Wisconsin has become Armageddon for labor unions and their foes. The battle will have repercussions throughout the rest of the century and beyond. Although Wisconsin is the focus, battles are also being fought in Ohio and Indiana. Public service workers are the largest section of unionized workers. If collective bargaining rights are taken away from them, it won’t be long and labor will no longer have a voice in the work place or national economic issues.
Let’s call in the Four Horsemen for an apocalyptic moment of inspiration. In 1924, after Rerum Novarum 1891 and before Quadragesimo Anno 1931, sports writer Grantland Rice described the Notre Dame backfield as “the four horsemen” after they defeated Army at Yankee Stadium. Notre Dame went on to an undefeated season with a Rose Bowl win over the ‘infidels,’ (representatives of the dominant culture) of Stanford. (Book of the Apocalypse C.6, vs. 2-7)
Notre Dame’s legendary four horsemen may have been only a remote factor in labor history, but it can’t be denied they were men of courage. They represented a small Roman Catholic College in the northern Indiana woods. Their fans were low paid immigrant workers without status who were discriminated against because of their religion and race. In 1925 fans of the “fighting Irish” had status at least in their own minds. In a battle such as the Armageddon in Wisconsin, courage is a necessity. The courage demanded is the courage to speak out in spite of plutocrats who attempt to control politics and the ideas that shape politics discussed at universities.
The ghosts of the four horsemen could visit current theologians at Notre Dame working a miracle of “conscientizacion” (awareness and courage for action). Without the inspiration of the ghosts, the core of Catholic Social Teaching, the right and necessity of unions, will continue to be sidestepped at Notre Dame, Indiana. They will be no longer the “fighting Irish” but “soupers” (Irish who gave up their religion for that of conquering English in exchange for soup) with full stomachs accepting the money of the plutocrats.
Who are the Notre Dame theologians with the potential to make a difference? Let us consider three: Daniel G. Groody, CSC, Vincent D. Rougeau and Gustavo Gutiérrez, O.P.
Rev. Groody is outstanding on developing a righteous theology of understanding, respect and acceptance for immigrant workers. But what is to be done about their suffering? Immigration reform – OK, but what good would immigration reform do if workers continue to be exploited and alienated from each other? Immigration reform with the guarantee of union protection and a voice for all workers is a must. A vague law without advocates is meaningless.
Groody lists all of the major Roman Catholic documents on social concerns in his book Globalization, Spirituality, and Justice. Not once does he note that a key concept is the right and necessity of workers to organize. The first Encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891 recognized the importance of worker’s organizations. This is a key concept. Q.A. re-affirms this crucial point as do the other following Encyclicals.
Pius XI in Q.A. (“Reconstruction of the Social Order”) on workers’ associations:
“Leo’s learned treatment and vigorous defense of the natural right to form associations began, furthermore, to find ready applications to other associations also and not alone to those of the workers.” Para.37
However, Groody correctly notes that the key concept in Q.A. is ‘Subsidiarity.’ A political structure that gives a voice to only one entity, e.g. the king or the plutocrats, is unjust. Other entities in society have a right to a voice. Qaddafi claims he is the “vox populi” – the voice of the people. Our very own Scotty Walker in Wisconsin makes the same claim.
“Subsidiarity” was a revolutionary concept in 1931 when free market liberals made the rules. Labor was considered a commodity to be bought and sold at will. We are in the same situation today. Pius XI in 1931 called for a “Reconstruction of the Social Order.” To a limited extent this was achieved, but destruction of these achievements is now the goal of free market neo-liberalism.
Pius XI in Q.A. (“Reconstruction of the Social Order”) on “Subsidiarity”:
“…it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.” Para.79
Groody’s comment: “Subsidiarity, in this sense, becomes a corrective against the concentration of power and resources in the hands of a privileged elite. It helps put limits on government and keeps it from assuming totalitarian control over smaller constituencies, such as individuals, families, and local organizations, in way that would render them powerless.” (Globalization, Spirituality, and Justice, p. 115) Rev. Groody has potential; he is worth a visit from the ghosts.
Vincent Rougeau is a professor of law at Notre Dame. He is not a professional theologian but has written a very important book on Catholic Social Teaching. (Christians in the American Empire, Oxford University Press 2008) Rougeau does an indispensible service by pointing out how an individualistic view of law distorts U.S. court decisions on “affirmative action” cases. If the Catholic Social Teaching principles Subsidiarity and Solidarity (best articulated by Pope John Paul II) would be used in these decisions, justice would be better served with reference to the common good. Rougeau’s over all view is “cosmopolitan.” He challenges the “manifest destiny” view still present in the American collective sub-conscious. (my terms not his) However, Rougeau does not recognize the importance of the labor movement in his book. A visit from the ghosts would be helpful.
Gustavo Gutiérrez, O.P. is a visiting professor of theology at Notre Dame. The Peruvian priest has gained great renown as the father of “liberation theology.” Gutiérrez states that liberation theology “is a new way to do theology.” “Theology as a critical reflection on historical praxis is a liberating theology, a theology of the liberating transformation of the history of humankind and also that part of humankind –gathered into ecclesia – which openly confesses Christ.” (A Theology of Liberacion, p. 12, Orbis Books,1988.) The given material for liberation theology is Sacred Scripture and experience. It is a process of “conscientizacion” - awareness with courage to act for justice. Gutierrez’ liberation theology demands radical social change and points out the futility of depending on the development of a fundamentally flawed economic structure.
Liberation theology requires openness to the world and history, and therefore openness to the labor movement. The U.S. labor movement led the fight against privatization and unfair trade agreements (read neo-liberalism), but the most significant victory was in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where in the year 2000 labor leader Oscar Olivera in cooperation with other groups stopped the takeover of water rights by U.S. based Bechtel Corporation. (COCHABAMBA! Oscar Olivera with Tom Lewis. Also see the recent film, “Even the Rain”)
The battle in Wisconsin is class warfare waged not only by public service workers but also by their migrant worker allies. In Milwaukee, immigrant worker center Voces de la Frontera has responded to the Madison situation with busloads of protesting workers. Madison has been an inspirational time for worker solidarity.
Gutiérrez quotes Quadragesimo Anno: “In fact, human society now, because it is founded on classes with divergent aims and hence opposed to one another and therefore inclined to enmity and strife, continues to be in violent condition and is unstable and uncertain.” Para. 82
The four horsemen of the twenties knew what the statue at the top of the “Noder Dame” golden dome stood for. (Notre Dame – Nuestra Senora – Our Lady) A reminder by the ghosts to Gustavo Gutiérrez, and he would surely recognize the symbol of justice for all the Americas.
Let us quote from the book of the Apocalypse Ch.12, v. 1-2:
“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.”
All three of these N.D. professors have incorporated in their work and added to a long tradition of Catholic social thought. They have progressed beyond the theology of the first two Encyclicals on Catholic Social teaching. Our analysis attempts to focus only on Q.A. and R.N. and show that minimizing or flat out forgetting the basic and key concept of Catholic Social Teaching, the right of workers to form associations weakens the structure of the tradition and the ability to enter into the battle of Armageddon.
These three prominent professors need to speak out on the most important economic, political and moral issue of our time. It is frightening, but the four horsemen, the ghosts, are on the way.