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  1. December 12, 2012 6:10 pm

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using the language of choice. School choice, for example, is a good thing. The problem with Right to Work laws is that they limit freedom of choice by making it illegal for workers and employers to enter into a closed shop contract. Of course, labor law also limits freedom of contract in lots of other ways, but if you don’t like that it seems to me that the thing to do would be to repeal the restrictions you don’t like rather than adding new ones.

    Personally, I’m sympathetic to the idea Lane Kirkland half-jokingly proposed years ago (and which is spelled out at length here: have Congress repeal all labor laws, and really let labor and management go at it “mano a mano.”

  2. Chris DeGroot permalink
    December 12, 2012 10:39 pm

    Not much substance in this article. Perhaps you could try to present a logical argument why you think it is just to force workers to support an institution against their will.

    • Chris Sullivan permalink
      December 13, 2012 1:11 am

      Inhabitants in a state are required to support the state, eg by taxes, obeying laws etc, even if it be against their will, for the Common Good. A similar Common Good argument applies to trade unions.

      The Holy Father and Mornings Minion have put the case well for increased support for trade unions.

      God Bless

      • Thales permalink
        December 14, 2012 8:49 am

        I think this is a weak argument for unions because they are not analogous to governments.

        A government is a necessary institution for any person — by the virtue of a person existing as a social animal and forming a community, government is a necessary institution (and which means that support for the government by taxes, etc. necessarily follows). A union is not a necessary institution for any worker. As I say below, the necessity of a union is dependent on the circumstances, and sometimes it is not necessary to protect the best interests of the workers.

        • Kurt permalink
          December 14, 2012 12:43 pm

          Well, Pope John John Paul II said unions are an indispensible part of a just society. Unions exist where a majority of the unit wishes for them to exist. That is an appropriate test.

    • December 13, 2012 7:28 am

      @ Chris DeGroot — Grab a history text and read up on what the standard of living for workers in this country was like prior to the victories of organized labor. Also consider the fact that the salaries of union workers force up the salaries of non-union workers because employers need to compete for workers, just as they need to compete for consumers. This is really a no-brainer for any person whose brain is still under his own control.

      • Blackadder permalink
        December 13, 2012 11:36 am

        Grab a history text and read up on what the standard of living for workers in this country was like prior to the victories of organized labor.

        I believe this is what they call the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

        • December 13, 2012 1:37 pm

          I believe this is what they call the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

          Of course – because people (including people organized together in unions) objecting to things like child labor, starvation wages and lethal working conditions obviously had nothing to do with them changing or anything.

          You serve your clients well, Blackadder.

        • Thales permalink
          December 14, 2012 8:51 am

          Sure, union A might have done great work X number of years ago. But what if today, union A is doing poor work that hurts employees?

        • Kurt permalink
          December 14, 2012 12:46 pm

          If it is a matter than you or another outside person thinks the union is hurting the employees, nothing need be done. If the employees are unhappy, they should elect new leaders or offer a motion at the union meeting.

    • dominic1955 permalink
      December 13, 2012 9:39 am

      The language of “choice” isnt’ the problem and its apples and oranges vis a vis abortion and “right to work” laws. The formula for an argument can be valid for one case and not for another, what to plug in for the premises is what makes or breaks it. It also depends on where one is arguing from-in this case I think you’d have to go to Fr. Sirico and talk with him about Lockean liberalism and whether he really supports that or not.

      Secondly, Catholic teaching supports right of workers to organize and it does support mediating organizations. That said, this doesn’t mean that to say that there is something rotten in Denmark when it comes to how unions operate here and now is going against Catholic teaching. As such, to take Pope Benedict-and Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI-seriously would require us not to blindly support anything “union” but to look at exactly what those who have set themselves up as “the union” really are about and what they really do.

      Leo and Pius had something quite different in mind than what many unions seem to be in the U.S. They were thinking of organizations imbued with the spirit of the articifer’s guilds of Christendom. They were also adamant about Catholics not joining revolutionary organizations and other such groups that were inimical to the Church. Catholic support of unions is based on the natural right to foster associations. Unions that are shills for the Democratic Party or that act like extortionist syndicates can hardly be “required” by Catholic social teaching.

      • Kurt permalink
        December 13, 2012 1:58 pm

        Catholic teaching in favor of unions does not require support for every worker action anymore than support for democracy requires support for every action of a democracy. But the right wing is attacking the very principle of worker organization.

        As for what Leo and Pius had in mind, that was resolved by Cardinal Gibbons whom obtained the papal blessing for American labor unions.

        • dominic1955 permalink
          December 13, 2012 4:59 pm

          Really? Hmm…where? I don’t see any principles getting attacked, at least not by the person in question.

          No, that isn’t a “resolution”. When did Cardinal Gibbons live? A “papal blessing” does not thereby give carte blanche approval for everything done by the person or organization in perpetuity. Wasn’t it Pope Leo X that named King Henry VIII “defensor fidei” (and which subsequent heretic English monarchs happily displayed on their coinage) but obviously this blessing for a particular person at a particular time does not mean that the Papacy approves of all that Henry VIII or his successors ever did.

          Thus, it is not unCatholic to question the practices or approaches of the current unions. The principle of freedom to associate is of natural law, that is beyond question.

        • Kurt permalink
          December 14, 2012 12:51 pm

          Thus, it is not unCatholic to question the practices or approaches of the current unions. The principle of freedom to associate is of natural law, that is beyond question.

          I don’t have a problem with that statement. The Pope through Cardinal Gibbons blessed the American model of trade unionsim — independent and non-confessional. You are free to be a Catholic and think that Local 32B should not take Betty Sue Fitzgerald’s grievance to step three.

    • Charles permalink
      December 13, 2012 1:53 pm

      Because they get the benefits of unionization, but then refuse to pay the costs of upkeep on the institution.

  3. Jordan permalink
    December 12, 2012 10:44 pm

    In informal chats on an online forum for one of my hobbies, I’ve found that many tradespeople are anti-union because they perceive unions as just another extortion front. They’re getting squeezed not just by corporations which are sliced and diced by venture capitalists who gut the capital of the company for their own benefit, but also (in their view) by union bosses who force workers to pay more and more in dues for less and less protection against predatory capitalism. The Walker recall backlash, the Ohio union votes, and and now the question of “Right to Work” in Michigan, are in my opinion fueled by workers who feel exploited by not just executives who earn 400x a regular workers’ yearly wage, but also exploited by the very rights’ organizations which claim to help them preserve their job and a living wage.

    The Catholic teaching that workers have a fundamental right to unionize and bargain well, at least in the US, might have to be broadened to include other strategies to support the American worker. Yes, there is a place for traditional unionization to uphold safe working conditions and prevent exploitation, such as Walmart’s documented denial of fair wages to their employees. However, there are other ways for corporations and executives to become accountable to their workers. A corporation can’t be forced to trade on the stock market and certainly cannot be forced to offer their employees part-ownership in the company. Workers who have a financial stake in the company might actually fight at shareholders’ meetings for their rights, and not have bosses speak in their name.

    I also suspect that not a few Catholics suspect unions because any organization which mediates the distribution of benefits could hinder the Church’s “religious freedom” (scare quotes intended.) The right to ownership of one’s labor shouldn’t have to fly head on to those who parse every law and labor contract finely, looking for some obscure clause which “offends” the Church.

    • Kurt permalink
      December 13, 2012 2:02 pm

      union bosses who force workers to pay more and more in dues

      By federal law, union officers cannot raise union dues.

      Workers who have a financial stake in the company might actually fight at shareholders’ meetings for their rights,

      By federal law, shareholder cannot vote or pass resolutions on wages, benefits and conditions of employment.

      • Jordan permalink
        December 14, 2012 7:53 am

        Thank you Kurt for your corrections. I must’ve misunderstood what my friends were trying to explain to me.

        Who, then, determines the wage increases? If it is the union members themselves, wouldn’t they be reluctant to increase their own fees?

        • Kurt permalink
          December 14, 2012 12:53 pm

          Jordan,

          You mean dues increase? By law it has to be voted on by the entire membership. Contrary to right-wing propaganda, most workers understand the importance of maintaining their union.

  4. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    December 13, 2012 12:38 am

    The idea that the incredibly nuanced works of Locke should be compared to the blunderbuss writings of Fr. Sirico is very misleading to readers. But I was pleased to get a sense from your reading of Fr. Sirico’s recent views that he would once again be supporting gay marriage in his career. if because of the loss of the recent election he is eventually put out of his job in his libertarian think tank, he could certainly make some money performing marriages for nice male couples.

    • Kurt permalink
      December 13, 2012 2:05 pm

      I saw a photo of the gay couple Sirico celebrated a wedding for and they did not look nice to me. A couple of rough leather queens.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        December 13, 2012 4:17 pm

        O Kurt, thank you for broaching an issue of cultural probabilities, I did not want to be the first to broach. But now that you have, allow me. A lot of gay men are bemused by the leather subculture. And — hello!!– if there were ever a guy who screams leather daddy it is Sirico. In fact, this allows us an interesting intellectual archaelogy for his odd ideas. For that libertarian skein that he represents was quite popular with– you guessed it– leather queens on the West Coast at one time. (There was a famous libertarian bookstore up on Market Street in Sa Francisco just past the Castro) It was developed in the 70’s especially in a climate that valued independence over everything else, and had a despairing edge to it as the years went on, and AIDS came forth, and the whole vibe was sort of every man for himself. So we have quite the funny (sad) little trajectory. Sirico who is one of the odd
        progenitors of this view in reactionary Catholic circles, has imported a despairing trope and thought-system from a rather bizarre subculture of gay culture at a specific frozen period. And in the strangest of ironies, how he holds forth with this improbable melange on EWTN on the Raymond Arroyo. And don’t even get me started on that one!

        • Kurt permalink
          December 14, 2012 1:05 pm

          I’m still not clear about how Thomas Peters fits into this.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
          December 16, 2012 2:14 pm

          Kurt,

          You are quite the provocateur! Let’s face it, the fate of an aging twink is hardest of all. The leather daddy has an audience and future, the aging twink does not. Around thirty the magic and mojo, such as it was, is gone. And all anyone can think of the twink is “I kinda thought he was cute once, and that’s why I used to to let him go on so in my presence.” And I hope no one is so naive to think this same dynamic was not operative in the Roman clergy and in its academic circles.

          The thing is, there are signs — at least from what I can discern from the outside — that even they are waking up or realizing that this landscape is now legible to the outside world. Thus they are making a conscious effort to put forth the opposite aspect. The opposite in this schema to the closet-gay twink would be the pleasingly frumpy family man. Again, all this I only glean with my magic x-ray eyes honed from years of carefully trained and well-read cultural observations. But taking that very fascinating anthropological in situ observations facilitated by the subjects on the EWTN show “Catholicism on Campus” one can make the following observation….in the same vein. There one young male professor named Hochschild has often been put forth to comment in front of the seminarians assembled on stage. (I don’t deny that this is already a set-up to push my buttons!). And the Monsignor who is always there named Swetland always seems to slip in the same comment when Hochschild is around. Something like “We love having your family on our campus as witness to our values…..” It is almost like a mantra, so the discerning listener can glean the real meaning. Professor Hochschild seems the very embodiment of the RC church’s new Ex Corde safe mediocrity. He never has anything remotely detailed to say about anything, and though he seems wanly competent in his field, he hardly seems like a bright bulb. (His wife was on once, and she seemed a lot smarter, but frazzled with kids!) But the funny thing is that recently the husband was one the show again. And now they have made him Dean of the College no less. And there was Swetland again saying “We love having his witness here….”
          We get it. And he looked cute in a newly assertive bow tie. So how is Thomas Peters going to fit in with this new desire to put forth such an image. He doesn’t that’s how. That is why I am just waiting for hi tell-all book some day. Waiting with ennui, on this subject at least.

  5. Balin permalink
    December 13, 2012 1:02 am

    Workers in unions also have a right to work. Right to work laws are not really right to work laws but in fact right to fire laws. These laws are enacted so that employers can fire workers without cause and/or notice. Right to work laws enable capitalists to exploit workers and claim the worker has the right to find work elsewhere or be fired if they don’t like the conditions. Right to work laws allow employers to divide and conquer workers, picking them off one at time. Right to work laws promote wage slave labor under the guise of worker’s rights. Unions prevent this and even show how dependent employers are on workers and that the business does not function without the allegedly disposable workers which may be disposed of one at a time but never en mass as strikes demonstrate. This right to work mentality was the norm in the late 19th century. How many workers want the right to go back to those working conditions?

    • December 13, 2012 12:42 pm

      This is exactly right. “Right to work” as a descriptor is itself a piece of propaganda–a brilliant one, no doubt, since it is designed to connote the opposite of what the law actually accomplishes. Read your history, people. Unions are responsible for every single one of the workplace conditions that most of us take for granted. There’s no guarantee that, in ten years, we won’t have corporations agitating again for unregulated child labor, etc. History does not move forward, it just moves.

      • Thales permalink
        December 15, 2012 10:08 am

        So a reason why a union is necessary now is because without a union in today’s world we might have unregulated child labor? Sorry, I don’t find that persuasive.

        Sure, 80+ years ago, a union was a good thing in fighting for protecting against exploitation of child laborers. But that was 80+ years ago. Since then, society has now created and passed federal, state, and local laws against child labor, discrimination, and a host of moral evils. Today, a union is not the last bulwark against immoral child labor by evil corporations. If a union gets disbanded from Corporation X today, Corporation X can’t institute unregulated child labor. It’s against the law. And if in 10 years time, Corporation X does “agitate again for unregulated child labor” (which I highly doubt would ever happen, but supposing it does) and a union becomes the only way to stop the corporation from violating the best interests of the workers, then the workers can form a union at that time to stop it if they don’t have a union.

        My point is that there are good and viable arguments for why a particular union is necessary today in order to protect the best interests of workers at particular Corporation X. But the argument that if we didn’t have a union, then Corporation X would engage in labor violations that unions fought against 80+ years ago is not one of these good arguments. Nor is it a good argument to claim that because unions are responsible for fighting for good workplace conditions before these conditions were enshrined into law, then unions are still necessary today. \

        • December 15, 2012 11:04 pm

          The point is, Thales, laws can change. Do you really think that most corporations would not have a go again at child labor if they could get away with it?–oh, that’s right, most of them already do, but in countries where workers have no rights.

        • Kurt permalink
          December 16, 2012 9:02 am

          Today, a union is not the last bulwark against immoral …

          No, it is the first bulwark. For those of us Catholics who accept the principle of subsidiarity, it is better that these issues be handled at the lowest possible level — the shop floor — rather than by national legislation.

        • Thales permalink
          December 16, 2012 9:20 pm

          wj,

          You talking about those countries where they also have slave labor? Sure, I know child labor (and slave labor) happens in other less developed and less advanced countries. I just don’t see a present danger of child labor or slave labor happening in this country because we have laws against it and, I suppose more importantly, we have a culture that would not allow our laws to be changed in favor of child or slave labor. So I truly think that a corporation would not be able to “get away with” child labor in our country in the event there were no unions. Heck, there are thousands of corporations without unions as it is, and I don’t see them engaging in child labor.

          I guess what I’m saying is that the argument “unions are really, really important because if we didn’t have them, we’d have child labor” is, to me, a little bit like arguing “it’s really, really important to have elected Republicans in political office (i.e., the ones originally in support of abolition and who outlawed slave labor), because if we don’t, we’d have slave labor.” No, that’s silly — we’re in no danger of having laws changed in favor of slave labor if we don’t have Republicans in office. Same with child labor. There are good arguments for why unions are necessary in today’s American society, but the child labor argument is not one of them, in my opinion.

  6. Thales permalink
    December 13, 2012 7:33 am

    Yes, he’s obviously using the “choice” language, because it’s a powerful rhetorical argument in a culture that embraces the “I need the freedom to choose abortion” position. “I should have the freedom to choose” is a compelling argument to the average Joe. Now, to those of us who are a little more thoughtful than the average Joe, we should realize that choice or “freedom to choose” by itself is meaningless, and that it’s the object chosen that makes all the difference, whether it be “to join a union” or “to kill a human being” or “school A instead of school B” (as Blackadder points out).

    MM, I’m curious to hear your argument about why right-to-work legislation is bad. On first glance, it seems to me that RTW laws would make unions better — by making them more accountable to the workers they represent and thus more committed to representing the best interests of the workers. If we go to your Pope B. quote, it seems to me (from the little I understand about RTW), that RTW doesn’t “limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions” and instead makes unions better at “carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers.” What am I not seeing?

    • Mark Gordon permalink
      December 13, 2012 11:03 am

      One thing you’re not seeing is that federal law requires unions to represent and negotiate on behalf of all employees in a workplace, even if only some of them are actual union members. This creates the problem of “free riders:” employees who benefit from the presence of the union without paying dues. If “freedom” is really what anti-union people want, then they should advocate for a change in the law that requires an individual non-union employee to negotiate his own private contract with the employer, without reference to the union contract in the same workplace.

    • Mark Gordon permalink
      December 13, 2012 11:09 am

      Moreover, the new Michigan law positively outlaws closed shops, even if business owners would prefer them to open shops. Thus, the freedom of the employer to run his business as he sees fit has been limited. I know plenty of employers who make “union labor only” a point of pride in their marketing campaigns because it implies a certain standard of quality. In Michigan, no one can make that claim any longer.

    • Kurt permalink
      December 13, 2012 2:13 pm

      RTW laws do not make unions better and they make them less “Catholic.” Thales’ comments actually give evidence to this. Thales see a “consumerist” model for unions. The consumerist model sees the union as some outside service provider that workers may or may not purchase their goods. The Union then has an incentive to offer a good product just like any other marketer.

      Both Catholic teaching and the principles of the American labor movement reject this model. Unions are a solidaristic organization of workers. It is accountable because the workers ARE the union. The elect the officers, vote on resolutions, ratify the contract, authorize a strike, etc. In fact it is the only private organization in the USA which is required to be democratic by federal law. Catholic principles are that workers should associate together and be their own voice, not behave like consumers buying a product.

  7. Chris Sullivan permalink
    December 13, 2012 3:06 pm

    Bp Thomas Gumbleton has a wonderful homily which touches on this:

    In our society, there are many ways in which we have to make justice happen, but one of the ways right now is to be very concerned about what is happening within our own state with the right-to-work laws. If we pay any attention to Catholic social teaching, we have to know that almost 125 years now, the Catholic church has been teaching the right of people to organize, the need for unions, to strengthen them, to make them able to function effectively so that everybody has an opportunity for a just wage so that people cannot be exploited.

    We have championed within the church justice for workers, and yet so often now we fail to do that, not only because we sometimes try to suppress unions, but just because we don’t live up to the teaching about living wage. Every person has the right, according to Catholic social teaching, for a living wage. That is a wage that is enough to support a family. Our current legal living wage if someone works full-time does not provide that a person would be able to keep his or her family out of poverty because there is not justice.

    If we move forward with these right-to-work laws and unions are broken, wages will go down even more throughout our whole economy. That’s not justice. The way of Jesus calls for justice, for a fullness of life for everyone. According to our teaching and the scriptures, every person has the right to a full human life. Every person has a right to the goods of the earth that God gave for all and not for a few.

    If we deprive anyone of what they need in order to have a full human life, we’re acting against the way of God and the way of Jesus.

    http://ncronline.org/node/41096/

    God Bless

  8. Thales permalink
    December 14, 2012 8:45 am

    I’m not sure that I buy the freerider argument. Let me explain.

    Let’s get away from the “unions are good! unions are bad!” dichotomy. That’s a simplistic way of thinking of the issues that misstates the argument. There is no question that unions do good in furthering the best interests of the workers it represents. But here’s the catch: sometimes unions act against the best interests of the workers it represents. So I might like the fact that the union represented me and my contract in Year 1. But now in Year 5, the union has been using my money to pursue goals that are against my best interests. If I don’t want to give the union any more of my money because it has been misusing my money and my support for the last 5 years, am I still a freerider in Year 5?

    Unions aren’t institutions that necessarily should exist, as a matter of principle. Unions are institutions highly dependent on the circumstances, because they are institutions meant to protect and further the best interests of the employees — and sometimes a union is necessary to further these best interests, and sometimes not. In our country today, there are thousands of employees who are in non-union relationships with their employers and who don’t see the need of a union — their rights and best interests are protected and honored by their employer, and a union would be a waste of time and money and might potentially harm the employee’s best interests. Unions are representative bodies, which means that it has the same danger as any representative or representative body: if you are guaranteed the support/votes/reelection/money of your constituents, there is a tendency to become complacent and to not keep the best interests of your constituents in the forefront.

    So the million dollar question is: how can we encourage a union to support the best interests of the people it represents and to discourage it from acting against the best interests of these same people? It seems to me that RTW might be a positive step in that direction. RTW doesn’t eliminate unions, it doesn’t infringe on unions’ power vis-a-vis an employer, it doesn’t limit what a union can do or not do. Instead, it makes unions a little more accountable to the people it represents by giving them an incentive to work to gain the loyalty of its worker constituents by working for their best interests and not taking them for granted.

  9. Kurt permalink
    December 14, 2012 1:27 pm

    Why is a consumerist model (the union offers a service I may or may not ‘purchase’) superior to the Catholic Church’s model for unions – a worker organization where the workers themselves advance their interests through union? Ignore for a moment the other flaw of the consumerist model is that workers get the service regardless of if they pay for it or not. Why disregard the Church’s call for solidarity, community and participation in favor of a consumer/market model?

    • Kurt permalink
      December 14, 2012 3:07 pm

      Let me just add, the other difference between the consumerist model Thales advocates and the Catholic model, is that the consumer model is individualistic. Each person decides if they want to pay for “this product.” The Catholic model is solidaristic. It has workers of a craft or industry building bonds of community and discerning/deciding what serves the common good, not an individualistic good.

  10. Julia Smucker permalink*
    December 15, 2012 12:50 am

    Very incisive, MM. I think this is essentially what Jana Bennett meant when she said that libertarianism is the new communism, “the new great ideological opponent of Christianity, alongside the closely related cousin of moral relativism.” Individualistic autonomy has become an idol across the political spectrum.

  11. Rick Garnett permalink
    December 15, 2012 1:35 pm

    Hi MM — I had a few thoughts about this — some of which are consistent with yours, some probably not — over at Mirror of Justice: http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2012/12/catholic-social-doctrine-association-labor-and-michigan.html

    As always, I’d welcome your reactions.

  12. kurt permalink
    December 29, 2012 5:48 pm

    Just a note, one of the men in the gay wedding performd by rev. Sirico recently passed away.

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