers and their families. For Catholics, it is also an opportunity to recall the traditional teaching of the Church on dignity of work and the rights of workers. This Labor Day, the economic facts are stark and the human costs are real: millions of our sisters and brothers are without work, raising children in poverty and haunted by fears about their economic security. These are not just economic problems, but also human tragedies, moral challenges, and tests of our faithThe USCCB statement goes on to cite the Holy Father's too-little read and reflected upon encyclical, Caritas un Veritate, to the effect that our "current crisis obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment, to build on positive experiences and to reject negatives ones. The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future" (par. 21). Undergirding this shift must be the simple axiom that the economy (an extremely complex reality at best) exists to serve people, people do not exist to serve the economy, but God and each other precisely through their work.