Monday, September 04, 2006

Lifting up the Right to Work lightning rod...

Another Labor Day; another opportunity to offer some clarity about what the rights of working people and the dignity of work entail, but which our laws don't provide for:

* Catholic teaching emphasizes the dignity of work, as a participation in God's creative and saving plan. Our work ennobles us; in our work, we realize the potential of our own gifts and talents, and our own selves; our work is a means to improve the lives of others and to make our world a better place. Work is a worthy end in itself, but not the ultimate end -- the ultimate end is union with God. So we should seek to have our work lead us and others to that end.

* Human beings, made in the image of God, and destined for salvation in Christ, have a fundamental dignity in themselves. This includes freedom in conscience, in pursuit of goodness, and in pursuit of their own vocation.

* One of the rights of working people is to act in legitimate ways to enhance their working conditions, their compensation, and their prospects. This means they can act on their own, or collectively. They have the right to form unions; but Church teaching insists that when workers affiliate with unions, they do so consistent with Church teaching.

* Catholics should not have anything to do with unions, or any other organization, that are hostile to Catholic teaching or the practice of religion, that attack private property or aim to pit people against each other, that are contrary to public order or fail to respect basic human rights.

* The right to be a part of unions is a right of individual workers -- a collectivist mode of thinking is alien to the Catholic tradition. Each of us stands before God, on judgment day, as individuals, answering for our choices.

* Solidarity is a moral obligation everyone has to see, and care for, the needs of his fellow man and the common good. But it is not a mandate to assimilate people into a Borg-like collective. It is one moral principle, in relation to others, not the overriding one.

* The Church never endorses a particular economic or political system, but she does comment on the errors or weaknesses of all political and economic systems -- and some are more erroneous than others. In his encyclical, Centesimus Annus, our late pope John Paul II, identified weaknesses in free enterprise and in statist/socialist systems, but was clear in affirming the greater (but not unalloyed) merits of free enterprise, representative government, and limited government (which accords with the principle of subsidiarity). The Church has generally taken a dim view of socialistic systems, and has explicitly condemned various features of it, such as athiesm, denial of private property and other rights, and class-based ideology.

* For all these reasons, I see nothing in Catholic teaching that gives an endorsement to current federal laws that empower union officials to coerce workers into union affiliation and representation, and to pay for that coercion to boot. Union officials and their apologists cry crocodile tears over the "burden" of representing workers who don't pay dues; but the fact is, unions don't have to accept that burden if they don't want it. But they do want it.

* Some believe that workers can't help themselves, so they have to be "helped" -- even against their will! -- by being herded into labor collectives. This would be a charitable explanation of why union bosses demand coercive power over individual workers.

* But it's also clear that these coercive powers are about the ambition of union officials and building their own kingdoms; and they are breeding grounds for all manner of corruption and abuse.

* The logic of the "coercion is for their own good" mentality is, ultimately, hostile to self-government. If workers need to be coerced, why stop there? Why shouldn't people be coerced into religion, for their own good? Why shouldn't they be subject to a fascist political system, "for their own good?" Where does it end.

These are some of the reasons I am for Right to Work.


Ray from MN said...

Happy Labor Day, Father!

Catholics should not have anything to do with unions, CORPORATIONS, or any other organization, that are hostile to Catholic teaching or the practice of religion, that attack private property or aim to pit people against each other, that are contrary to public order or fail to respect basic human rights.

Would you endorse that change, Father.

The improvements in the condition of the worker over the past 150 years has has come almost entirely because of the efforts of workers or threats of efforts of workers.

Corporations did not grant the forty hour week, pensions, overtime, vacations, etc., because they loved their employees.

The Right To Work laws appeal greatly to the greed and individualism within all of us and are one of the primary reasons for the decline of the laboring movement in this country and the great increase in disparity of wealth between the richest and poorest.

And it is getting worse.

The companies have now found a savior in the Federal Government. Watch those big corporate pension funds start to tumble in the next few years.

Notice how there are no pensions any more. Worthless stock (maybe) is given to employees in a cheap ruse to make them think that someday they will be rich. Ask the employees at Enron what they think about that.

There is no doubt that there was a tremendous amount of greed and corruption in the union movement. That's because it was led by human beings.

Don't forget that thre is a tremendous amount of greed and corruption in the business world, too. We just don't hear about it because they have bribed government to make much of it legal.

One of the tough things about being pro-life is that I have had to abandoned many candidates and positions that I have supported over the years that supported the working man, woman and child.

I've got a Primary Election coming up here in Minnesota and it's going to be darn tough figuring out who to vote for, if I can vote for anybody.

Ray Marshall (Ray from MN)

Father Martin Fox said...

The change you suggest in your second paragraph I agree with fully.

As to the rest? Eh...

Vajra said...

Real personal income is higher in the "union-shop" states. The number of those privately insured is higher in the "union-shop" states.Overall production is higher in the "union-shop" states. The map of "right to work" states is a map of the least progressive, lowest paid, and least educated states.

Jay Anderson said...

No one should be forced to join any organization in order to work. Period.

Father Martin Fox said...


Real, after tax income -- adjusted for cost of living -- is higher in Right to Work states.

And claiming that productivity is higher in states with forced-unionism is laughable. Productivity is the key problem of compulsory unionism.

Vajra: do you actually advocate a "union shop"? The "union shop" -- as opposed to "closed shop" -- was the requirement that the union actually control who gets jobs at a place of employment. It was struck down by the courts many decades ago, replaced by the "closed" or "agency" shop, where Right to Work doesn't protect freedom of choice.

Tim said...

Wow, Father, I am impressed. Such a bold stand on a good issue.
This won't make the liberals very happy.
You seem to be unusually bold. Hmmm.
Keep it up.

Mark Anthony said...

This certainly is an interesting discussion. I find it fascinating that the main topic seems to be coercion. Unions are, and always have been, state-sanctioned coercion. Strikes are a form of coercion, as are the various forms of grievance procedures, collective bargaining, etc.

Such coercion was and remains necessary due to the lopsided nature of a capitalist system. Those controlling the capital and the means of production - be it industrial, service-related or what not - have extraordinary power over those in their employ. The union movement was required because of the abuses of those holding the economic reins. Had the labor force been treated fairly and in a manner consistent with Church teaching from the beginning, unions would not have developed nor been necessary.

Tim from MN is right that amny of the benefits we now take for granted, such as a forty hour week, health care, pensions, etc, are a direct result of collective bargaining. Still, the union movement in America has been badly tarnished by years of corrupt leadership. "Power corrupts" is a truth as old as Genesis. It is no accident that the labor laws of the early twentieth century fettered business in favor of unions, but by the late forties and fifties labor laws were limiting the power of unions in favor of a Right to Work philosophy.

It seems odd to me that we continue to fight over business-union conflicts anchored in a rapidly vanishing economic environment. Modern collective bargaining, and Church teaching on such issues, needs to focus on the coercive power of the Wal-marts of the world, which maintain lower prices by pressuring suppliers to move production offshore and use price maintainence practices that should violate anti-trust laws, if they do not already.

Church teaching on these issues is not simplistic. It protects the right of the individual worker to choose his or her own means of labor, and accepts the many benefits of a free enterprise system, certainly when compared to state control of the means of production. Nonetheless, the right of the individual is not absolute, but must be subject to the needs of the common good. My right to accumulate wealth ends at the empty stomach of my brother or sister.

Ray from MN said...

Are unions involved with "coercion?

Or is the union movement the coming together of the laboring class to effect changes for the benefit of all, in or out of the movement.

Do you think that the salaries and benefits paid in those generally southern states are at the levels they are because their employers want to pay them that?

Fat chance!

They are there because the employers know that if they were lower, they risk the threat of a union movement.

What employers have found is that the largely minimally educated laboring classes in those areas don't seem to be aware that if they bonded with their fellow workers, all of them would benefit.

And higher wages would mean higher taxes and probably would serve them in improving the quality of their governmental officials.

So they pay no more than they need to get minimally educated employees who aren't interested in paying a few dollars a month in union dues.

Businesses looking for production employees on assembly lines aren't interested in having highly educated employees who are aware of and motivated by the possibility of improving their lot by joining others in a common effort.

They benefit greatly when employees are in competition with each other, underbidding each other for jobs.

Business doesn't need good government. Business uses government these days.

RP Burke said...

Vajra and Fr. Martin,

You have both made unsupported assertions about productivity, wages, et al.

What is the source of information that you are using?

Without being documentation to your claims, the discussion is nothing more than Limbaugh-like hot air.

These are hot subjects. But one point remains to be made, and it came to me years ago from an officiating friend who used to be a corporate lawyer charged with preventing unionization:

There's the right way and the wrong way to keep unions out. He argued for the right way -- treating workers well.

Father Martin Fox said...


Some years ago, when I worked for the National Right to Work Committee, we took a look at data from the Labor Department (under Clinton), concerning personal income; and we compared the various metro areas in the country.

We also looked at two other factors: cost of living and taxes, since these are highly relevant to the question of what people earn. All the data came from official sources, I can't recall just now, where.

And what we found was that metro areas in Right to Work states came out on top, year after year.

Our well wishers at the AFL-CIO persisted in releasing unadjusted data. Wonder why?

It's been a few years since I was part of that work, and in a quick search, I didn't find anything posted at the National Right to Work Committee site (which is linked on my page); but I saw the raw data myself and it was all very straightforward...

And it's common-sense: do I really need to "prove" to you that Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, San Francisco, and LA are all significantly more costly metro areas over Dallas, Oklahoma City, Des Moines, Salt Lake City, Birmingham and even Charlotte?

As to productivity; it's true, I haven't cited anything. This is my little online playground, not a think-tank.

However, once again, I think its common knowledge -- if not for literally everyone, then for those who tune into these issues -- that productivity is the achilles heel for Big Labor. Is it all that hard for anyone to comprehend that restrictive work rules, work stoppages, and protection for the incompetent -- all manifest features of union contracts -- hurt productivity?

All of us have the opportunity to compare: how do automakers do vs. each other, in this country? On one side, you have Ford, GM and Chrysler; on the other, you have everyone else: Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, to name major ones, all with production in this country, all under the same labor laws. Who is beating who?

They all hire the same people; they can all hire the same engineers, designers, advertisers, executives, etc. They all "steal" ideas from each other. They all operate in both Right to Work and non-Right to Work states.

So what's different?

The "Big Three" are completely saddled with productivity-killing forced-unionism contracts that originated in the 1930s and 1940s, that it takes intense effort even to loosen somewhat.

And that productivity is the key failing is obvious--because if Ford and GM were more productive under these arrangements, they could afford every other cost that comes with a union contract.

Head over to the National Right to Work Committee and browse. Of course they have an ax to grind (who doesn't?); but feel free to pick apart the data. When I worked for Right to Work, we had an embarrassment of riches when it came to this sort of data, from all types of sources, that showed how Right to Work states performed economically.

But I'll say it once more -- the fundamental issue is the moral argument: it is wrong to coerce people into affiliating with unions (or any other organization). When advocates of unionism respond, as Vajra did, all they're doing is justifying the coercion -- minimally by saying, "you're better off," maximally by saying, "you need it."

While I obviously dispute the factual claim of workers being "better off" under coercion, let us set that question aside, and simply note the fundamental materialism of that claim! Such a viewpoint is, may I point out, more in line with Marxism than Christianity.

Tim said...

Quote: "Modern collective bargaining, and Church teaching on such issues, needs to focus on the coercive power of the Wal-marts of the world."

There is nothing wrong with WalMart and its moral standing. WalMart is one of the most successful corporations in the world. They do capitalism right.

mark said...

The good Father has not (I bet) worked in a coal mine, in a copper refinery, outside on the 49th floor in December. He has not seen the inside of a slaughter house or picked lettuce to feed the family.

The good Father (I bet) has never been physically injured on the job or fired unjustly from a job.

Father, do you understand just how hard it is to form a labor union, whether it be 1906 or 2006? Its so difficult that workers actually don't choose to do it ...the managers and conditions drive them to do it out of survival.

Unionism built the middle class in America which was the glue which held society together. Our middle class is being decimated as we speak, because the middle class in this once great country is just a little too expensive to pay for, nowadays.

The American labor movement is far from perfect, no question. But enough of the whining about union leaders, when the likes of corporate America abandon, wholesale, their pension responsibilities, aid and abet the importing of thousands of illegal immigrants in defiance of immigration and labor law. When British Petroleum has the nerve to let its pipelines rust in Alaska during a period of fantistic earnings. Did I mention Enron and a few dozen other squeaking clean dens of thieves.

I hold a union card, Father, and sometimes I'm less proud of it than others, but let there be no mistake, the safety and rest rules I operate under when I fly you to Rome in a Boeing 767 were hard won by labor union negotiatiors and would not be in place if not for strong unions long ago.

Union members, union leaders and unionism are not enimies of Catholisism, Father. The former Polish prime minister, head of the the shipyard union at Gdansk, friend and son of the late Holy Father is fine example.

And a far better example, I might add, than current crop of homosexual clergy within the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops.

Father Martin Fox said...


So what part of my point do you disagree with? My central point was that workers should not be compelled to support or join a union. Ever.

Do you disagree?

Father Martin Fox said...

It is awfully ironic that those who call themselves "workers advocates" are bitterly opposed to workers actually choosing union affiliation -- while those (like me) who insist on it remaining voluntary are somehow "anti worker."

Matt said...

Mark Anthony...

The people responsible for Wal-Mart's practice of working to deliver the cheapest goods to the public is much larger than you suspect.

The conspiricy involves MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of Americans who want lower prices and consequently reward Wal-Mart for finding a way to give the public what they want.

It's called free market capitalism. What's wrong with competing in a market by giving people what they want, which is access to goods that are cheap and of good quality?

Aren't millions of people's lives improved by having to spend less for the same goods?

Many industries come and go to and from this country. Take the horse and buggy industry for example. Should we harshly sanction Ford Motor Company for eliminating thousands of jobs that fed families of buggy makers and horse breeders by using the mass production assembly line to make cars affordable to millions? Or should we be thankful? The economy changes based on the wants and needs of the public and the free market is the best way meet those needs.

"Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses." - Lionel Robbins