Monday, March 14, 2011

Pope John Paul II on Unions

This is way late as a response to the events in Wisconsin, but CST is clear on the purpose and usefulness of labor unions. I chose Pope John Paul II's defense of them from Laborem Exercens, but you can find comments on labor unions in many of the encyclicals.
Their task is to defend the existential interests of workers in all sectors in which their rights are concerned. The experience of history teaches that organizations of this type are an indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrialized societies.

Catholic social teaching does not hold that unions are no more than a reflection of the "class" structure of society and that they are a mouthpiece for a class struggle which inevitably governs social life. They are indeed a mouthpiece for the struggle for social justice, for the just rights of working people in accordance with their individual professions. However, this struggle should be seen as a normal endeavour "for" the just good: in the present case, for the good which corresponds to the needs and merits of working people associated by profession; but it is not a struggle "against" others.

It is characteristic of work that it first and foremost unites people. In this consists its social power: the power to build a community. In the final analysis, both those who work and those who manage the means of production or who own them must in some way be united in this community.

Just efforts to secure the rights of workers who are united by the same profession should always take into account the limitations imposed by the general economic situation of the country. Union demands cannot be turned into a kind of group or class "egoism", although they can and should also aim at correcting-with a view to the common good of the whole of society- everything defective in the system of ownership of the means of production or in the way these are managed.

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.

It is always to be hoped that, thanks to the work of their unions, workers will not only have more, but above all be more: in other words, that they will realize their humanity more fully in every respect.

Note: These are only highlights from LE and not JPII's complete comments on unions. I encourage you to read more if you are interested in union rights and Catholic Social Teaching. (I added my own emphasis).

In my own opinion, I am disappointed to see union rights go in Wisconsin and other states. Unions must look to the common good when bargaining for wages and conditions and must take into consideration the health of the business and the overall economy. It seems as though many unions are more about group egoism as JPII puts is, but disbanding the rights altogether is not a good thing.

Overall, I think workers still have too little wages and bargaining power while managers and CEOs are raking in record profits.

No comments:

Post a Comment