This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Monday, September 07, 2009

DC Examiner Blog

I've got a new blogging gig on the DC Examiner newspaper. Please check it out. Click on the title or right there-> for to my Labor Day post. I am also now crossposting, so here it is:

Happy Labor Day! This is the day traditionally set aside to honor workers, particularly those who are part of organized labor. Like most years, current events intrude on our Labor Day, which is apt, since like Martin Luther King Day, it is not just a holiday for rest or barbeques. Rather, it is a holiday to assess where we are falling short as a society in providing a decent and just workplace. This is especially necessary in a time of economic recession. In such times, employers, though stressed, still have the upper hand, particularly in absence of a Union.

For Catholics, this is a particularly important holiday. One of our most important saints, St. Joseph, is the patron of workers. On this day, we should also recall a history of Catholic Social teaching which has encouraged the union movement, from Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum to the recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), which continues the tradition of honoring organized labor.

Caritas in Veritate not only extols labor as part of the solution domestically, but also encourages the labor movement to consider other stake holders, particularly in the developing world. The Holy Father hits the nail on the head here, since standing for workers rights worldwide, particularly in the context of international trade, benefits both workers in the developing world and American workers, since it removes the incentive to offshore jobs to escape restrictions on working conditions and fair pay.

As Catholics, we need to look at how we treat our own employees. As individual employers or stock holders, do we speak out for good pay for workers or do we want management to maximize profit. Caritas in Veritate is very clear that profit cannot be our only focus - sometimes the truth hurts.

Archbishop Martino recently resigned due to fatigue, brought about largely by Resistance to school and parish closings that were likely quite necessary given the financial state of his See as well as his Resistance to the unionization of teachers in this Diocese. His responsibility as a financial steward clashed with his responsibilities toward the workers. For whatever reasons (either personal politics or the demands of stewardship) he opted for Resistance to labor.
Even though I am thoroughly in favor of the rights of workers to organize, I can still sympathize with the Archbishop on this issue. He must compete with a publicly funded school system which can afford a unionized workforce because of their reliance on taxpayer funding rather than on tuition and contributions. Likewise, Catholic employers and stockholders must content with competition that is not bound by Catholic Social Teaching in paying its workers.

This is why Labor Day is and should be a political holiday, particularly for Catholics.

In many states, the Blaine Amendments prohibit public funding of Catholic Schools. Indeed, they were enacted in an anti-Catholic environment, where nativists feared large immigrant populations with allegiance to a Pope who was also, at the time, the autocrat of much of Italy. Today, the Pope has no political power, yet in some quarters, Resistance to funding Catholic education still exists. Oddly, it is now the conservatives who are more in favor of funding Catholic education while the teachers union is against it.

Like many dilemmas, this one is not insoluble. Catholic Schools, if given public funds, could afford to unionize. Unionized Catholic Schools would also no longer attract Resistance from the teachers unions. Of course, some autocratic bishops are against dealing with a union under any circumstances, which is an artifact of Church governance. Perhaps it is time for the clergy to cede control of schools and social services to the laity. Indeed, this might be the first step in drafting a compromise to make sure Catholic schools are adequately funded. When the Pope ceded the Papal States to a united Italy, he was more able to exercise moral leadership. This is a lesson that should not be lost on the Bishops.

The dilemma faced by Catholic business owners is also solvable and the solution also required public action. The market, on its own, does not predispose firms to paying a living wage. Indeed, in high tech firms, where the state of the art changes quickly, it is easier to fire a highly paid worker who, though more productive, likely has family obligations and expects a higher wage, in favor of hiring two workers fresh out of school. If payment for longevity were accomplished through stock ownership and the payment for dependents were separated from salary and transferred to an expansion of the federal Child Tax Credit, with matching credits at the state level in high cost areas, the incentive to fire older workers goes away. Such a tax reform would also allow Catholic employers, indeed all employers, to pay a just and living wage (since Catholics do not have a monopoly on social justice).

There is currently an opportunity to bring the subject of tax reform up. Part of the health care reform bill includes an employer mandate, with an 8.5% payroll tax required of firms who do not provide health insurance in order to fund tax supported health insurance. This is a rather large pill to swallow and when this comes to light, I have no doubt there will be some Resistance. This Resistance will provide an opening to discuss comprehensive tax reform, which I believe is necessary to get health reform passed. If tax reform is undertaken, as Catholics, we need to demand that it include provisions for expanding the Child Tax Credit. More than making sure that any health care bill is "abortion neutral," providing an adequate family wage through expanding the Child Tax Credit is a life issue. Indeed, such a reform would do more for the Culture of Life than anything else we could do as Catholics.

I hope everyone has a happy and thoughtful Labor Day, as Congress returns this week and there is much to be done.


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