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"Right to Work"
Attack on Civil Society?
The Oklohoma Catholic Worker
There's been a full court press this year in Oklahoma pushing "right to work." People say that unions are passé, superfluous, not needed. How soon we forget that unions fought for and secured the basic economic rights that we all take for granted -- such as the 8 hour day, safe work-places, workman's compensation, decent wages, and employer paid health insurance.
Many union members gave their lives to establish these rights and benefits. Because of the general lack of formation in the Faith's social doctrines, many of us don't know that the Church teaches that unions are necessary for the proper and just functioning of the community's economy.
People are saying a "right to work for a low wage" law is necessary to stimulate the state's economy. In order for Oklahoma to prosper, so the story goes, the nine different corporate welfare programs we have just aren't enough, we must do more to attract industries to the state. Encouragement of Mondragon-style cooperative businesses (and even micro-enterprises), which would be home grown and home owned and distribute their profits locally, isn't on the state's agenda. Our economic development gurus prefer to prosper this state at the expense of others by offering incentives for job relocation. But is it moral to grow our economy on the misery of others?
That's not a question we like to contemplate. Why do we want to import anti-union businesses anyway? That's the culture of greed and death talking, not the Gospel. The Bible says that you reap what you sow. If we deliberately use state action to cause economic distortions elsewhere so that we can benefit, are we not likely to ultimately reap a bitter harvest?
This "right to work" NewSpeak campaign is a crusade against civil society and worker solidarity. According to the Church's social doctrine, unions are necessary actors in a just economy. Our problem is that we do not have enough unions, especially for those in low-wage jobs. The Church supports free -- and that means fair -- marketplaces, and teaches that capitalism must be circumscribed by strong laws and civil society institutions that limit its predatory aspects and look out for the common good. Elsewhere in this issue, we quote extensively, chapter and verse, from the Holy Father's teaching about unions.
Solidarity is one of the most important social virtues, and "right to work for a low wage" laws are direct attacks on that virtue among workers, giving them economic incentives to abandon their organizational solidarity with their fellow workers. In American society, we exalt the individual to a fault, and our culture of death preaches personal gratification as though it were a gospel principle, which it isn't. The siren song of "right to work" is a call to embrace the culture of death's radical selfishness as a way to better the common good. But "Every man for himself" or "Every woman for herself" is the philosophy of a sinking ship, not a rising tide of justice.
People say that unions aren't necessary because the tight job market gives employees more power. Tell that to workers making six bucks an hour in nursing homes. Many people in Oklahoma do not receive a just wage, more extensive union organizing efforts can help improve this unjust situation.
Even as we go to press, the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates, using state action to deliberately increase unemployment and drive down wages. Working men and women need strong unions to give them a seat at the bargaining tables where these kinds of deals are made. The tyranny of unchecked economic power is no less deadly than the tyranny of unchecked political power. Economic totalitarianism is no more beneficial to the common good than political totalitarianism. Checks and balances are necessary, strong unions help build a just, fair, and free market economy.
We have far more trust in the ability of the people to work their own way out of the problems we have than we do in the greed of corporations in far away places whose only interest in this state is exploiting our neighbors for low wages. Then they take their profits home, away from this community. If we can move away from our "politics of death" and increase the economic justice in the state, we will see an explosion of home-grown creativity that will be a sustainable basis for a prosperity that is gained not through clever manipulation of the system, but rather through right livelihood and grassroots economic development.
The proposed "right to work" law is a culture of death surrender to the seven deadly sins as a proper foundation for our community's economic life. The problem with this is that nobody gets to the Kingdom of God by glorifying, praising, encouraging, and defending sin. If we think that all is not right in Oklahoma, the solution is not to attack important institutions of civil society that have a long history of making a positive contribution to the common good. If the best idea to make Oklahoma a better place that these leaders of industry and commerce can come up with is to revisit the labor battles of the 19th century -- when they were on the wrong side of both history and the Gospel -- then it's no wonder the economy isn't doing so well around these parts.
+Pax Vobiscum++St. Joseph the
Papal Social Encyclicals
Other Catholic Social Teachings
General Articles of Interest