110+ Years of Catholic Social Thought

Many pastors and other Catholic leaders encourage their immigrant flock to participate in labor unions. Catholic thinking does not buy the argument that freedom and happiness automatically accrue as individuals pursue their own interest. Catholicism finds that people experience true freedom through participation in the family and other mediating structures, including unions.

The labor movement, in decline for several years, is now recruiting Mexican-American workers and other immigrants — something potentially beneficial both to the unions and to U.S. Catholicism. But there’s a problem, writes Fr. George Schultze, SJ in Strangers in a Foreign Land: the Organizing of Catholic Latinos in the U.S. (Lexington Books [2007], 4501 Forbes Blvd. #200, Lanham, MD 20706; $24.95).

Many unions, Schultze says, reach far beyond economic development by taking positions on cultural issues like abortion that are offensive to immigrant Catholics. Schultze, a historian who has contacts within the building trades and other groups, finds “no strong Catholic voice in the labor movement” to question alliances with pro-abortion forces.

The title of Schultze’ book does not primarily refer to Mexicans as the “strangers,” but to the labor movement which is a stranger in the pro-abortion movement. Likewise, a pro-abortion union organizer is a stranger to the Mexican-American community.

In his report on Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles, David Rieff similarly notes the tension around abortion and other cultural issues. Rieff, writing in N.Y. Times Magazine (12/24/06), highlights the essential mediating role of parishes for Mexican-Americans. The solidarity within the church is a mixed-blessing, however. Just as with previous immigrant groups, Reiff predicts Mexican-Americans will gain power through their churches and unions only to succumb to “individualism and the quest for prosperity.” The so-called individual right to abortion is, says Catholicism, one symptom of the unaccountable individualism in our country.

Originally published in Initiatives, a publication of the National Laity Center and the Catholic Labor Network. Posted with permission.

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