A Commentary on Challenges Facing Organized Labor Today

A Commentary on Challenges Facing Organized Labor Today
MENLO PARK, CA, March 2011-- Catholic social teaching should guide our responses to the social and economic challenges of our day. For example, Catholic social doctrine teaches that the economy, government and technology are made to support men and women; men and women are not simply objects made to support these entities.

Catholic Social Teaching for Today

by George E. Schultze, SJ

Catholic social teaching should guide our responses to the social and economic challenges of our day. For example, Catholic social doctrine teaches that the economy, government and technology are made to support men and women; men and women are not simply objects made to support these entities.

I have lived in California’s Santa Clara Valley/Silicon Valley for most of my life. The traditional name recalls a great Catholic saint, and the other a material that is used in manufacturing microchips, the engines of the digital age. Mountain View, my hometown, is the headquarters of Google. Facebook is next door in Palo Alto, and Netflix is in nearby Los Gatos. They are now household names just like early valley companies Intel, Apple, and Hewlett-Packard.

Although the biotechnological revolution is now looming on the horizon; it is digital media that has the attention of everyone at the moment. We have at our fingertips: games, communication, music, technical information, and more—both good and bad. On the one hand, California has an unemployment rate hovering at 12% and a debt of $26 billion; on the other hand, the private shares of Facebook have an estimated publicly-traded value of $78 billion. No one can deny the technical achievements, societal benefits and financial successes of this generation, but I wonder whether iPod or droid sales will provide meaningful work for the unemployed and underemployed. While it makes no sense to become Neo-Luddites, Catholic social doctrine emphasizes the centrality of the human person in God’s creation.

While studying at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations in the 1970’s, I heard faculty members predict the demise of the U.S. labor movement. Today union members are only 11.9 percent of the American workforce, over half of them are government employees, and in absolute numbers the U.S. has fewer union members at present than in 1983. Despite my protests, my professors were right. I will add that the National Labor Relations Act has failed to protect workers who organize, and the U.S. has no national labor policy. Nevertheless, people are now organizing more than ever, and with good-spirited people who are committed to solidarity, we might see changes that will make work life better for all of us. Remember: The Eastern Bloc no longer exists, and we are witnessing clear demands for democracy in Arab countries. Our social doctrine teaches that the truth sets us free and supports associations for our common good.

California is also the epicenter for the housing crisis that has rocked the nation. Whether you believe it was precipitated by misguided federal housing policy that promoted purchases by unqualified buyers or was due to the greed of American financiers, who made and sold risky loans, we all face decades of debt. The nation, state, and family are looking to cut costs and the legislative standoff in Madison, Wisconsin reflects the crisis. Our social doctrine teaches that government has a responsibility to assist its citizens but she also teaches that subsidiarity, leaving to the most immediate segment of society the responsibility of taking action where it is so capable, is the best means of preserving freedom and initiative (Catholic Catechism #2209).

Unfortunately, California’s public employee unions have campaigned against parental-notification when children seek an abortion and against traditional marriage between a man and a woman. Catholic social teaching upholds life in all its stages and calls the family the vital cell of society. Collective bargining, yes; abuse of power, no. Santa Clara, our valley’s patroness, was right, “Live and hope in the Lord, and let service be according to reason.” Catholic social teaching remains our primary guide. **

This article originally appeared in "The Rank and File Catholic", March 2011, a publication of the Catholic Labor Network.

Rev. Dr. George E. Schultz, SJ teaches Catholic social thought at St. Patrick’s Seminary. In 2007 he published “Strangers in a Foreign Land: The Organizing of Catholic Latinos in the U. S.” Fr. Schultze serves on the advisory board of Catholics for the Common Good.



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