Friday, February 25, 2011

Is Church's Warning to Unions Only Involving Communist Parties and Politics? (Wisconsin)

Well that seems to be what this poster at VOX NOVA is saying at Wisconsin and Laborem exercens.

In this sense, union activity undoubtedly enters the field of politics, understood as prudent concern for the common good. However, the role of unions is not to ‘play politics’ in the sense that the expression is commonly understood today. Unions do not have the character of political parties struggling for power; they should not be subjected to the decision of political parties or have too close links with them. In fact, in such a situation they easily lose contact with their specific role, which is to secure the just rights of workers within the framework of the common good of the whole of society; instead they become an instrument used for other purposes.
Laborem exercens

Written in 1981, there seems to be considerable misunderstanding over what “commonly understood today” means. Playing politics is a reference to communists within unions, especially those of Eastern Europe. The common politics were to treat the communist party’s interests and the interests of unions as one. The unions derived their legitimacy from association with the communist party. For those still in doubt on the matter, there are 18 references to variations of proletariat above the excerpt in Laborem exercens. This passage wasn’t alluding to something; it was speaking to a concrete reality.

Color me skeptical a tad. First let me say that in many ways what John Paul the II said in 1981 on the face seems odd and in fact impossible at first glance. How can one get the real social /economic change without"playing politics" and at least forming some relationship with parties on occasion.? See page 52 at Google books- The Costa Rican Catholic Church, social justice, and the rights of workers ... By Dana Sawchuk. for that discussion. In fact read for several pages after that for a interesting discussion on related issues.

There are several other difficulties. It is true what comes before in Laborem exercens very well might have very much has a "communist" overtone or warning. However can that also work the other way. All that comes before that seems to be dealing with the classical case of unions and capital. Of union and the business community. What does this have to do with the issue of public sector union and the rights and obligations they have? Is not what all that which became before very much rooted in a concrete reality that perhaps that does not consider the particular dynamic and challenges of public sector unions?

Further it seems from my reading that in various documents since then issued by the Church on a local level (at least in the English speaking world I have read) they never thought this was limited to involvement or public perceived shared interest with the "reds"

Further Pope Benedict hit on this theme recently in his ENCYCLICAL LETTER CARITAS IN VERITATE . and I am not sure he had in mind in the 21st Century either just the communists. He said:

The Church’s traditional teaching makes a valid distinction between the respective roles and functions of trade unions and politics. This distinction allows unions to identify civil society [rather than the state] as the proper setting for their necessary activity of defending and promoting labor, especially on behalf of exploited and unrepresented workers, whose woeful condition is often ignored by the distracted eye of society.

Again I am not sure at this late date Benedict is limiting this to just communists.

Related see Rev. Sirico: Catholics vs. Gov. Walker? via the Action Inst that also goes into this. (BE SURE TO READ THE WHOLE CATHOLIC VOTE LINK ) which is helpful .

I have no easy answers by the way. A lot of literature on this topic I suspect has been done in Europe but ALAS I speak and read only English.

Update- Related - See Some References for Understanding Church Teaching About Unions from a very good blogger that has put some thought into this.

1 comment:

Teresa said...

Thanks for posting all the good information on what the Church says on unions. I had seen Bishop Morlino's statement and honestly thought that he was coming out in favor of the unions but Fr. Sirico corrected my misperception. I don't even think that unions have a right to collectively bargain, especially since people aren't given the choice to join the union or not when their is collective bargaining.