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Video: Professor Joe McCartin
NFPC is pleased to offer a link to a YouTube video of a presentation by Professor Joe McCartin to the April 2013 gathering of Labor Priests at the NFPC Conference held in Reno, NV.
The theme of the 35-minute presentation is Labor, Labor Priests, and the Catholic Church in America: An Overview.
Dr. McCartin is Executive Director of Kalmanowitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor based at Georgetown University. He is also Associate Professor of History at Georgetown.
"Not paying a just wage, not providing work, focusing exclusively on the balance books, on financial statements, only looking at making profit...That goes against God!"
May 27, 2018 Editorial to the Chicago Tribune from Cardinal Blase Cupich:
In its reflection on the world economic system published May 17 (“Oeconomicae et pecuniariae quaestiones”), the Vatican seeks to promote dialogue about the moral questions related to globalization, particularly the role of new and complex financial structures that have left so many excluded and still poor.
It is therefore unfortunate that the Tribune editorial “Pope Francis’ mistrust of free markets: A Chicago retort” criticizing this document failed to engage its areas of concern: the human costs of inequality and the moral questions raised by increasing dominance of the financial sector over the world economy. Instead, the editorial attempted to provide a counterpoint to Pope Francis’ call for economic justice, concluding that what is “certain is that capitalism incentivizes people to work, creates wealth and improves lives.”
Yes, and the statement welcomes the progress that has been made. But the Vatican document is posing more fundamental questions: Why does the current economic system leave so many behind? What structural reforms can mitigate the fact that the world is still divided into the haves and the have-nots — and that the difference between the two is growing at an alarming rate?
The Vatican recognizes that the Great Recession was not simply a financial crisis, but a moral one. A handful of financial institutions and traders began selling exotic securities that were largely unknown, poorly understood and enormously profitable. Greed and lack of accountability triggered a global economic collapse that devastated families in Chicago and around the globe — impacting the poorest most of all.
A more substantive response would offer a welcome opportunity to explore how we might structure our economy to protect the weak and promote the common good, or to serve a middle class ground down by wage stagnation. Instead the editorial jokes that Chicago is not Francis’ kind of town. In fact, Chicago is very close to his heart. He knows that the city includes both the streets that serve its economic centers of power — and the many that make up our richly diverse neighborhoods.
The pope’s desire to promote a moral global economy is neither radical nor new for people of faith. For as long as there have been market economies, the Catholic Church has maintained that every economic system must ensure that markets serve the common good. As the Vatican document states: “Well-being must therefore be measured by criteria far more comprehensive than the gross domestic product of a nation and must take into account instead other standards, for example safety and security, the growth of human capital, the quality of human relationships, and of work.”
The Tribune’s response to this call for renewed moral scrutiny is that “the nature of capitalism … makes it imperfect: Opportunity doesn’t guarantee success. Competition creates winners and losers.” The Vatican calls us to move beyond the stale ideological rhetoric of “winners” and “losers,” a blithe, if not callous term for those whose very lives are threatened by an economy of exclusion.
Market mechanisms have lifted many out of poverty. They have also left millions behind as a result of unrestrained greed, excessive materialism and massive inequality. The Tribune editorial has nothing to say about that. The Catholic Church does. It is unswerving in its conviction that we must make sure our markets build an economy for all and do not accelerate injustice and grave inequity. In this time of globalization and dominant and often unaccountable financial institutions, we need to bring together technical knowledge and human wisdom. In Catholic thought, moral principles must guide the market. Protecting human life and dignity comes before the unlimited pursuit of profit. This is a vital and timely message for a divided world — and Chicago.
— Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop, Chicago
“You should not be able to join a union shop and then turn it upside, any more than you should be able to join a church and then insist we stop meeting on Sunday mornings and instead gather for worship on Mondays during Monday night football,” he said. “And you should not be able to benefit from all the work that unions do to represent workers without paying your fair share.”
So where does this affinity between Catholic bishops and labor movements come from? Let us ’Splain …
How far back does Catholic support for labor unions go?
One of the earliest expressions of solidarity between the Catholic Church and modern labor movements came in 1887, when Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore defended a secretive pro-labor society known as the Knights of Labor in a letter to the Vatican. Church leaders had condemned various secret societies at the time, but Gibbons argued that the Knights — who claimed a number of Catholic members — were not an enemy of Catholicism and that church leaders should stand with working people. It worked: Gibbons persuaded his superiors not to condemn the American group.
Did that support for unions go all the way to the top?
The Knights declined as an organization soon after, but Gibbons’ arguments had an impact on Pope Leo XIII, who incorporated many of them in his 1891 encyclical “Rerum Novarum.” Leo railed against unrestricted capitalism and lifted up unions as an important form of “private society,” cementing the burgeoning spiritual alliance between labor groups and the church.
“The most important of all (private societies) are workingmen’s unions, for these virtually include all the rest,” he wrote.
The encyclical, which Tobin described as “the Magna Carta of Catholic social doctrine,” became a rallying cry throughout the 20th century for various unionizing campaigns and labor rallies.
OK, so there’s a pro-labor encyclical. What else has the church done to support unions?
The church remained involved in the lives of workers and sometimes even took on their plight: In the 1940s, some clerics in France became “worker-priests,” joining everyday workers on factory assembly lines. (Side note: This turned out to be a dicey move, as the pope later cracked down when the priests became involved in politics.)
Meanwhile, church leaders continued to voice support for unions. In his 1981 encyclical “Laborem Exercens,” St. John Paul II lauded organized labor organizations as “an indispensable element of social life” (although he cautioned they should not “play politics” or associate themselves too closely with political parties). Pope Benedict XVI also acknowledged the lengthy history of Catholic-labor relations in his own 2009 encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate.”
“The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level,” he wrote.
Finally, Pope Francis carried on this tradition, telling a gathering of union delegates in 2017, “There is no good society without a good union.”
Why do the bishops care so much about the Janus case?
The precise issue in the case hasn’t been addressed by a full assembly of the bishops. But their brief argues that ruling against the unions would “constitutionalize” a “‘right-to-work’ position” — the phrase used to describe state-level laws that prohibit the practice of requiring all who benefit from a union contract to pay dues that fund their union representation. The brief points out that not only has no U.S. bishop ever publicly supported right-to-work laws, but that the group has also been “generally been very inimical” to the idea, and that some individual bishops or state conferences have even spoken out against them.
To wit, they note bishops opposed the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 — the law that created right-to-work laws — and have supported its repeal.
To show their seriousness of purpose, the bishops’ brief goes on to argue that ruling against the unions would “represent another unfortunate decision of this Court that marginalizes the voice of the bishops.” They point to Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that legalized abortion, and Obergefell v. Hodges, the ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, as other examples of “marginalizing” Catholic voices (the bishops opposed the high court decision in both cases).
What about Catholics who don’t like the bishops’ stance on labor?
They can be as vocal as the bishops on the issue, and on the Janus case in particular. Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Ill., issued a statementcritical of the bishop’s amicus brief in the case, writing, “While church teaching clearly supports freedom of association and the right to form and join a union, it does not mandate coercing people to join a union or pay dues against their will.”
While Paprocki went on to suggest his own neutrality on the subject, writer Ed Whelan, who is also Catholic, rejected the brief’s argument in a piece in the National Review. He did not deny the history of solidarity between Catholics and labor unions but questioned “how these principles apply to whether public-sector unions today should be able to extract agency fees from objecting nonmembers.”
Still, Whelan’s skepticism does not appear to be the prevailing viewpoint among Catholic leaders in the United States.
When Tobin was asked about this kind of pushback in a March 6 news conference, he looked flummoxed. After sharing a bewildered glance with Trumka, the AFL-CIO president, the cleric said: “I would want to talk to them, personally: I would want to say, ‘Tell me how you got there. How (do) you think the values of solidarity, of the nature of economic goods, and innate human dignity — do you think those have changed?’”
SOUTH ORANGE, New Jersey – Pope Francis has “catapulted” the concerns of working people and placed them at the center of the conversation for the Church, said an all-star panel assessing Francis’s influence on the labor movement.
Newly elected Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey joined with Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark and Richard Trumka, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), at Seton Hall University on Tuesday evening to offer reflections on the significance of the first five years of the Francis papacy for working men and women.
The event, titled “Solidarity is Our Word,” served as a commemoration of the long history of the American Catholic Church’s support of the labor movement, an honest reckoning with its current challenges, and a celebration of a pope that has given it a megaphone in recent years.
A Gilded Age
Kicking off the event, Tobin spoke in personal terms of his long-held conviction of the importance of unions in the United States. While his father was a white-collar worker for General Motors and was not a member of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) union, he said his father made it clear to the Tobin household that they benefited from organized workers.
“We ate well…we had clothes, and we had possibilities with our lives because of the UAW,” said Tobin.
Tobin offered a strong indictment of the modern market economy and the powerful interests of corporate lobbies that control resources without sharing them with workers, marking a sharp decline in America’s long-standing influence of unions.
“In some ways, we are living in a second gilded age. To gild something is to cover it in gold, to make it look attractive and more valuable than it really is. So we can see the stock market going up…but the new wealth is not being shared widely and it creates much more resentment than it does investment. We give billions in tax breaks to the über-rich, and throw a few scraps to the working class,” he lamented.
“Ours is a gilded age, but not a golden age,” he declared, while also noting that Francis has served as the antithesis to a culture defined by consumption and greed.
“In just 5 short years, he’s challenged the Catholic Church to remember the basics,” said Tobin. “He is exactly the opposite of gilded.”
Trumka, who is head of the largest federation of unions in the United States, concurred with that assessment and said that the core of Francis’s message for working people has been a message of love and a reminder that “our lives count.”
“Five years ago Pope Francis was elected to the papacy and in his first moments of pope he ministered to a world deeply hurt by the financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath, where it seemed at every turn, working people paid the price of unmitigated greed on Wall Street,” Trumka reflected.
“When Pope Francis says solidarity is our word, his message contradicts the morality adopted by so many of the world’s wealthy and powerful,” he continued. “His message is an affront to selfishness…it exposes the illusion and reveals the truth, which is that we are bound together by love and that we must care for each other and for our world.”
Murphy, who in his first three months as governor has already partnered with both the AFL-CIO and the Catholic Church on several initiatives, said that the past five years of the Francis papacy have been “faith restoring for so many.”
He praised Francis for offering “voice and hope to working men and women in every corner of the globe,” and said that his example as pope has reminded the world that “the root of leadership isn’t braggadocio, it is humility. The goal of leadership isn’t individual achievement, but the betterment of society.”
Murphy said that he believed that the message of solidarity that is preached by Francis should become not just “our word, but our default attitude.”
The Janus Case: The Church Stands with Unions in Court
Tuesday’s event comes just one week after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Janus v. AFSCME – in which the Court will decide as to whether unions can collect fees from public workers who are non-members to cover the costs of representing those workers and negotiating contracts.
Trumka maintained that case is of critical importance to the future of the union movement and bemoaned the fact that there are those that want to “benefit from all the work unions do without paying [a] fair share.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) filed an amicus brief for the case in support of the union in strong terms – comparing it to Roe v. Wade – and stating that the case is critical for the future of workers’ rights to organize.
He added that he was “profoundly grateful” to the USCCB for filing the brief and said “at stake is whether the workers’ movement will have a fair and free vehicle to carry out Pope Francis’s message of solidarity.”
Tobin added that it was his privilege to join with his fellow bishops in support of the unions and told the audience of mostly union members that “we are standing with you now as we await the Supreme Court’s decision.”
Challenges Ahead: The Environment, Women, and Immigrants
Despite widespread praise for Francis, all of the panelists agreed that the pope has done more than just offered a booster shot to the working movement, and that he’s also offered challenging demands.
Trumka said that while he knows the Holy Father has the back of unions, it doesn’t mean they’re off the hook.
“He’s said to us in the labor movement that we must embrace prophecy and innovation,” said Trumka.
Among those innovations, he said that the movement must do a better job of heeding Francis’s call in his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’ to respond to the ecological crisis at hand. While he said that the unions have made progress on this front, he said there was work ahead as they aim to “transition to a low carbon economy.”
He also said that Francis has reminded the labor movement that they cannot forget the injustices faced by women, particularly those in the workforce.
“Pope Francis has spoken of chauvinism that always wants to control the woman,” said Trumka. “For too many, the workplace is a setting of dangerous vulnerability. Our pope challenges all of us to ask ourselves, ‘what part do we play in the vulnerabilities of others?’”
He also cautioned that those involved in organized labor must not merely be self-referential, but that “the pope urges us to look externally, as well.”
He cited the thousands of men and women both inside and outside unions who live in anxiety over their undocumented immigration status – who are beneficiaries of DACA or TPS – and the fears they experience over the government potentially ending the very programs that protect them.
“These are our neighbors, these are our friends, this is us,” said Trumka, as he called on those present to embrace Francis’s call to “protect those who do not yet have rights.”
“Our solidarity, our unionism, must be the antithesis of social exclusion,” he said.