Friday, September 18, 2015

A helping hand from the men in black

Archbishop Blase Cupich

     "Masters and wealthy owners," Pope Leo XIII wrote in his encyclical on labor in 1891, "must be mindful of their duty."
     That duty, he wrote in "Rerum Novarum" ("On the Condition of Labor") is not, as the current governor of Illinois seems to believe, to meekly accept whatever crumbs fall from the table of the rich and the powerful, but to form their own organizations to fight for decent wages, reasonable hours, mandated breaks, safety standards and a humane work environment.
     "It is the duty of the state to respect and cherish them, and if need be, to defend them from attack," Pope Leo wrote, during a time of vicious anti-union activities, even more extreme than our own.
     It is heartening to see his approach embraced by Chicago's Archbishop Blase Cupich, who went to bat for Illinois' besieged labor unions this week.
     “History has shown that a society with a healthy, effective and responsible labor movement is a better place than one where other powerful economic interests have their way and the voices and rights of workers are diminished,” Cupich told a gathering at the Chicago Journeyman Plumbers Local 130 on the West Side Thursday. “The church is duty-bound to challenge such efforts, by raising questions based on long-standing principles.”
     Cupich's comments that fit nicely in with the general trend of Catholic clergy embracing the downtrodden, emphasized lately under the inspired leadership of Pope Francis, who arrives for his first visit to the United States this week.
     The question is not, as Gov. Bruce Rauner seems to consider it, whether Illinois would be a more welcoming work environment if laborers were stripped of their rights. It certainly would, just as it's cheaper to manufacture goods using near slaves in China than it is to produce something in Chicago. Nor does supporting unions suggest that they are right in all regards and never have corruption and excesses of their own.
     The question, as Cupich so clearly stated it, is whether it is moral to make people live like that, and whether our government will set itself against the interests of workers as a matter of policy.
     “We have to ask," Cupich said, "do these measures undermine the capacity of unions to organize? Do such laws protect the weak and the vulnerable? Do they promote the dignity of work, the rights of workers? Do they promote a more just society?”
     That is a big "No." Rauner is attempting to hold the budget hostage until he is given the weapons he wants to unleash against unions. I have been in a union for most of my career at the Sun-Times, and have seen first hand how it counterbalances, slightly, the power and control that rests with the owners. Without it, wages drop, security is gone, and workers find themselves at the whim of owners.
     I'm not in the habit of speaking for God, but if the archbishop wants to point out that undermining unions is immoral and contrary to the will of the Divine, a denial of the love that He feels for His creation, I certainly won't contradict him either.
     This is sadly nothing new. Read the following about unions and ask yourself: Blase Cupich in 2015 or Pope Leo in 1891?
     "It is the duty of the state to respect and cherish them, and if need be, to defend them from attack. It is notorious that a very different course has been followed, more especially in our own times. In many places the state authorities have laid violent hands on these communities, and committed manifold injustice against them; it has placed them under control of the civil law, taken away their rights as corporate bodies."
     That would be Pope Leo, 124 years ago. This is an old fight, one that has to be fought anew in every generation, and it's good to see the men in black on the right side once again.


  1. Good article. Rauner is the modern day Scrooge.

  2. The other men in black who have figured in labor relations have been the judges, who, before the 1935 National Labor Relations Act established an obligation for employers to engage in collective bargaining and gave unions the right to strike or take other collective action, regularly sided with employers against unions. The major strike busting (and union busting) legal tool was the labor injunction, which made a specific industrial action illegal and authorized often brutal strike-breaking activities by the authorities. Throughout the 19th and pre-Wagner Act 20th Century, courts routinely issued such injunctions.

    The Wagner Act doesn't cover public sector unions, which made it easier for the governor of Wisconsin to focus his anti-union attention on teachers and state employees, but the latest expression of his presidential aspirations make it clear that the entire union movement is in the cross hairs. Rauner is, of course trolling in Walker's wake.

    Tom Evans

  3. Well said, Tom.

    Anyway, Walker bet worry about his fizzling campaign. He didn't do to well at the recent debates. A pox on him as well.

  4. A quick perusal of the Illinois State Board of Elections website shows that the unions are anything but "weak and the vulnerable". It is an example of a vocal and politically powerful minority purchasing power and favor over the majority of the population. But Cupich has no problem with that immorality, apparently.

    If the church is going to wonder into the political fray (which is what they're doing here), they are more than welcome to drop their non-profit status. Otherwise, perhaps they can spend some time sticking up for the 83% of the population (minus the 1%'ers, of course) that are non-union and are currently paying the majority of the bills.

  5. In Chicago, parochial school teachers are non-union, are they not? Perhaps Capich would like to address what his thoughts are on this matter in regards to his own employees.

    1. You took the words right out of my mouth. While I agree with what Cupich says about unions, I'd like to see the hemming and hawing that would inevitably ensure were someone to ask him, "So, if teachers at the Catholic schools in your diocese moved to unionize, you wouldn't discourage or oppose it?"

    2. Have the teachers at Catholic schools ever TRIED to unionize?

  6. Good point Nixit, and the parochial teachers should be paid more.

    1. Nix, yes, also agree about separation of church and state or no non profit status. Same with those community ministers that want exemption but get involved in politics. Don't forget that bunch.


  7. Unions had a significant role to play for workers' rights, and some still do, but when one looks at a government payroll such as Cook county's and can still find union elevator operator and marble polisher positions one might shake their head and wonder why. Not to mention painters, some of whom are paid 6 figures for a job that ostensibly is low skill and hardly dangerous and could easily be privatized to save tax payers money now and years of pension money in the future.

  8. Rauner and his minions attack union supporters, like Madigan, everyday, but he didn't have the guts to offer a statement regarding the Archbishop's speech.


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.