Thanks to Frank Shanskey, Joan Bleidorn, Dominique Noth and Jim Lange for their responses to Labor Day questions for the Faith and Labor blog.
The Milwaukee Labor Day celebration was encouraging. The rhetoric was inspiring, but there was more than rhetoric. It was a new Labor Day Parade. Workers from the Martin Luther King statue on the north side of the city and workers from the south side – Voces de la Frontera office - marched to a central location at Ziedler Union Park for the celebration. This was a visible demonstration of unity between black, brown and white workers. Bob Peterson President of the Milwaukee Teachers Union said,
“As president of the largest union local in the state, I promise that the M.T.E.A. is 100% committed to the rebuilding of a dynamic labor movement that advocates for working people and all sectors of our community.”
It was clear that the new vision of labor doesn’t mean just labor union members, but all of the laboring community including the unemployed, low wage workers and the un-documented. Solidarity took on a broader meaning. At the conclusion of the Labor Day March at Zeidler Park a campaign was announced to promote a living wage for Milwaukee County workers. A living wage has been an important theme for the Social Encyclicals since the 1891 Encyclical, Rerum Novarum:
Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well behaved wage earner.” (Rerum Novarum, 34)
But the focus has changed. In order to continue the flow of oil to support ‘the American way of life,’ and the European for that matter, those that brought us income inequality want us to go it alone and bomb Syria in order to maintain control of the Middle East and its oil. The media blitz sounds like they are chanting – “all we are saying is give war a chance.” Of course the labor community is directly affected. Who will be counted as ‘collateral damage?’ It will be Syrian workers and families. We – our kids - are the ‘boots on the ground.’ There is no guarantee that missiles and bombers will preclude a ground war.
Pope Francis called for special prayer and fasting on Saturday, September 7th. Retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Listecki, who is Archbishop of Milwaukee, had no comment. At St. Benedict the Moor Church we prayed and discussed the issue. Several spoke. A relatively well known theologian brought up the Just War Theory. He noted that theoretically a just war should have reasonable chance of success, but in whatever manner we attack Syria, what would be the outcome? A theologian from Marquette University’s Peace Center said that the Just War Theory was a secular response. Wasn’t it first introduced to Christian theology by North African Father of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo? A long time Catholic Worker representative said there is no such thing as a just war – war is simply wrong. Two speakers wept as they recounted the horrible absurdity of war. All agreed – war was not a legitimate option. But it was especially difficult to go against a President we worked so hard to elect. Eugene Kane of the Milwaukee Journal – Sentinel wrote, “…it’s never a good feeling when the guy you hoped would bring hope and change ends up sounding like all the other guys.” (M.J.S. 9-8-13)
Even after the Russian initiative, the question in Washington was – What is our National interest? Since Vatican II, the blue print for world peace, the ethical criterion for peace has been emphasized in the Social Encyclicals as the ‘universal common good.’ True enough, the language, the philosophy of the Encyclicals is secular, but since the very beginning of reflection on Faith, philosophical reasoning has been used to explain Faith. The dogma of individualism (e.g. go it alone – what’s best for us - American exceptionalism) is not a failure of Faith but of erroneous philosophy sometimes attempting to explain Faith. The violence – the threat of violence - of Pax Americana- cannot measure up to Faith filled people asking questions about justice and standing firm with Faith and faith in the future.