Spirituality for Today – September 2012 – Volume 17, Issue 2

Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!

By Rev. Raymond Petrucci

On September 8, 1852, the streets of New York City hosted the initial celebration of Labor Day. On this, the 160th Anniversary of Labor Day, the importance of jobs and of meaningful work at that ring loudly still. One segment of our American workforce is contained in unionism. The strength and breadth of the Middle Class and the buying power of the economy has benefited from many of the policies of organized labor. As with all human institutions, however, unions are liable to corruption, excess, and destructive policies. Interestingly, there is something spiritual at its core.

A photo a factory workers

"The Church of Labor", an article by Lew Daly in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, substantiates the role of the Church in organized labor. Nearly three-quarters of European workers have the right of collective bargaining, in the United States less than fifteen percent do. According to Daly, the discrepancy is due largely on the relationship of religion and government. "In Europe, politics evolved hand in hand with forms of Christianity – especially Catholicism – that were sensitive to 'labor's dignity in a religious sense.' The well-being of the political structures is tied to institutions such as the family, the churches, and organized labor. The Constitution of the United States is structured to establish a distinction of the roles of the Church and the State in societal development. This approach, in the opinion of Daly, had a prophylactic effect on the development of a European style of organized labor. "In the United States, individual rights are the bedrock of politics, not natural associations. That unions exist in the United States at all is due in large part to influential Catholic Americans inspired by the labor protections the Vatican began to endorse in the late 19th century. Collective bargaining and fair wages and hours can be traced to their activism."

America has changed and its definition of work has changed with it. My father was an immigrant from Italy. He came to the United States as a child and made a good life for himself and his family both as a union worker and as a business owner dealing with unions. In the 1930s and 1940s he worked in a number of professions. He would speak with pride about the reputation of workers from his city of Bridgeport, Connecticut. He worked in the construction of many buildings in New York City and often noted how Bridgeport's craftsmen were so well regarded. In a tale that could be applied to many cities in America, manufacturing left Bridgeport and tough times arrived. Many a mea culpa could be applied to politicians, business owners, and unions alike. Even now, the city has not re-established the kind of economy it once had. Our labor force requires new skills and specific areas of education and competence. In addition, the moral strength and fiber of the Church will be a foundation stone for any meaningful recovery.

Typically, the banner of organized labor is carried by the progressives in politics. Their mistake is to shun the religious element in their strivings. "Unions are weak in the United States for a plethora of reasons, he [Daly] says, but progressives should not 'underestimate the potential for coordinating family, labor, and religion in newfound solidarity and a new common path.'" There needs to be an awakening in the United States of the necessity of a solid moral base to the fashioning of any rebirth of labor in the economy of the United States. History provides enough of a lesson in support of the old Chinese proverb that "You cannot carve rotten wood." Lenin and the old Communist Party can cry "Workers of the world, unite!" but their foundation was on totalitarian power and that of the Church is the caring love of Christ. Vive la difference!