Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Working Catholic: Who Is Next? by Bill Droel

Image result for nazi symbol

There has always been a strain of anti-Catholicism in our country. For example, Catholics were attacked (verbally, quasi-legally and even violently) through the mid-1800s by public leaders and small groups. The U.S., it was said, is for natives, not for papist immigrants. During the 1850s an entire political party, The Know Nothings, ran on this anti-Catholic platform; supported by vile religious slurs in newspapers, scandalous cartoons and discrimination signs in places of employment and housing. In the 1920s another nationwide group formed to oppose Catholicism. It had strong chapters in the Midwest (especially in Indiana) and the West. Its name was Ku Klux Klan. In the 1950s the violence-prone KKK became associated with anti-black sentiment in the South.

Ku Klux Klan symbol
Catholics gained acceptance during World War II and thereafter through their contributions to our country’s struggle against Nazi ideology (a movement that wanted a so-called pure race). 

Catholics were respected after the War because of their stance against communist ideology (another movement with exclusionary tendencies). The 1960 election of President John Kennedy (1917-1963) symbolized acceptance for Catholics. Although U.S. Catholics now surpass other Christian denominations in education attainment and average income, it is a mistake to think our country is free from Catholic-haters.

Given our history in this beautiful country, Catholic citizens should be on the front lines in protest against anyone who says an entire religious group is unwelcome on our shores.

A nation by definition has a responsibility to secure its borders. At the same time our nation is founded on the premise that a fresh start begins here. Further, the U.S. is proud of its history as a “beacon on a hill” and proud of its national poem: “…from her beacon hand glows world-wide welcome.” The U.S. regularly tells other nations to practice pluralism. The U.S. on occasion even scolds intolerant nations. And, as during World War II, the U.S. is sometimes willing to take up arms against a nation that persecutes an entire group of people because of their religion or ethnicity.

It is proper and necessary for the U.S. to turn away some foreign individuals from our harbors, or our airports, or our Canadian and Mexican borders. An individual should normally not enjoy our land of liberty if they do not qualify, particularly if they pose a threat to national security. To turn away an entire ethnic or religious group, however, violates the very freedom our country espouses.

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  Donald Trump, the showman from Queens, New York, belongs to a comparatively small Christian denomination. Its members—like Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Baptists and others—should be on guard against nativist exclusionary rhetoric. For once notions of a pure group or impure group gain credence, any group could be next. It was once Jews, Catholics before that, Muslims now. The religious group to which Trump belongs, should his prejudice spread further, might soon hear: “You’re fired. Get outta here.”

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

An Alienated Culture by Dr. Francisco Enriquez

Que es Hispanico?  What is Hispanic?
(Haggerty Museum, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI)

One of the paintings under the sub-title, 'Religion' is The Holy Family During the Journey into Egypt by Miguel Cabrera, 1715-1760’s.

It depicts a very European Mary, Joseph and Jesus fleeing from Herod as it was recommended by the angel who warned Joseph (Matthew 2:13).  Mary, who is wearing a fancy brown hat and beautiful blue tunic is holding baby Jesus in a very relaxed way. She is riding on a donkey that has stopped to drink water from a creek.  Joseph is holding Jesus’s hand who is holding a round fruit in his hand.

They are surrounded by chubby little blond angels and by a more mature angel who is walking with them.  There are no other families with them, no other refugees.  The scene appears to be taking place in a beautiful location, in the early evening hours and they are clearly facing the sunset which explains the details of their faces and the angel’s.

Mr.  Cabrera does not appear to be trying to convey a sense of urgency or alertness, which is what you would expect from a family who is running away from a governor who is trying to destroy your child. Neither does he appear to have created this painting with the average Mexican in mind.  He was clearly painting for the Spaniards or those who pretended to be of Spanish ancestry.  And the message was “we are not concerned, we are not even rushing”; the story was supposed to represent an “escape from danger” but in the here and now, we own this country [Mexico], its people and its resources and therefore we take our time and we enjoy it whenever we so desire, even if we are supposed to be in danger.

This is a contrasting story when compared to the real dangers that people from Mexico and Latin America have been escaping from.  Just to name a few ones:  the North America Free Trade Agreements that inundated the Mexican markets with government subsided corn, leaving the small Mexican farmers no chance of competition.  The final consumers of illegal drugs in the US who provide the incentive for the cruel and heartless drug cartels to terrorize, kidnap, rape and assassinate civilians in Mexico, Central and South America.  The firearms industry that has sold the weapons used by the drug dealers and that are used daily to intimidate and kill people who get in their way. The local governments that are in bed with the cartels and the firearm industry, etc.

When we think of families running for their lives, and for the lives of their children, the images of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Libya  are more likely to come to our mind.  According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 500,000 migrants have fled to Greece and Turkey, many of them in flimsy boats or rafts,  a “truly biblical migration” that has not faced a humane response with the exception of Germany.  Many European countries such as Hungary, Austria and Britain have closed their doors to immigrants and now France and the US have hardened to the appeals of refugees.

This situation is not new; in May 1939, the United States, Cuba and other countries closed their doors to 930 Jewish refugees from Europe on the St. Luis Ship from Hamburg.  They were returned to Antwerp, Belgium, where many subsequently died in the Jewish Holocaust.

When we think of refugees, the image of a 3 year old Syrian boy, Aylan, who washed up on beach in Turkey would be more appropriate at representing the struggle of refugees.  I doubt that Mr. Cabrera, even if he lived in this day and age would have chosen that one for his painting.

Dr. Francisco Enriquez is a pediatrician in the inner city of Milwaukee. 

Attributed to Miguel Cabrera, Mexican, 1695-1768
The Holy Family During the Journey into Egypt, 1715-1760s
Oil on copper, 34 1/4 x 28 in.  72.20
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Alfred Bader
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

An Alienated Worker by Gabriela Dieguez

“Silver Mine Worker” is a lithograph from Francisco Mora part of the collection “What is Hispanic?” at the Haggerty museum.  The picture shows a man holding a light on his left hand and  slouching down in order not to hit his head with the tunnel’s ceiling. He is entering the mine and far away you can see the entrance to the tunnel illuminated by the light outdoors.The worker’s face shows sorrow and resignation.
This picture takes me back to my last trip to Mexico.  During that trip we visited an old mine called “Dos Estrellas” in Tlalpujahua, Michoacan. Just as you can observe in the lithograph workers with little clothing and if lucky some sandals would enter the mine every day to extract gold and silver. “Dos estrellas” was one of the largest mines in Mexico in the early 20th century.  Its owners became very rich and most of the people of the surrounding area worked at the mine under precarious conditions.  The guide at the mine explained to us that many workers got sick during the years of hard work. In 1937 as the ore was dwindling, a mudslide carrying debris from the mine buried most of the town which brought mining in the area to an end.
Mining made possible the industrial revolution in the “first world” and this lithograph is a call to meditate about the cost for other countries “the third world”.  At “Dos Estrellas” very few people from the community became rich from what the mine produced.  Most were debt bondage workers that had to pay back for the axe, the helmet, the lantern and the oil for the lantern.  If they got sick the mine had its own hospital and the workers then were in debt again to cover medical expenses. Furthermore workers were paid with currency that only could be used at the mine store. Mining is now modern and efficient yet very few people in the local communities benefit from what is extracted. Currently, mining in third world countries likeGuatemala and El Salvador is carried out by transnational companies that leave only 1% of the royalties to the country.  
Mining not only affected workers lives but also the environment and the people in the surrounding areas and still does.  Mining requires large amounts of water for the ore to be separated from other minerals which causes pollution of the water ways.  Toxic chemicals are used in the process that later on are also washed into the rivers destroying flora and fauna.  Rivers then contaminate the soil where people cultivate their food. Here in the first world we benefit from the natural resources of other countries, from the labor of their workers and the destruction of their land.
May the light of the mining worker on the litograph shine on us to help us see the injustice of the unfair working conditions in which people work extracting the materials that are used to make the batteries in our electronics devices. May we be able to see the beauty of the small things around us and be inspired to take action and create community against injustice.

Francisco Mora
Mexican, 1922-2002
Silver Mine Worker (Obrero de una mina de plata, from the portfolio 
Mexican People (Gente Mexicana), 1946
171/2 x 51/4
2008. 11.6
Gift of anonymous donor
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University

Gabriela Dieguez and her family escaped from Guatemala during the 
Reagan Administration wars in Central America. She is a social worker at the 16th Street Health Clinic in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
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Wednesday, December 9, 2015


I remember as a factory worker at Briggs & Stratton in Milwaukee being well aware of the concept and the reality of being an alienated worker.

   Karl Marx originated the notion of alienation in reference to workers. The term ‘alienated’ described the situation of the worker in the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. (1)  The exploited position of workers was mitigated somewhat in the 20th century by the emergence of labor unions, but the term was used by theologian Gregory Baum in explaining the situation of workers as noted by Pope St. John Paul II in his 1981 Encyclical, Laborem Exercens. (2) 

   A worker’s identity is connected to his/her activity as an agent of production.  Economically forced activity that is harmful to the worker is personal activity that negates a worker’s own identity.  For example, work that harms the environment, work that is undervalued and is in a life struggle competition with other workers and work that denies a creative voice, are all inhuman.  In so far as it is spiritually destructive, work is an evil and causes resentment, anger, and crime.

   St. John Paul II in Laborem Exercens says that “labor is prior to capital.” (#12)  Labor is prior to capital in that labor produces capital and is the purpose of capital.  Although Republican presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln made the same assertion in a speech in Milwaukee in 1859, you never hear such a statement in current political rhetoric.   Also the controversial claim made by the sainted Pope in Laborem Exercens that “labor unions are indispensable” (#20) gains little liberal or conservative political traction.

   Since the 1990’s income inequality has constantly increased yet power for unions is ignored by a political structure dominated by capital interests.    In so far as labor is separate from capital it follows that workers would be alienated. Laborem Exercens says that private property is a basic right but, “The right to private property is subordinated to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone.” (#14)  Is there any possibility for industrial peace or peace in general unless it is recognized the all are owners of capital – owners with a voice and a right to the abundance produced?  

    The undocumented workers in the U.S.A. are a clear example of alienated workers.  They have no voice.  If the try to form a union or join a union the employer can retaliate by reporting them to the I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Service) I.C.E. designates the undocumented as “aliens” and when in process of proceedings for deportation provides an alien number.

   The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of the Holy Family migrating to Egypt in order to avoid King Herod’s massacre of the Innocents. (Mt. 2)  Did Jesus, Mary, and Joseph have alien numbers in Egypt?  Perhaps Joseph worked for a brick manufacturer who liked the cheap labor and protected him from the ‘Egyptian Immigration Service.’

(1)  Lobkowicz, Nicholas,  Theory and Practice, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame – London 1967, p. 294
(2)  Baum, Gregory, The Priority of Labor, Paulist Press, New York, 1982, p. 48

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Kohler ‘Bathtub Barons’ vs. the Working Community

   Workers at the Kohler Plant near Sheboygan, Wisconsin have again been forced to go on strike.  Joanne and I drove up to Sheboygan just south of Green Bay on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to support the strikers with a donation and a turn on the picket line.  We also visited the Emil Mazey Union Hall which contains photos and the story of past Union battles with the Kohler ‘Bathtub Barons.’   As in the past, the struggle will have national implications.  Can workers establish their right to a voice in the workplace?  Currently Labor faces a well organized political enemy and the working community must coalesce in solidarity for justice and the common good.  The plant is in a rural area, and we saw a wild turkey near the highway.  It reminded us that it was Thanksgiving time and the debt of gratitude we owe to Kohler workers, past and present.

Strike 1897:  Kohler vs. Workers’ Voice

   Austrian immigrant John Michael Kohler founded the bathroom and kitchen fixture manufacturing plant in 1873. The founder fought worker representation from the beginning.  In March of 1897 workers who belonged to the Molders’ Union walked off the job to protest a 50-percent cut in wages. Founder Kohler stated that he would close the plant if the workers did not accept the wage cut; it was explained that the wage cut was needed to meet the competition. The strike failed – and so the story begins.

Strike 1934 – 1941: Workers vs. Fascism

   The next attempt to establish the worker’s right to a voice was in 1934.  Fascism was fomenting in Europe, especially in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Austria and Germany.  Kohler countered the strike for labor recognition with violence resulting in the death of two workers and many injured.  The company hired armed unemployed men who were dressed in black shirts – a European symbol of fascism to fight the strikers. Kohler tried the tactic of splitting the workers by establishing a company union to rival an independent union of workers.  The strike was settled in 1941 without the company recognizing an independent union.  The immediate needs of industrial production for World War II demanded a settlement.

Strike 1954 -1960: The McCarthy Era, Workers are Communists

   In 1954 Kohler workers went on strike again to establish their right for an independent voice in the work-place.  The Kohler again countered by forming a company union.

   The Kohlers were political idealists with reference to the Middle-Ages and feudal lords.  They felt that they were responsible to care for workers as they saw fit. Two Kohlers with big bank rolls became governors of Wisconsin. Herbert V. Kohler Sr., company head during part of the ’34-’41 and ’54-’60 strikes, was a spokesman for the extreme right wing Manion Forum. The Forum’s stated purpose, according to a Wall Street Journal article, March 17, 1958, is to wage war by television, radio and printed page against Socialist ‘pubic power,’ unrestrained Labor ‘bossism,’ federal aid to education and other progressive policies.

   An example of Kohler paternalism is the Kohler town established for workers and the American Club – a hostel as well as a place for a Kohler version of 'americanizing’ immigrant workers.  Such paternalism proved to be un-American, such as the infamous company town of Pullman near Chicago which culminated in a violent strike in 1894.  

        The climate for Union activity after World War II was toxic.  In 1947 the Taft Hartley act was passed by the U.S. Congress which restricted picketing.   Also in ’47 workers at Allis Chalmers in Milwaukee lost in a very bitter strike because some leaders were accused of being communists. The Landrum-Griffin Act passed by Congress in 1949 legitimized anti union ‘right to work’ laws passed by states. 

    Some leaders of the faith community, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant, supported the striking workers at Kohler.  Monsignor James Finucan summarized the main issue in a letter to Herbert Kohler Sr.

Men have a right which comes from God, Who created them to form associations and bargain collectively.1

The strike was settled in 1960 and in 1965 the union was awarded $4.5 million in penalties by the N.L.R.B. (National Labor Relations Board)2

Strike 2015:   A Sneak Attack by the Walker Administration

    The present strike is in an atmosphere of unprecedented anti- democracy/anti-union politics.  Governor Scott Walker led the passage of Act 10 which took away bargaining rights from public employees. He also signed ‘Right to Work’ legislation which promotes a split in union strength. 

   Workers at Kohler are on strike because of the two tier wage system which alienates worker from worker – young from old, and makes union solidarity questionable.  Also contended are insurance benefits; the company wants cuts from the previous contract.  Kohler makes these demands despite large profits over the five years of the current contract.

   Without shame, the Kohler ‘Bathtub Barons’ are trying to cleanse their name by becoming ‘Golf Course Moguls.’  Herb Kohler Junior’s Whistling Straights is host to national golf tournaments. Of course a round of golf for a worker is far too expensive, even with a worker discount.

  Again, Kohler workers are fighting for a voice in the workplace.

UAW Local 833 is seeking nonperishable donations such as: cereal, canned goods, and boxed dinners.  There is a special need for diapers, formula, baby wipes.  The Tier B people are earning such a low wage that they live day to day.  Any personal donations to directly support these people may be sent to UAW Local 833, Worker’s Relief & Strike Fund, 5425 Superior Avenue, Sheboygan, WI 53083 .

1.     Uphoff, Walter H. Kohler on Strike Thirty Years of Conflict, Beacon Press, Boston,      1966, p. 388.
2.    Ibid. p. 421.

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