Sunday, July 1, 2012


   This is the title of a song written and sung by Harlan County, Kentucky coal miners during a strike in the ‘30s.  “Which side are you on?  They say in Harlan County – There are no neutrals there – you are either a union man or a thug for owner J.H. Blair.”  Thomas Geoghegan, Which Side Are You On? Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York, p. 22.

   The Palermo Pizza workers are on strike in Milwaukee.  Most are Latinos and the picket line is only a little further than an Aramis Ramirez “bombaso,” home run from Miller Park.  Workers lost their lives at Miller Park during the construction. You can see a monument to them outside of the stadium.  They were all members of Local 8 of the Iron Workers. 

   The Palermo strike issue is simple for those who have allied themselves with the exploited immigrant workers.  It is also simple since Catholic Social Teaching unequivocally supports their quest.   The workers have a natural right to a union.

  But it is also complicated.  There is the immigration issue – are the workers documented?  Did the company use the documentation issue to stop union organizing? 
   A workers’ vote was scheduled for June 6th, but it was delayed by a U.F.C.W. (United Food and Commercial Workers) intervention.  The U.F.C.W. wants the Palermo workers to connect with them rather than the Steel Workers.  Voces de la Frontera and the workers favored the Steel Workers. 

   Do the strikers get to vote – how about those fired – what about the replacement workers?  The Milwaukee NLRB will have to sort this out.

   How will the workers and their families hold out financially ‘til the end of July when the vote is now scheduled? The courage of the Latino workers to stand up to the company in the current immigration climate is unprecedented. (See Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6-25-12, and  

   The Palermos owners are presumably Italian Roman Catholic.  Voces de la Frontera’s New Sanctuary Movement was asked to get a Roman Catholic priest involved. A collar, and or a habit, might be a catalyst for moral responsibility.  Several were contacted without success.  The Capuchin Friars are strong supporters of the Voces New Sanctuary program.  A Capuchin priest, a member of the New Sanctuary Steering Committee, was asked if he would visit with the Palermos.  He said there was problem:  Palermo donates to the Capuchin sponsored St. Benedict the Moor Community Meal.  His Provincial in Detroit agreed that it would be best to find another way.  Our Capuchin colleague on the “Comite Timon” of the New Sanctuary Movement questioned, why a priest – what about the nuns?”  He gave the committee the phone number of the “Nuns on the Bus Tour.”  The nuns were traveling around the country protesting Paul Ryan’s budget that was passed by the Republican House.  The nuns say the Ryan Budget does not conform to Catholic Social teaching. 

   No problem.  The bus stopped at the St. Benedict the Moor Community Meal, and the next day the nuns visited with the Palermo strikers and the management.  Sister Simone Campbell, a lawyer, saw a ray of hope and encouraged further dialogue and prayer.    

   The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6-25-12 article on the strike by Georgia Pabst gave a good summary of the situation.  The headline was:  “Workers seek union at Palermo.”  The last paragraph states that a Palermo spokesman said that the decision to form a union will be decided by the employees, “whatever the end result, we will respect it.” 

Let’s look at Catholic Social Teaching and pose a few more questions.

     Vatican II began in October of 1962 and closed on December 8, 1965.  The Council opened the window to working with other Christians, Muslim, Jews and atheists on social justice issues. (e.g. Ecumenism, #2. Gaudium et Spes, #21. Nostra Aetate, #2.)  The shift from corporate economics to a more democratic model was presaged by the recognition of other opinions as valid. (Lumen Gentium, #4, Dignitatis Humanae)  John XXIII issued two important encyclicals, Mater et Magistra – 1961 and Pacem in Terris 1963, on social justice before the Council concluded in 1965.  Let us look at these encyclicals in reference to the Palermo strike. Of course we must remember, the Vatican II documents have been forgotten or never read by the “official church”- the noble hierarchy and their acolytes.  Promotion of Catholic Social Teaching is left to: “Nuns on a Bus: Nuns Drive for Faith, Family and Fairness.”
   In Mater et Magistra John XXIII noted that in the first social encyclical, Rerum Novarum, - 1891“Leo XIII did not hesitate to proclaim and defend the sacred rights of workers.” (M.M. #16)  John XXIII pointed out that in Quadragesimo Anno – 1931, Pius XI reaffirmed workers’ right to organize.  “And workers themselves have the right freely and on their own initiative within the above-mentioned associations, without hindrance as their needs dictate.” (M.M. #22)  This statement of John XXIII in Mater et Magistra anticipates the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes which says, “Among the basic rights of the human person must be counted the right of freely founding labor unions.”  Another such right is that of taking part freely in the activities of these unions without risk of reprisal.” This was a clear reprimand of the fascist Franco in Spain that was supported for many years by the Vatican.  (G.S. #68. ft. note 220 p.277, The Documents of Vatican II, Walter Abbot, SJ., Editor, Guild Press, New York, 1966.)  

   Again in reference to the Palermo strike, consider John XXIII on immigration.
   Every human being must also have the right to freedom of movement
   and of residence within the confines of his own country, and when the
   there are just reasons for it, the right to emigrate to other countries
   and take up residence there.  The fact that one is a citizen of a
   particular state does not detract in any way from his membership
   in the human family, nor from his citizenship in the world community
   and his common tie with all men. (Pacem in Terris, #25.)


   John XXIII not only reaffirmed workers natural right to form a union but he also outlined the corresponding duties related to this right.  By establishing natural rights and duties he set a guide for civil labor law.

   Workers have the duty to claim their right to a union and all others have the duty to respect this right.  Pacem in Terris states:
    …“it is also clear that in human society to one man’s natural right    there corresponds a duty in other persons:  the duty, namely, of    acknowledging and respecting the right in question.  For every fundamental human right draws its indestructible moral force from the natural law, which granting it, imposes a corresponding obligation.” (Pacem in Terris, #30)     “Thus he who possesses certain rights has likewise the duty to claim these rights as marks of his dignity, while all others have the obligation to acknowledge those rights and respect them.” (P.T. #44)

   But what about the Palermo situation?  A Palermo management spokesperson said, “The decision to form a union will be decided by the employees and ‘whatever the result we will respect it.’”  (M.J.S. 6-25-12)  Really!  Palermo has hired union busting law firm Jackson Lewis.  Their advertising boasts, “Jackson Lewis has been retained to offer legal assistance to many employers who have succeeded in winning NLRB elections or in averting union elections altogether.”

  Is there any hope for the workers?  A boycott of Palermo Pizza has been declared.  Which side are you on?

NOTE: Official church documents for Catholic Social Teaching are listed on the October 18th, 2011 blog.


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