In the previous blog (July 1, 2012) the John XXIII document MATER ET MAGISTRA was quoted stating that workers have a natural right to form a union. This right is based in Natural Law. (MATER ET MAGISTRA, #22) In the U.S. the 1935 Wagner Act, legislation achieved politically- called positive law to distinguish it from natural law, established the civil right for workers to form a union to bargain collectively. President Franklin Roosevelt commented, “BY ASSURING THE EMPLOYEES THE RIGHT OF COLLECTIVE BARGAINING IT FOSTERS THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT ON A SOUND AND EQUITABLE BASIS.” (H.W. Brands, TRATOR TO HIS CLASS, Doubleday, 2008, p. 462.). One wonders if the law was influenced by RERUM NOVARUM (1891) and QUADRAGESIMO ANNO (1931)?
Palermo Pizza management contends that they are good employers, but workers on strike disagree and document Palermo abuses. For the sake of argument and for promoting an understanding of Catholic Social Teaching, let us posit that Palermo is a good employer and treats their workers no better or worse than other non union companies in the U.S. Dare we compare their situation with what it might be in Mexico? Our hypothetical comparison makes Palermo look relatively good.
But even in this hypothetical stretch of the imagination to legitimize Palermo management, there is something missing, i.e., workers having a collective voice in the management of the company for the achievement of justice for workers and the common good. The Palermo dispute cannot be resolved unless there is a union with legal status to negotiate.
In one of his earliest writings, PHILOSOPHIC AND ECONOMIC MANUSCRIPTS – 1844, Karl Marx notes that in the Capitalist system the worker is alienated (entfremdung). For example, the worker has no say concerning the product produced, working conditions, and is a commodity competing with other workers for wages. The workers are alienated from themselves in the sense that in their work they are not able to use their specific human characteristic, the ability to make creative decisions. The alienated worker is an enemy of his fellow human being, i.e. other workers competing for his job. (N. Lobkowicz, THEORY AND PRACTICE: HISTORY OF A CONCEPT FROM ARISTOTLE TO MARX, Notre Dame Press, 1967, pp. 293-373.)
Advocates of Catholic Social Teaching, the Distributists, agreed. Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker stated in a 1936 editorial:
“OUR STAND ON STRIKES” LET US BE HONEST, LET US SAY THAT FUNDAMENTALY, THE STAND WE ARE TAKING IS NOT ON THE GROUND OF WAGES HOURS AND CONDITIONS OF LABOR, BUT ON THE FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH THAT MEN SHOULD NOT BE TREATED AS CHATTELS, BUT AS HUMAN BEINGS, AS ‘TEMPLES OF THE HOLY GHOST.’ WHEN CHRIST TOOK ON OUR HUMAN NATURE, WHEN HE BECAME MAN, HE DIGNIFIED AND ENOBLED HUMAN NATURE. HE SAID, ‘THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS WITHIN YOU.’ WHEN MEN ARE STRIKING THEY ARE FOLLOWING AN IMPULSE, OFTEN BLIND, OFTEN UNINFORMED, BUT A GOOD IMPULSE – ONE COULD SAY AN INSPIRATION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. THEY ARE TRYING TO UPHOLD THEIR RIGHT TO BE TREATED, NOT AS SLAVES, BUT AS MEN. THEY ARE FIGHTING FOR A SHARE IN THE MANAGEMENT, FOR THEIR RIGHT TO BE CONSIDERED PARTNERS IN THE ENTERPRISE IN WHICH THEY ARE ENGAGED. THEY ARE FIGHTING AGAINST THE IDEA OF LABOR AS A COMMODITY TO BE BOUGHT AND SOLD.” (Dorothy Day, ON PILGRIMAGE, Introduction Mark and Louise Zwick, Erdmans, 1999, pp. 43-44.)
Responsibility of Workers and the Community
PACEM IN TERRIS states that workers not only have the right to a union but also the duty to organize. The community also has the duty to facilitate workers organizing and not to impede such organizing. John XXIII wrote:
FOR, IF A MAN BECOMES CONSCIOUS OF HIS RIGHTS, HE MUST BECOME EQUALY AWARE OF HIS DUTIES. THUS, HE WHO POSSESSES CERTAIN RIGHTS HAS LIKEWISE THE DUTY TO CLAIM THOSE RIGHTS AS MARKS OF HIS DIGNITY, WHILE ALL OTHERS HAVE THE OBLIGATION TO ACKNOWLEDGE THOSE RIGHTS AND RESPECT THEM. (PACEM IN TERRIS, #44)
Also: “EVEN IN PRESENT DAY CIRCUMSTANCES, HOWEVER, THE STRIKE CAN STILL BE NECESSARY, THOUGH ULTIMATE, MEANS FOR THE DEFENSE OF WORKER’S OWN RIGHTS AND THE FULFILLMENT OF THEIR JUST DEMANDS.” (Vatican II Documents, Gaudium et Spes, #65, 1965)
Responsibility of Employers
What about the Palermos? In 1961 Pope John wrote in MATER ET MAGISTRA:
“LET THEM (Laymen) PUT SINCERE TRUST IN HER (The Church) WISDOM; LET THEM ACCEPT HER ADMONITIONS AS SONS. LET THEM REFLECT THAT, WHEN IN CONDUCT OF THEIR LIFE THEY DO NOT CAREFULLY OBSERVE PRINCIPLES AND NORMS LAID DOWN BY THE CHURCH IN SOCIAL MATTERS, AND WHICH WE OURSELVES REAFIRM, THEN THEY ARE NEGLIGENT IN THEIR DUTY AND OFTEN INJURE THE RIGHTS OF OTHERS.” (MATER ET MAGISTRA, #241)
This 1963 document expressing such duties in reference to support of labor unions is not recognized in U.S. positive or written law. Disputes are settled by the adversarial method in court. Would an appeal based on reason – the natural law have the potential to be more successful?
The Responsibility of the Clergy
What about the Milwaukee clergy and the Palermo strike? The Vatican II Document PRIESTS states: “BUT THEY (priests) CANNOT BE OF SERVICE TO MEN IF THEY REMAIN STRANGERS TO THE LIFE AND CONDITION OF MEN.” (PRIESTS, C.I, #3) And: ALTHOUGH HE HAS OBLIGATIONS TOWARD ALL MEN, A PRIEST HAS THE POOR AND LOWLY ENTRUSTED TO HIM IN A SPECIAL WAY.” (PRIESTS, C.II, #4)
The Responsibility of the Bishop
What about Archbishop Listecki and the Palermo dispute? The
Vatican II DECREE ON THE BISHOP’S PASTORAL OFFICE IN THE CHURCH mandates, “FINALLY, THEY (The Bishops) SHOULD SET FORTH THE WAYS BY WHICH ARE TO BE SOLVED THE JUST DISTRIBUTION OF MATERIAL GOODS, PEACE AND WAR, AND BROTHERLY RELATIONS AMONG ALL PEOPLES.”… “WITH A SPECIAL CONCERN THEY (The Bishops) SHOULD ATTEND UPON THE POOR AND LOWER CLASSES TO WHOM THE LORD SENT THEM TO PREACH THE GOSPEL.” (C. II, #13)
THE GRAVITY OF THE MATTER
Those on strike at Palermo are among the poorest most vulnerable and exploited of workers. If the community and the labor law structure are unable to facilitate their modest quest for a fundamental human right, that of forming a union, how can we expect a just and prosperous economy?
John Paul II taught in his Encyclical, LABOREM EXERCENS, that labor unions: … “ARE AN INDISPENSABLE ELEMENT OF SOCIAL LIFE, ESPECIALLY IN MODERN INDUSTRIALIZED SOCIETIES.” “THEY ARE INDEED A MOUTH PIECE FOR THE STRUGGLE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE.” (#20)
Former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, wrote: “The fundamental problem isn’t the decline of American manufacturing, and reviving manufacturing won’t solve it. The problem is the declining power of American workers to share in the gains of the American economy. Stronger unions are needed – in both manufacturing and in services.” (Robert Reich, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, “Unions not manufacturing, key to economic revival.” 2-26-12)
We are all responsible to help to the workers in this struggle. Lutheran pastors have been especially active in supporting the workers. Catholic Social Teaching would indicate that support from the Milwaukee Catholic clergy and Archbishop should be expected. There is a boycott of Palermo Pizza; which side are you on?
Official Church documents for Catholic Social Teaching are listed on the October 18, 2011 posting.