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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Catholic Teaching on Labor Unions:

In the first place, the worker must be paid a wage sufficient to support him and his family.

Quadragesimo Anno (The Fortieth Year ) #71
On Reconstruction of the Social Order
Pius XI, 1931
" Pope Leo XIII also defended the worker’s natural right to enter into association

with his fellows, such associations may consist either of workers alone or of workers and employers, and should be structured in a way best calculated

to safeguard the workers’ legitimate professional interest. And it is the natural right of the workers to work without hindrance, freely, and on their own initiative within these associations for the achievement of these ends." (Mater et Magistra,22)

Leo argued that the right to associate was a natural one that permits the workingperson to form private societies and that the State "has been instituted to protect and not destroy natural right…" (Rerum Novarum, 72). Workers may determine the type of association they wish. "Furthermore, if citizens have the right to associate, they must also have the right to freely to adopt the organization and rules which they judge most appropriate to achieve their purpose." (Rerum Novarum, 76). Leo did not use the term "trade unions" indicating a willingness to keep open the form that the association might take.: Workers’ associations ought to be so constituted and so governed as to furnish the most suitable and most convenient means to attain the object proposed, which consists in this, that the individual members of the association secure, so far as possible, an increase in the goods of the body, of soul and of prosperity." (Rerum Novarum, 74). All social organization ought to be directed toward the moral and religious perfection of the individual and society. "Besides, what would it profit a worker to secure through an association an abundance of goods, if is soul through lack of its proper food should run the risk of perishing." (Rerum Novarum,77) And again, "When the regulation of associations are founded upon religion, the way is easy toward establishing the mutual relations of the members so that peaceful living together and prosperity will result." (Rerum Novarum, 78)

While Rerum Novarum was reformist, Quadragessimo Anno was radical. The keynote of Quadragessimo Anno was social justice while the central theme of Rerum Novarum had been a living wage. This was the first social encyclical to "see the need for sweeping institutional reform rather than mere charity or the reform of morals to tackle the root problems of the social order." (Coleman, 1991, p.183) Pius XI, affirming the view of Leo on the right to associate had a far-reaching affect on organized labor in the United States. "To the founding of these associations the clergy and many of the laity devoted themselves everywhere with truly praiseworthy zeal, eager to bring Leo’s program to full realization. Thus associations of this kind have molded truly Christian workers who, in combining harmoniously the diligent practice of their occupation with the salutary precepts of religion, protect effectively and resolutely their own temporal interests and rights, keeping a due respect for justice and a genuine desire to work together with other classes of society for the Christian renewal of all social life. (Quadragessimo Anno, 33)

Quadragessimo Anno helped to reinforce the activist trend in American Catholicism. Pius XI went further than Leo XIII in calling for the collaboration between workers and employers to create new associations to form industrial corporations. Pius outspokenly advocated for radial change in the economic system. "Instead of conflict between labor and capital, Pius advocated collaboration. Joint industrial corporations and professional associations would cooperate with government to plan economic growth and determine priorities. Thus in place of the old order’s economic anarchy, he envisioned economic planning and cooperation. The Papacy therefore, moved beyond the conservatism of the two previous popes. It surpassed, as well, in both its desire for a new economic direction, the statements of Leo XIII; himself a papal economic innovator." (Betten, 1976, p. 24) Fr. John A. Ryan, a noted reformer in the church, headed up the Social Action Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference. His work set the stage for the official Catholic response to the Great Depression. Ryan favored trade unionism in the 1920’s and became a more consistent supporter of the movement in the 1930’s. this changed resulted from his evaluation that the unions have become more effective and stated that "the worker needs the union in order to achieve something like equality in bargaining power with his employer." (Ryan Papers 1929-33, A-C)

He also defended sit-down strikes despite the fact that he disliked them for political reasons claiming that while they did violate property rights, they were a legitimate attempt by strikers to prevent machinery from being operated by strike-breakers. He stated, "owing to the dependence of the worker and his family upon his present job, his equitable claim therefore, might sometimes justify the sit-down strike." (Ryan, Ecclesiastical Review, 419-420) he also defended, in certain circumstances, the use of force by workers, claiming "that employees, as such, have certain natural rights and that they may be defended by ‘coercion’" (Ryan Papers, 1938, S-R)
Fr. John P. Boland, a priest of the Buffalo, New York diocese, who did not have the national reputation of someone like Ryan, spent much of his life with the American

worker. Within Catholic circles, Boland was considered an expert on labor problems. He planned a course of study for the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists labor school in 1937 and was eventually appointed chairman of the New York State Labor Relations Board. His own interpretation of Quadragessimo Anno determined his labor views seeking the establishment of a confederation of unions, employer associations and organizations of farmers and consumers to solve the American economic problems. Believing that such a system could be established without governmental involvement, which, in his opinion must be limited. He felt that this was the best approach . "The state should follow neither the individualistic nor the collectivist theories regarding its duties….its course may well be down the middle road. … both industry and unions have been long on militancy and short on statesmanship" (Forton, 1959 p. 7-10) Boland was a staunch supporter of the labor union arguing that Pius XI had fully supported them in Quadragessimo Anno. While some Catholic theorists suggested that unions promoted class conflict, Boland constructed a carefully crafted argument against this position. He claimed that collective bargaining not only improved the economic conditions of the worker but he moral and religious position of the worker as well (Betten, 1976,p.86) . Thus, he argued that "collective bargaining, rightfully carried out with such proper governmental supportive services as mediation, would lessen class conflict by bringing order and peace into the labor market." (Betten, 1976 p.86.)

Collective bargaining as a means to lessen class conflict would become a tool for stability. "Collective bargaining presupposes belief in the wage system." (Boland Papers, Box 25) Boland was one of many priests involved in the support of trade labor unions.


St. John the Evangelist said...

I always thought the Labor Unions were the creation of the Masonic Lodges. Also in part with the New World Order as well.

Pope St. Felix III said...

John - that is not true at all. Labor Unions are what developed after the guilds ended. The guilds were in many cases better than unions - as they were God focused - at least the Catholic guilds, but nevertheless - the Catholic Church has never opposed the concept of unions and collective bargaining - in fact - the Church has supported them.

The problem is always a balancing act - without unions - employers tend to exploit workers - as is what is happening today - very few people today are paid a just wage - VERY FEW - remember a Just Wage is a wage in which the head of the house - the father can support his entire family from the income and benefits of his job alone and still have some money left over to save and have some material things beyond the necessities.

But on the other hand, in times when Unions were strong - the workers tende to exploit their employers and not give a fair days work for a fair days pay.

that is hardly the case today - when one considers that here in Wisconsin less than 9% of the entire workforce is union - we are in the stage where the workers are being exploited - and it is high time we unite and demand that our government start protecting US workers.

They need to tarriff imports, they need to support - not destroy unions, they need to work towards INCREASING the standard of living of workers - not DECREASING it!

St. John the Evangelist said...

Well either way I never was in a union. A lot of people at my old work place were totally against unions. I was satisfied with the benefits at my old workplace. Yes of course I got laid off there. Even if we did have a union, I would have been laid off a lot earlier and ETC, Inc. would have gone out of business 15-20 years ago when it started to lose money. Right now they still in business with 10 employees. When I first started working there in 1984 they had 124 employees. I bet Dean, the CEO is happy about getting Business Tax Breaks from recent Walker bill approvals. I'll have to ask him if I see him sometime which might be in May at the stockholders meeting in which I am a stockholder.

Pope St. Felix III said...

In most cases the only reason that non-union employees in fields that are unionized get the pay and benefits that they do is to keep the union out. If there were no unions at all - your pay and benefits would likely not have been what they were.

You can see this today - when the Unions were strong in Wisconsin and most factory workers were union - they were paid a very good wage and had full benefits.

When the government started making it easy to ship our jobs overseas and the factories started leaving - the unions started loosing ground - to the point that now only 9% of our workforce is union - and what has happened to the pay and benefits of average workers since this happened?

There is hardly a man that makes enough money to comfortably raise a family with just his income and benefits.

Workers today are being exploited - they are expected to take all the cuts in pay and benefits while shareholders and CEO's and upper management make record salaries and bonuses!

A good friend of mine works for a Company called Marquip in Phillips, WI - they have been having to pay more and more every year for the health insurance - to the point that he now pays $150.00 a week out of his paycheck for his LOUSY health insurance and has to wear a monitor that measures how much he walks a day to keep the rates down. In spite of this - he showed my the companies shareholder report - the company has been making RECORD PROFITS and the shareholders have been receiving RECORD dividends - but the workers are still being asked to give up more of their pay for their insurance and are not even receiving annual cost of living raises!

Around ten years ago my empolyer tried to get me to pay a portion of my health insurance - I nicely and firmly told him that was his right to do, and that it was also my right to find another job - and if he did start requiring me to pay one dime for my insurance - he had better start looking for another funeral director. That was when business was good - in fact excellent.

Today - business is bad and is getting worse with the rising cremation rates (over 50%) and with workers taking cuts in pay an benefits everywhere - people are simply not spending what they did 10 years ago on funerals and headstones - but ya know what - he still manages to pay my health insurance - Had I allowed him to do that to me 10 years ago - I would probably also be paying $150.00 a week out of my pay check - and that would have been just more money in his pocket.

We need to stand up for ourselves and stick together and raise the standard of living for all of us.

I am not in a union and in a way - I am sort of "management" because I now own 10% of this business - but he is still the boss and I am still the employee.

He knows he can count on my to do my job and be there wheneever I am needed - so he is willing to pay my insurance - rather than risk getting a lousy employee to replace me.

I say this because we as workers must also do our part and give our employers what is due them as well.

I do the best I can at my job - not so much for my employer or even the famlies I serve, but rather for God.

If our employers treated us as they wished to be treated and we did the same in return - we would not need unions and contracts.

Unfortunately - this rarely happens.

Since our government certainly is not Christ centered and neither are the Unions - it is impossible that this will ever become what it could and should be - an equitable relationship between employers and employees working for the glory of God and the love of our fellow man.

Sancta Cecelia said...

If you can find those 'Christian workers' Pope Leo XIII spoke about, let us know.

For WI, collective bargaining for public employees was part of a political strategy by politicians in a state that already had the strongest civil service protectionse anywhere. It is not a
'right,' it was an extra tool to get control over state government no matter which party was in power.

Pope St. Felix III said...

Collective bargaining is a right - abuse of power is not. This could all be resolved without going contrary to Chruch teaching and taking away collective bargaining!

Sancta Cecelia said...

I don't accept that collective bargaining for public employees is a right as it is for those in private business, as in your case.

Milwaukee/WI/citizen/taxpayer for most of our lives, and public employee for a number of good years, I KNOW that working for the public sector meant lower wages than for private business, but it offered security, thanks to WI Civil Service protections.

One thing that is forgotten is that there was tremendous competition for those jobs and you had to be really good to pass all the tests to get one, ergo the trade-off between higher wages and security was what YOU chose to opt for. There was no such thing as 'collective bargaining.'

A given was that most city/county employees took the job seriously and appreciated what they had, not all, never all given our human nature, but most.

Long ago, maybe even b4 1900?, WI set up civil service protections for public employees that were the strongest in the nation, and maybe still are. These collective bargaining 'rights' for public employees were given as perks by politicians to stay in power....they are not really necessary in a state like WI that already had the strongest of protections for public employee