Thursday, March 26, 2015

Working Catholic: Sentiment by Bill Droel


          The distinction between private life and public life is eroding to the detriment of both. Private life is spilling over into the public realm on so-called reality TV shows, all over social media and in displays of personal information in inappropriate places. From the other end, public life at work, in the voting booth and in government proceedings succumbs to private feelings of liking and not liking, rather than judgments of competence and respect. Film stars and other performers have always coyly and incrementally leaked pieces of their private life to their fans. But now there is the category of micro-celebrity that includes anyone who blogs, posts or stands in front of a pocket camera. We unthinkingly display ourselves without appreciating how trivial our personal relationships become when they are marketed so widely.

Jonathan Franzen, in a collection of essays titled Farther Away (Farrar, Straus, 2012), takes particular exception to the cell phone, as wielded on trains, in restaurants, along college hallways and in medical waiting rooms. Spare “me from the intrusion of other people’s personal lives,” he writes. Especially as they inflict “their banal bedroom lives” over a cell phone in a public space.

Each technology, Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) taught us, creates a unique communication environment, irrespective of the content of any postal letter or any TV show or any single tweet. The essence of a cell phone “as a social phenomenon,” says Franzen, “is that it enables and encourages the inflicting of the personal and individual on the public and communal.” And there is nothing worse a cell phone user “can inflict on a communal public space,” he claims, than the utterance “I love you.”

Be patient with Franzen here because his point has bigger implications. He is not at all against expressions of love in a face-to-face private setting. But the “too-frequent habitual repetition” of I love you and similar phrases in public empties them of meaning. “Avowing sincerity is more or less diagnostic of insincerity,” even if cell phone users are unaware of the erosion.

Again, expressions of sentiment are fitting and proper in their place. Exuding sentiment all around the public square, however, quickly becomes hallow sentimentality. Rational propriety, communal agency and respectful negotiations give way to exhibition of sentimentality, which is a situation of all love but no power.

Maybe the cell phone example doesn’t convince you. What about smiley faces that adorn business communication? What about roadside shrines to honor a deceased individual or the tee shirts and posters shown on TV and in the newspaper after a fatal shooting? Or, what about our appetite for details about a public official’s sex life? The blurred line between public and private keeps what could be intimate relationships on a superficial level. It also corrodes public culture, allowing business and government leaders who understand power to deal in bread and circuses instead of accountability.



Droel is author of Monday Eucharist (National Center for the Laity [2015], PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $9 pre-paid includes postage).

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Working Catholic: Tips in Restaurants by Bill Droel



   The Wall St. Journal (3/1/15) reports that restaurant spending increased by 11.3% over the past year and that “food-service employment has surged.” The income of restaurant workers has not equaled the uptick in meals served; though employers are starting to pay more—3.1% more over the past year says the Department of Labor. Owners and managers want to adequately serve customer volume, and also want to lower their costly turnover rate (as high as 80% a year in some restaurants).

The restaurant business makes a distinction between front of the house workers (primarily the table servers and often bartenders) and back of the house workers (cooks, dishwashers, some hostesses and others). Technically, diners are not allowed to tip back of the house, though waiters and waitresses usually share a portion of the tip with others. Many diners think of the tip as a token of gratitude to their server. But that common notion is not correct. A 1966 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act introduced a subminimum tip wage for certain occupations. The tip wage is currently $2.13 in Federal law and has been stuck at that amount since 1991. Laws in some states supersede the Federal tip minimum, putting the tip wage at $4 to $4.95. Tips are therefore, at least in a certain sense, a subsidy to restaurant owners and tips certainly are essential to workers, the majority of whom are women. Of course, restaurant pay is better in some states, in some restaurants and on some shifts than others.  

Here, however, are some numbers in the ballpark: The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the median for front of the house workers at $8.94, which includes the tip. Considering back and front workers in the same category, the Labor Department says the average is currently $12.28. By the way, servers pay tax on the presumed tip plus the wage from the restaurant. If a diner doesn’t tip or tips less than the IRS presumes, the server still pays the tax.

There are overlapping strategies for improving the pay of tipped workers.

§  A few restaurants (mostly in the four-star category) have eliminated tips and raised wages, including in the kitchen. In management’s opinion this improves service. The menu prices go up about 8% to 15%, an amount which in Europe and elsewhere is considered the service charge.

§  The 1966 tipped minimum category could be eliminated, thereby putting all workers into the prevailing minimum wage category. Sylvia Allegretto and David Cooper of Economic Policy Institute (www.epi.org) have research in support of this approach.

§  The dollar amount of the 1966 tipped minimum could be increased. Rep. George Miller of California (www.georgemiller.house.gov) and others back HR Bill 1010 that gives an 85cent increase per year until the wage of servers reaches 70% of the regular minimum. Others believe that changes at the state level are more likely. Tompkins County Workers’ Center (www.tcworkerscenter.org) and other groups successfully lobbied the New York State Department of Labor to increase the tipped minimum. It will go to $7.50 on December 31, 2015.

§  Diners could consistently tip well, let’s say 20%, and for bad service complain to the manager, realizing a smaller tip changes nothing. At a full-service restaurant 17% of diners still tip at 10% or less, reports Kevin Pang in Chicago Tribune (9/4/14). At a casual restaurant with waiters and waitresses 16% of diners tip about 10% and a full 32% don’t tip at all. And, hardly anyone tips at a fast-food restaurant.

As with everything nowadays, technology is taking this topic into perhaps unexpected outcomes. A person who tips justly, again let’s say 20%, but uses their phone app to pay or uses a touch-screen at the restaurant counter will see a prompt: Add a tip? Then the possible answers: 25% or 50% and even 75%. And the latest are Bitcoin tips; again 25% up to 75%. Plus, there are even electronic tip jars on some counters. Wave a debit card into the jar and give a preset tip. All of this, says New York Times (2/1/15), is “tip creep.”

The exact technology of tip creep eludes your Working Catholic blogger. Although he frequents neighborhood restaurants, he uses a poor man’s type of money: Cash. But The Working Catholic suspects that struggling restaurant workers will not be the ones primarily benefiting from these e-tips.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free newsletter about faith and work printed on old-fashioned paper and mailed through the U.S. Post Office.    


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

LENTEN REFLECTIONS



          This, rather, is the fasting I wish: releasing those bound unjustly,    untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed … Isaiah - 58

   So much to be thankful for, yet in another sense, it is life in a dark apocalypticle storm.

   A wonderful family reunion in Mesquite, Nevada was sandwiched between two important events:  an acute awareness of racism resulting in police violence and the attack on labor unions by Scott Walker and Wisconsin Republicans.  All of this was prefaced by the death of my cousin- brother Mac McNabb.

               My cousin and brother, Mac McNabb (left) with President Ford.


F.V. McNabb, Jr.

   I traveled to Washington, D.C. for the memorial.   Mack loved tenderly, acted justly, and walked humbly with God.  The balm for the hurt of his loss and the joy to celebrate his life was provided by family hospitality and love as we congregated at a party hosted by his daughter Meghan.  It had been a while, and I was overwhelmed by the beauty of Mack’s kids and grandchildren.


Racism Ignored   

   A Mass celebrating Thanksgiving was held at St. Martin de Porres Parish, Milwaukee in the midst of the Ferguson killing controversy.  The Mass was coordinated by three sister parishes of the Capuchins Franciscan Fathers:   St. Martin de Porres- mostly African American, St. Benedict the Moor- mostly white, and St. Francis – mostly Latino.  Last summer In Milwaukee, we also had a young black man shot thirteen times by a white policeman.  Apparently the mentally ill young man was illegally sleeping on a park bench.  A confrontation with the policeman resulted in the young man’s death.   Milwaukee has a history of such killings; however, nothing was said at the Mass about racism and police armed violence.

   I suggested a conference for the three parishes on the movie Selma. The conference took place at the meeting hall at St. Martin de Porres.  Most of those attending were from the white parish of St. Benedict the Moor.  No summary or conclusion was presented, and no further discussions were scheduled.   “Bloody Sunday” liturgy at St. Benedict the Moor passed without a mention from the pulpit.  However, prayers of the faithful did bring the issue of racism to the forefront.   Our culture of racism needs to change- if we say nothing we are complicit in the violence that results.  Where do we go from here?



Mesquite

   It was a reunion of Langes in Mesquite, Nevada – my surprise 80th birthday party.  I helped in the planning.  We had a great time:  golf, beautiful scenery, and good food.  Our kids and grandchildren make us look to the future with hope.





   Eighty year olds are not allowed to vote for the Pope; I did have Bruce Colburn of the SEIU in mind for the job.  


Right to Work – Republican Financial Strategy


   A main goal of the Republican Party is to destroy unions.  Labor unions usually support democrat candidates with people power and advertising.  The efforts are financed by members’ dues.  Right to work laws ban labor contracts that require mandatory dues.  Under ‘right to work,’ a labor union negotiates and advocates for all workers in the unit yet subsists on voluntary dues.  Under this law unions are weakened if not destroyed. 

   Joanne and I went to Madison with a contingent from Voces de la Frontera Worker Center.  I agreed to do civil disobedience.  We sat in the gallery above the assembly floor.  Behind us sat a group recalling Father Jim Groppi – civil rights activist and labor leader.  I couldn’t help but think that he is in some way with us in the present struggle.  Time came for civil disobedience – I stood up and shouted down to the floor.  A state trooper gently escorted me out to the hall.  Joanne followed about ten minutes later.





  It wasn’t over, but it was.  We knew the Republican majority would prevail but we went back a couple of days later for the final vote.  Late in the afternoon we were with about 100 people crowded in the hall in front of the Governor’s office.  Bruce Colburn of the SEIU introduced Sister Maureen McDonald, O.P. who courageously outlined the basic tenets of Catholic Social Teaching that the Republicans oppose with ‘right to work.’  Next a construction worker spoke.  With a similar message but different rhetoric than Sister Maureen, he denounced the bourgeois values of the Republicans and advocated for all workers. 

   The vote went against the workers – but it’s not over.  For several days the Capitol resounded with the labor anthem:


In our hands is placed a power greater than their horded gold Greater than the might of armies magnified a thousandfold. We can bring to birth a new word from the ashes of the old. For the union makes us strong!

                                      SOLIDARITY FOREVER!

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Working Catholic: Manufacturing by Bill Droel


       It is hard to get a handle on globalization because it includes nearly instant communication, instant transfers of money, plus trade policies, including tariffs and NAFTA. It is also the IMF, currency rates, immigration policies, large-scale assembly and distribution of goods, speculative trading of complex financial instruments, outsourcing and an international drug market, plus sweatshops, changes in government regulation, changes in the protection of patents, changes in labor relations and fluxionary natural resource markets. It is the education gap and the income gap as well as a new corporate culture of mergers, bankruptcies, short-term bottom lines and so-called scientific management techniques. Yet Chad Broughton helps us understand it all with a compelling “tale of two cities”: Galesburg, Illinois which is off Interstate 74, about 200 miles west of Chicago and Reynosa, Mexico, just across the border from McAllen, Texas. His Boom, Bust, Exodus (Oxford University Press, 2015) weaves around a handful of workers in each place.

   The Galesburg part of the story centers on Maytag Corporation, founded in 1907 by Frederick Maytag. He was authoritarian, but overtime negotiated with a union. Maytag invested in the infrastructure of his Iowa town, the factory’s location. He rewarded loyal workers with monetary gifts and regularly conversed with those on the shop floor, those in sales and the retail dealers. This family ethos continued with modifications under his son and grandson. In the mid-1980s the appliance company opened a plant in Galesburg. In those years it also, Broughton explains, evolved away from its family credo as displayed in the plant’s lobby: “Our management must maintain a just balance among the interests of customers, employees, shareholders and the public… None can long benefit unless the needs of all are served.” Maytag adopted “a corporate governing structure,” beholden exclusively to stockholders.

   Maytag closed its Galesburg factory in 2004. CEO Ralph Hake serves as the villain. He is hardly responsible for all the downsides to globalization. Suffice it say though that his obsession with quarterly stocks, his lack of critical thinking and his compassion deficit ruin the company. Yet, consistent with his short-term vision, Hake did fine. He sold his home for $641,000, bought a Las Vegas mansion and then wrote a hate book. By the way, he got a $10million parachute plus millions more in stocks. 

   Maytag opens a plant in Reynosa, but there too it finds “a way to slough off…any sense of obligation to the place.” The Reynosa plant is one of many border factories for U.S.-based companies (maquiladoras) that beginning in 1987 set off enormous migration from rural areas of Mexico; a process during which the admittedly poor but family-rich and relatively safe life of villages gives way to danger and uncertainty in the manufacturing towns of both countries.

   Laura Flora is a Mexican drawn to Maytag in the hope of a better life. Yet “from the moment she started at Planta Maytag…her circumstances turned bleak,” Broughton details. She, like others, earns about 78 cents an hour; eventually about $1.35. Her daughters now live in a risky environment. By 2008 Maytag, then owned by Whirlpool, closes its Reynosa plant and Flora loses her home. She is one example, Broughton concludes, of “the low road industrialism of North America: low wages, low skill requirements and low retention.”

   Mike Allen is a pathetic character during this episode. He was ordained an Oblate priest in the mid-1960s. He resigned about ten years later and through contacts with business and agencies he became the “most diehard of capitalists.” He was, Broughton details, “the main actor in the explosive bi-national boom taking place in [the McAllen/Reynosa area].” Sadly, Allen continues to say the poor workers are his parishioners while measuring “his success exclusively in the language of business and economics,” avoiding “responsibility for what was happening in Reynosa.” But Allen kids himself. “During the day, the multinationals held sway over the formal economy. At night, El Cartel dominated the lucrative informal sectors,” particularly the drug market.

    A journalist is not obligated to solve the situations he or she describes. Broughton has no easy formula for reviving the working class in the United States or ending the exploitation in Mexico. He does, however, provide a few suggestive examples, including humane and honest worker centers in Mexico staffed by heroic church leaders and some renewal energy manufacturing in the United States. Broughton’s achievement is a superb profile of real workers in real places with just enough analysis, but not with premeditated moralizing.


Droel is editor of INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Working Catholic: Stories Are True by Bill Droel


    Mike Houlihan is a raconteur of Chicago neighborhoods and a columnist for Irish American News. One column wisely begins: “A good story never really ends. Maybe you’ve heard a few from me before, but like the story of our lives, it continues to unravel in directions we never imagined.” Another column, as found in his collection More Hooliganism Stories (Book Bullet, 2014), advises us that “this story is true, only the names have been changed, as well as the embellishment and complete fabrication of all the actual facts.” Although teasingly phrased, Houlihan’s sentence is worth pondering.

We moderns presume that something is either a phony myth or a verifiable fact. We moderns thus have difficulty appreciating the meaning of life because it really resides somewhere in between fantasy and the scientific. We moderns have trouble with faith because it is supposed to be true but it cannot be proven; so maybe it is false. Or, maybe faith is somehow true if it can be sequestered from tangible daily life in the classroom, the office, the legislature, and the community at large.

Despite the modern dualism of absolutely false vs. demonstrated fact, there is a large and significant realm of life that resides in between fairy tales or legends and the pages of scientific journals. It is a true realm, though not one given to laboratory experiments. It is a realm held in tension and often accessed by way of story. It is the realm of true marital love, of patriotism, of family loyalty, of shared symbols, of long term friendship, and of authentic, engaged, relational, active faith.

The Eucharist is a true story; a love story; a revealed word. The Eucharist, like all good stories, is set in all time. It is existential; although it refers to a historical reality, it is freshly present for those who participate in its story on Sunday morning and during the week as they attend to job, family and community responsibilities.

We moderns don’t fully get into the Eucharist because during the week we are oblivious to the stories and meaning embedded in our routines and our institutions. And consequently on Sunday the Eucharist is not all that compelling, which is why many people make it a low priority—or no priority at all. So maybe the Sunday worship would be more attractive if it could be connected to our everyday work and relationships. Maybe it is possible that, let’s say through a regular, small support group, the hour of Sunday Eucharist could be informed by week-long job decisions, community action, and the juggling act of family life.

The Riddle Song is a 15th century English lullaby. One of its riddles goes like this: “I gave my love a story that has no end… How can there be a story with no ending? …The story of I love you never ends.” And that story, at least to me and again despite the modern dualism of fallacious vs. verifiable, is proof of heaven. And again at least to me, the Eucharist—Sunday through Saturday—is a story of heavenly love.  I've invested so much in the story already that it will not end at the funeral parlor. And, by the way, God has invested so much more.

As the Psalmist says, “Day unto day takes up the story and night unto night makes known the message.” (19:2 Grail Psalms)

Droel is the author of Monday Eucharist (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $9 pre-paid includes postage).



Wednesday, February 18, 2015

LE SAULCHOIR DOMINICANS – THE SOURCE OF LIBERATION THEOLOGY



You know how to read the face of the sky, but you cannot read the signs of the times. Mt. C. 16, V. 3
  
   The Thomas O’Meara and Paul Philibert book, Scanning the Signs of the Times, provides sketches of seven French Dominicans who contributed the theological base for Vatican II.  (see blog posting-1/28/2015)  One important question that a reader might ask:  is the French Saulchoir Dominican Studium also the incubator for Gustavo Gutierrez’ Liberation Theology?  The O’Meara Philibert book, Scanning, notes Gustavo Gutierrez was one of the ‘important theological personalities’ that studied at Le Saulchoir. (Scanning  – p. 22)

   After he finished his studies Gutierrez followed the path of the Saulchoir worker priests to live and work in a slum area of Lima, Peru.

   A look at two themes of Liberation theology shows the influence of Le Saulchoir.  Let us consider the locus of theology and liberation.


The Locus of Theology

   The Scanning article on Le Saulchoir founder M.D. Chenu states,

          Chenu had come to understand that the locus of theology, the            place where theological reflection emerges, is the convergence between the living faith of believers and their confrontation with the changing world. (Scanning p. 38)

What is the ‘locus’ for Liberation Theology?  Gustavo Gutierrez in, A Theology of Liberation, quotes Le Saulchoir professor Yves Congar:


          Seen as a whole, the direction of theological thinking has been     characterized by a transference away from attention to the being per se of supernatural realities, and toward attention to their relationship with man, the world, and with the problems and affirmations of all those who for us represent others.  (A Theology of Liberation,  p. 7)

Gutierrez explains: 

          There is no horizontalism in this approach. It is simply a question of the rediscovery of the indissoluble unity of man and God.     (Ibid.p. 8)  


The conclusion is “…the very life of the Church appears ever more clearly as locus theologicus.”  (ibid. p. 8)  “Theology follows, it is the second step…Theology does not produce pastoral activity; rather it reflects on it. (ibid p. 11) Gustavo Gutierrez, the student of Le Saulchoir explained the role of theology as expressed by fire of faith and revolution in Latin America. 


Liberation

   Le Saulchoir Dominican Luis-Joseph Lebret, who had a dominant influence on the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, was asked by Paul VI to help with a new encyclical on development. (Scanning, p.73) Lebret agreed and the new encyclical was known as Populorum Progressio.  The encyclical signaled an important change in Catholic Social Teaching in that it encompassed global problems of poverty and the responsibility of the rich countries to the poor.  Development in the poor countries was advocated.  Some were dissatisfied with the term development since it seemed to sanction the system that brought about poverty.  All that was needed was some adjustment.  But why should poor countries look to the rich countries as a model?  The rich countries also had their poor; are bourgeois values really the answer?  

   Gustavo Gutierrez replies,

          The encyclical Populorum Progessio is a transitional document. …ultimately it addresses itself to the great ones of this world to   carry out the necessary changes.  … The outright use of the         language of liberation would have given a more decided and   direct thrust in favor of the oppressed, encouraging them to break with their present situation and break with their own destiny.         (A Theology of Liberation, p. 34-35)

   When and where did the notion of liberation enter the discussion.  The Saulchoir Dominicans were Thomists but open to other philosophical viewpoints on freedom.   Gutierrez knew Kant, Hegel and Marx.  But what about liberation; where did this term appear?  Congar’s work, Chistianisme et Liberation,is cited three times in Gutierrez’ book,  A Theology of Liberation.  Is this the source for the theology that dramatically changed Catholic Social Teaching?

    But scripture is the base for the construction of liberation theology.  The prime importance of scripture is from Le Saulchoir.  Scanning … reports, that Le Saulchoir produced scripture scholars Benoit and deVaux, who achieved fame for their work at the Ecole Biblique, which was founded by Marie-Joseph LaGrange, O.P. of the Toulouse province. (p. xvi & p. 22)  Gutierrez built the foundation of Liberation Theology on the book of Exodus.  Gutierrez explains,

          The Exodus experience is paradigmatic.  It remains vital and contemporary due to similar historical experiences which the people of God undergo. (A Theology of Liberation,   p. 159)


Also consider Gutierrez statement in: the post Puebla Conference book, We Drink From Our Own Wells.


          Liberation is an all- embracing process that leaves no dimension of      human life untouched, because when all is said and done it expresses the saving action of God in history. (p. 2) 

 A Theology of Liberation, offers a further explanation to keep in mind.

          The liberation of Israel is a political action.  It is the breaking away from a situation of despoliation and misery and the beginning of the construction of a just and fraternal society. (p. 155)


Gutierrez references Le Saulchoir scholors Congar (Christianisme and Liberation, (p. 181) and deVaux (p.224) to support his position.

  We can easily trace Vatican II and Liberation Theology (also M. Fox’ Creation Theology) back to Le Saulchoir, but Le Saulchoir faculties of theology and philosophy closed in 1974, a sign of the times.  What is the future of theology the struggle for social justice and its understanding through the eyes of faith?  
          




Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Working Catholic: Community Colleges by Bill Droel


President Barack Obama is a champion of community colleges—not only in his recent State of the Union address, but regularly since the first days of his administration.

            Tom Geoghegan, a labor lawyer here in Chicago, is not convinced. College, especially community college, “is not a sure route to the middle class,” he writes in Only One Thing Can Save Us (The New Press, 2014). The context is all wrong. There are hardly enough stateside manufacturing jobs to sustain our service/knowledge economy. The U.S. trade deficit is over the top. Authentic worker participation in decision-making is rare. Plus, students carry too much debt on their credit cards and need education loans. Then, there is the high dropout rate—a topic to be examined in a future Working Catholic column. For these reasons and more, says Geoghegan, a push for more college does not automatically make us better off.

The conversation about young adults has things out of order. In a section of the book provocatively titled “Democracy or Education,” Geoghegan details why a stable working class is a prerequisite to any upward mobility by way of college education. Oh yes, those who graduate from an elite university will likely do fine—barring any major setbacks in their personal life. But those graduates, with some exceptions, already come from successful families. The sluggishness in our economy remains if enrollment numbers are jacked up without first or simultaneously building a culture and economy of steady work at a family wage. “Increasing income equality is a way to get more college” not the other way around, Geoghegan concludes.

To Obama’s promotion of community colleges and specifically to his idea for free tuition, Geoghegan says: “Mister President, let it go.” Tuition or no tuition, most young workers will not get through community college, much less obtain a bachelor’s degree. Thus, what Obama and others really communicate to young adults is that “there’s no hope for you.” Their only alternative proposal for these workers is a minimum wage increase to $10.10. In effect, Geoghegan concludes, society says: “It’s too late for them and they’re toast.”


Droel is the author of Monday Eucharist (National Center for the Laity [2015], PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $9 includes postage). He is a 33-year veteran teacher at a community college and intends to modify Geoghegan’s analysis in a future column.