Social Sin

The Working Catholic: Social Sin
by Bill Droel

Although social sin is Catholic doctrine, it is rarely part of sacrament preparation nor is it normally mentioned during the sacrament of reconciliation.
Slavery, for example, is a social sin even if every Christian plantation owner had been kind, even if the pharaoh of olden times had not been cruel and harsh. “Institutions, laws and modes of thinking and feeling are handed down from previous generations,” explains Vatican II (1962-1965). A bad system (like a good institution) has a certain momentum or independent character. Bad institutions make holiness difficult. Good institutions serve as reminders for upright behavior.
Poverty is a social sin. Although a poor person, like anyone else, might steal or lie, it is not their poverty that is a sin. The sin is an economic structure that perpetuates significant and needless poverty. We don’t think about social sin, says Vatican II, because we are plagued with an individualistic mentality. But we cannot “content [ourselves] with merely individualistic morality.” Christians must promote and assist “institutions dedicated to bettering the conditions of human life.”
It is true that social sin is somewhat metaphorical, says the Vatican’s 2004 Compendium of the Social Doctrine. Social sin does not weaken or cancel “the personal component by admitting only social guilt and responsibility. At the bottom of every situation of sin is always the individual who sins.” At the same time this metaphorical sense cannot overtake the objectively sinful nature of some systems. The Compendium mentions wages, the fairness of which “is the most important means for achieving justice in work relationships.” It “is not sufficient [for] an agreement between employee and employer with regard to the amount of pay… to qualify as a just wage.” In a given circumstance it so happens that an employer or an employee may have a reason for substandard wages. The morality of a wage is, however, determined objectively, apart from the motives of employer or employee.
How then can social sin be brought into the sacrament of reconciliation? It would seem that a creative liturgy planner in the parish could devise a service each Lent about our society’s social sins—things for which we collectively bear responsibility. Suggestions are welcome.
Another way to get at this notion of social sin is to consider its antibodies. To counter individual sin, we summon a specific virtue. If, for example, my individual sin is neglect of family members, I make a habit of generosity around the home during Lent. If the habit persists after Easter, it becomes my individual virtue.
A good institution is a social virtue. Specific virtues (social habits) are designed to counter social sin. The Compendium mentions solidarity as a social virtue about relationships that tend toward ethical-social improvement. Virtues are not feelings. Solidarity, the Compendium continues, is not a distant touch of compassion for the afflicted. It is a commitment to act with others for the sake of the common good.
Social Justice is a social virtue. The term is often used generically to cover outreach efforts, government distribution programs and protesting. The term is also used to describe crusading individuals, some lobbyists and those with sincere intentions. However, in Catholicism social justice is a specific type of the general virtue of justice. It is a collective virtue; an individual cannot practice social justice. Its intent is the improvement of institutions or policies. Its unique act is organization; that is, people finding like-minded others and then applying tactics and strategies for the good of the commons. In mainstream Catholicism social justice usually happens during the weekday within normal settings. It is not normally an on-and-off weekend activity by outsiders to an institution, though those efforts can be needed. Social justice is participation. It requires many hands, feet and minds. As it evolves, a sound social justice effort likewise increases participation. Employees have a surge of morale because of their reform efforts. Professionals increase their dedication because through their association they instituted a reform.
Social justice (a collective habit) is a primary vaccine against social sin. It is the means for bettering the conditions of human life. Because each exercise of social justice is less than 100% effective, it requires booster shots. All institutions need a little social justice during Lent and a little more during Eastertide and then another dose in all the weeks after Pentecost.

Disponemos de varios genericos de por favor haga clic para ver la fuente en España, en diferentes formatos. Las marcas que tenemos en stock son Vidalista, Tadalista, Tadagra y Tadacip. Son productos de alta calidad, que tienen algo en común, y es su principio activo, que es el mismo que Cialis, siendo por esta razón un generico de Cialis.

Droel is the author of What Is Social Justice (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5)

From Mobilizing to Governance

The Working Catholic: Mobilizing and Governing
by Bill Droel

The young adult activists who inspired the world this past summer now have the challenge of translating their fervor into practical reform. It is the transition from mobilizing to governance.
The founders of our country were more prepared for the transition to governance than other revolutionaries, argues Hannah Arendt (1906-1975). She compares France to the United States in her classic On Revolution (Penguin, 1963). By the time of their 1787 meeting in Philadelphia, our founders were able to craft a democratic system that endures to this day. Our system, as detailed in our glorious Constitution and in its Bill of Rights and 17 subsequent amendments, is obviously imperfect. It has suffered through rebellions, a Civil War, a tyrannical-like presidency and more. Yet ploddingly and with setbacks, our experiment in democracy inches toward its goal of full liberty and justice for all.
Back in France however, the 1789 revolution was followed by turmoil for a decade and by instability thereafter. Bastille Day was a triumph, but onto the next step the French revolutionaries “had no experience [of governance] to fall back upon, only ideals and principles untested by reality,” says Arendt. The French Revolution was “an intoxication whose chief element was the crowd.” The difference, Arendt concludes, is that the U.S. revolutionaries, in contrast to the French, had the experience of political assembly, long before 1776. Or as John Adams (1735-1826) said: The U.S. Revolution was well underway months and years before Lexington and Concord.
Again, assembly in our 13 North American colonies was imperfect; a right for only some. Black slaves could not initially enjoy that right and women could not vote for or serve in governing bodies. Yet our revolution was not the product of chaos. It was not an accomplishment of solitary heroics urging a rabble forward. For example, Paul Revere (1734-1818) and William Dawes (1745-1799) did not ride as strangers through towns at midnight, randomly knocking on doors. They had advance planning that allowed them to alert small mediating institutions. They knew the leaders of churches and other voluntary associations. Revere himself belonged to five clubs or lodges in the Boston area. Samuel Adams (1722-1803) belonged to the North Caucus, the Long Room Club and others. The same is true for the other founders. In their church committees, lodges, town halls and taverns our founders practiced the arts of governance—deliberation, compromise, balancing interests, public speaking, correspondence and the like.
Outsiders don’t always make for good insiders. Andrew Nagorski in The Birth of Freedom (Simon & Schuster, 1993) examines the monumental movements against communism in Eastern Europe, particularly the 1989 revolt in Poland. He describes the difficulty of transitioning from “dissidents into established politicians.” Lech Walesa’s problems as president were in part related to “the general difficulty of making the psychological switch from the politics of resistance to normal democratic politics,” Nagorski concludes.
The Arab Spring of 2011 was like the revolution in our country in that groups, not solitary individuals, led the way. Yes, Wael Ghonim launched a Facebook page to promote opposition to the Egyptian government. Yes, his and other internet sites helped plan actions. But the leaders came from small groups: lawyers’ circles, engineers’ clubs, the Arab Doctors Union, groups within the Muslim Brotherhood, Coptic churches, trade unions, alumni groups and soccer teams.
The Arab Spring was on the other hand unlike our U.S. revolution. Its leaders did not have prior training in the arts of governance. The young adults involved did use their friendships to temporarily smooth over their religious and ideological differences under the stress of the moment, reports Robin Wright in Rock the Casbah (Simon & Schuster, 2011). However before 2011, they had “limited—and largely unsuccessful—political experience,” she continues. In fact, their prior experience with the government was mostly limited to detention and jail. The Arab Spring was largely over by summer of 2012. External factors, including governments’ use of internet blocking and propaganda plus government counter-force, doomed the promise of the revolt. But internal factors played a major part in the demise, specifically the rebels’ lack of experience in governing.
Choices await the young adult activists in our country. They must decide: Is it better to go it alone; to start fresh? Or is it better to draw upon decades of experience from like-minded reform groups, including some labor locals, some churches, some professional associations, some civic organizations and more? Can our idealistic young adults employ sufficient arts of governing to really implement better policies and institutions?


Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a printed newsletter on faith and work.

Farm Workers

The Working Catholic: LeRoy Chatfield.
by Bill Droel

Time is catching up with the founders of the United Farm Workers Union (www.ufw.org). Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) has been dead for 27 years. Rev. Jim Drake (1938-2001) died young. Larry Itliong (1913-1977), who started the famous Delano Grape Strike and National Boycott of September 1965, is gone. Dolores Huerta is now 90 and Rev. Chris Hartmire is in his late 80s. So too is LeRoy Chatfield.
Chatfield was the administrative assistant to Chavez during the ten crucial years of the UFW. He has recently given us two gifts: A memoir, To Serve the People: My Life Organizing with Cesar Chavez and the Poor (University of New Mexico [2019]; $27.95) and the definitive Farm Worker Documentation Project (www.libraries.ucsd.edu/farmworkermovement/archives).
Chatfield did everything. He walked the first picket line, tended to Chavez during his 25-day fast, was part of the march to Sacramento, managed the operation when Chavez was on the road a month at a time, raised money and spoke at colleges, organized a major legislative labor campaign in California, represented the UFW at the funeral of Robert Kennedy (1925-1968)–all of this after Chavez took on the 31-year old Chatfield to develop farm worker cooperatives, which he also did. Chatfield was on the scene prior to the Delano Grape Strike and played a key role in it. His chapter about it is the best in To Serve the People.
Prior to these defining ten years, Chatfield was for 16 years a member of Christian Brothers of De La Salle (www.delasalle.org). Peter Maurin (1877-1949), a founder of Catholic Worker Movement (www.catholicworker.org), once belonged to the same order, Chatfield reminds us. All through the book he refers to his connections with the Catholic Worker. He served as a teacher and administrator at Christian Brothers’ schools in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Bakersfield. His social formation occurred as a Christian Brother—sometimes by way of the community, sometimes in spite of it. For example, a Christian Brother recruited Chatfield, then aspiring to the order as high school student, for a cell of a specialized Catholic Action group. He was intrigued by social doctrine, though he didn’t understand much of it. However, he memorized and experimented with the Catholic Action method. “I tell you that nothing in my life since age 14 has served me better or landed me in more hot water than those damn principles of observe, judge, act,” he writes.
Just as often, Chatfield’s social formation came through his own involvements with student groups and Catholic organizations, including a Catholic Worker house in Oakland and a relationship with Ammon Hennacy (1893-1970). The tale of how he found Chavez indirectly includes the Catholic Worker. At age 29 Chatfield (then known as Bro. Gilbert, FSC) went to Boston to participate at the annual convention of National Catholic Social Action Conference. NCSAC was founded by former Catholic Workers John Cort (1913-2006) and Ed Marciniak (1917-2004). At the Boston conference Chatfield heard “that a man by the name of Cesar Chavez was organizing farm workers in Delano, California.” That was enough for Chatfield.
In this memoir Chatfield expresses affection for all the people and groups he met. There is no bitterness. He left the Christian Brothers only because he wanted full-time involvement with farm workers and presumably the order was unprepared to assign him to that mission. He likewise left the UFW with abiding affection.
“For nearly ten years, Cesar was my best friend,” says Chatfield. They talked over family matters, their faith, sports, politics and lots more. This autobiography is not in any way a tell-all. But in details here-and-there it gives a glimpse into the tragic flaw of the heroic Chavez. A full picture comes through in the sympathetic biography, The Crusades of Cesar Chavez by Mirian Pawel (Bloomsbury, 2014).
Chatfield came to Chavez out of general desire to help farm workers. Chavez left his job with Community Service Organization out of the same general desire. Chatfield calls this “Cesar’s vision.” There was unresolved tension about the exact purpose of Chavez’ movement. It was parts union focused on gaining collective bargaining status, part social service agency, part public relations lobby on behalf of farm workers, and at times a retreat-style spiritual community. Chavez was the only one who knew and controlled the game plan. Thus there was arbitrariness about his leadership. It was a vision; something that Chavez did not or could not share in a bullet point memo.
As the months went by Chatfield got the message that he would be a fall guy for defeat during a legislative campaign. There was no showdown; Chatfield simply knew it was time to go. Plus he and his wife Bonnie, whom he met in the movement, had four daughters; a fifth was born subsequently.
The second part of the book is equally interesting. Again, the Catholic Worker is part of the story. By 1974 Chatfield was a manager in Jerry Brown’s gubernatorial campaign and went on to serve in the administration, including as director of California Conservation Corps. He then spent five years in real estate development and two more years back in school. Meanwhile, Catholic Workers Dan Delany (1935-2015) and Chris Delany were busy founding a comprehensive house for the unemployed and homeless, Loaves and Fishes (www.sacloaves.org). They hired Chatfield to be its first director. His chapters on these 13 years contain interesting reflections on addiction and on possessions plus a list of tips for managers of non-profits.
Upon retirement Chatfield, wouldn’t you know, returned as a Loaves and Fishes volunteer, developing cottages for the homeless. During retirement Chatfield also returned to producing a journal for high school authors, (www.syndicjournal.us). On Chatfield’s own website, (www.leroychatfield.us), many of his Easy Essays are posted.
Jorge Mariscal put this autobiography together. Its references are up to the minute, but sections of the book are reconstructed from interviews in 1976, from notes in 2002, from several segments written in 2004 and from Chatfield’s diary entries in 1961, 1968-1969 and 1993. There’s a little repetition, but it is not distracting.
Social change movements and their leaders are diminished when they become part of our celebrity culture. True social change requires many energetic and reflective people, most of whom never appear in the news. Chatfield’s account and others like it are an important contribution to understanding how change occurs. Today’s activists are wise to learn from the past; from its positives and negatives.

Droel edits a print newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Doctrine

The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine
by Bill Droel

Catholic social doctrine comes to us in a series of principles derived from Scripture, from science/reason (including social science) and indispensably from 2,000 years of Christian experience in all manner of social, political and cultural settings. There is no official list of these principles, though several pamphlets and statements provide a starting lineup—usually including innate dignity of each person, solidarity, subsidiarity, dignity of work, common good, social justice and recently option for the poor. A Catholic is expected to prudently apply these principles within her or his own milieu.
Any one principle can be pulled out for close examination and specific use. It is important to remember, however, that the principles are complementary. For example, the principle of subsidiarity says that decisions are best made as close as possible to those affected by the decision, but subsidiarity cannot be pulled too far away from other principles. Neo-conservatives wrongly use it to say “the government that governs least governs best.” Subsidiarity has to be paired with other principles that affirm government, like solidarity, distributive justice and more.
Each principle builds on the God-given dignity of each person. For example, no employer nor any company procedure nor any policy measure can give a person dignity. Likewise, nothing can take a person’s dignity away. Dignity can be and often is disrespected–sometimes by others, other times by the person. But dignity resides with God.
The principle of dignity of work comes from a proper reading of Genesis: Work is not the punishment for sin. It is part of God’s original intention. The dignity of work also comes from a natural law (science/reason) understanding that people are fulfilled through work: Homo Faber. Plus this principle comes from experience, embodying the principle of participation in workplaces.
The dignity of work principle has several corollaries. Among them: The right of employees to vote yes or no on a union without the maternal or paternal interference of their employer. A just strike and the prohibition on Catholics to cross a just picket line are also corollaries.
Not every workplace has to have a union, Catholicism says. However, a healthy, holy society must allow for unions (or guilds). The union movement as a countervailing force is a moral necessity. Catholicism counts on unions (and plenty of other groups) to advance justice and peace throughout society.
The Catholic principle on unions must not drift too far from the other principles like the common good. This turns out to be good sociology. That’s not surprising because Catholic doctrine came in part from a reflection on social science.
Sociology says that people join and participate in voluntary associations to meet two needs: the need to belong and the need to make a difference. Some organizations are mostly about belonging. Others are primarily about making a difference. A sound union does both. It bargains for its members’ wages and conditions. It also attends to grievances. Plus on the belonging side of its purpose, a union sponsors social events for members and their families. Simultaneously union members make a difference as their organization aligns with social improvement organizations (including other unions), donates material and time to charity efforts, co-sponsors a conference or assists other workers, including those overseas. Plus, a union in one workplace improves by way of precedent conditions and pay in a similar company.
All unions, indeed all voluntary groups must aim at the common good, says Catholicism. The common good is the total of desirable things or conditions that no one can singularly obtain. Common goods like clean water or fresh air or the removal of a menacing virus can only be obtained collectively. A just and peaceful neighborhood is one example of a common good. Thus in this example, a union does not only bargain for the economic and safety interests of its members, it also does its part, along with other groups, to obtain neighborhood peace and justice.

Bill Droel is editor of John Paul II’s Gospel of Work (NCL, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $8).

St. Francis

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

The modern age began, let’s say, in 1500. That date is precise enough to include two pioneers of modernity. Christopher Columbus made his trans-Atlantic journey and was discovered by Native-Americans in 1492. Martin Luther (1483-1546) took a 16 ounce hammer to the door of All Saints Church on the hollowed eve of that church’s feast, October 31, 1517. The modern age is characterized by global travel and commerce (Columbus) and by the primacy of the individual over authoritarian institutions (Luther).
Other features of what we call modern life were introduced over 300 years before 1517, explains Adolf Holl in one of the three or four best biographies of St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), The Last Christian (Doubleday, 1980).
The book begins with reference to two clocks. Monasteries and large churches long maintained rope-pulled bells to mark the liturgical hours: Lauds at dawn, Vespers in the evening and Compline at bedtime. But the bell clock was solar-timed; which meant early Lauds in summer, later in winter. Tournai in Belgium obtained a degree of autonomy from feudal counts and lords in 1188. That year its merchants built the first belfry or bell tower designed for town business, standard time year round. It was subsequently elevated and still operates. A Tournai wall clock sells today for about $60. In 1309 Milan in Italy installed a fully-mechanical clock set to secular time. From then until now we use a machine to arrive at business on time. A replica Milan tabletop clock now sells for anywhere from $14 to $80.
“For one last time, before the forces of progress thundered off on their triumphant path, one man looked into the motivating thrust behind the whole thing and decisively rejected it,” writes Holl. When time took over the public square, St. Francis stopped time.
And what was that motivating thrust?
St. Francis’ confrontation with his apparel merchant father is well-known. In its dramatic moment, St. Francis took off all his clothes in a public setting and threw them along with his money pouch at his father. Until now Pietro Bernardone was my father, St. Francis yelled. From now on only Our Father who is in heaven is my father. There was never reconciliation. Thinking over what led to his shocking behavior, St. Francis keyed into one word that was common to each conflict with his father: money. St. Francis committed himself to ending all association with money. “It became the enemy he would fight inexorably for the rest of his days,” says Holl. St. Francis was keenly interested in climbing the social ladder…climbing its rungs downward. At every moment that he thought he had compromised, that he wasn’t radical enough, he took one more step down.
For you see, St. Francis’ place and time revealed another feature of what we call modern life. His setting was “the cradle of modern capitalism.” His rejection of money explains why he was not attracted to the medieval monasteries, of which there were many. It was within the monasteries, Holl continues, that the basic values of capitalism developed—“purposeful rationality, discipline, abnegation, enterprise and inventiveness.” The monasteries were the first factories. His rejection of money explains why his followers (the Franciscans) are not monks. They are iterant preachers, called friars.
Although he rejected all previews of modernity, St. Francis did not run away. He was not a hermit. He preached outdoors, mostly by gestures. “He needed spectators and he got them,” says Holl. A new movie will bring Jerry Rubin (1938-1994), the premier 1960s yippie, back to public attention. St. Francis and Rubin are different, but they share a fondness for small counter-capitalism gestures. On one of his romps, Rubin obtained a pass for the viewers’ gallery above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. He pulled hundreds of dollar bills out of his pocket and let them fly. Predictably, the floor traders, the foot soldiers of capitalism, scrambled to collect the money. The exchange was forced to briefly halt trading.

A few years ago one of my students asserted that “St. Francis was a failure.” He hardly reformed the church, she said. It is more corrupt than ever. His religious order has many buildings and has its share of scandal. Nor did St. Francis do anything to stop the evils of the modern age from gaining dominance.
I’m not sure she was correct. I’ve conversed with many young adults who find their high-powered career unsatisfying, who are discontent with the status quo. I regularly meet young adults who, at least in a portion of their life, engage in counter-capitalism. For example, they participate in the slow food movement, the slow fashion movement, the green movement and more. Whenever appropriate I suggest a good biography of St. Francis to these idealists.
Those young adults who know something about St. Francis–whose feast day is Sunday, October 4, 2020–universally relate to the stories about birds and other animals. These young adults also like his association with the environmental movement. However, his need for institutions is a prohibitive block that stops young adults from fully embracing St. Francis’ approach to a meaningful life. How could he retain affection for institutions while seeing so much corruption in the church and while enduring so much disappointment within his fledgling religious order? In caring about institutions, St. Francis was not like Jerry Rubin. To be continued…
Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a print newsletter about faith and work.

God Takes Delight

The Working Catholic: God’s Pleasure
by Bill Droel

Ben Cross died last week. He was an actor best known for his portrayal of Harold Abrahams, an Olympic runner, in Chariots of Fire (Warner Brothers, 1924). Abrahams is a Jewish student at University of Cambridge. He has to deal with anti-Semitism on his way to the 1924 games in Paris. The film, based on a true story, won four Academy Awards including best picture.
The plot around Abrahams has a parallel story line. Ian Charleson, who died in 1990, plays Eric Liddell, another young runner. Liddell is supposed to go to China to engage in Christian missionary activity. His sister, touching a part of his conscience, says that training for the Olympics distracts him from God’s calling. Liddell is torn but makes peace with his plan. In the film’s famous line, he says: “I believe God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
The Lord takes delight in endeavors well done. Once upon a time a prominent church hereabout commissioned an artist to paint the figure of God the Father. The artist was so thrilled by the greatness of her subject that she vowed to do the painting on her knees. Well, this went on for a few days until God appeared to her and thundered: “You are not supposed to paint me on your knees. You are supposed to paint me well.”
The notion persists that for work to be holy it either must occur under church auspice or it must get an additional coating of piety or sacredness.

What is the proper definition of holy work? It is the thing one does to live and/or the thing one lives to do. Volunteering and homemaking can be good work presuming the worker receives sufficient financial resources from elsewhere. If the good work is the way one supports oneself and a family, the pay must be just. Without a family wage, the endeavor is objectively damaged. The paternalism of the employer and the desperation or generous heart of the employee is irrelevant in calculating a family wage.
Good work is how a person fulfills his or her human nature. Each of us has a God-given nature that came with a work impulse already installed. Good work is how a person participates in the on-going creation and redemption of society.
Good work is a primary way that a person exercises the virtue of solidarity by cooperating with fellow workers for improvements in the product, the service, the delivery or even the culture of the industry or sector. This impulse to associate for improvement is another built-in feature of human nature.
All types of jobs qualify as good work, excluding only those that violate God’s plan: a predatory lender, a trafficker of teenage girls, or a gang leader. Good work is any endeavor that upon a worker’s contemplation she or he sees God’s perfection reflected. This does not mean that the medical procedure has to always be a total success. The class on obtuse angles or the one on dangling participles can flop. The anticipated lauds for the play or the concert do not occur. The courtroom defense does not impress the jury. The day or the week or the month of child rearing can be total frustration. At a certain time, however, a worker can look back upon an endeavor and know that given the challenges of the job she or he did their best.

Unfortunately, Christians do not—for whatever reason—get the message that their work matters to God; that work in itself contributes to the spiritual life. Yet all Christians, as St. John Paul II (1920-2005) said, are called to a spirituality of work.
Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957), playwright, essayist and creator of the fictional detective Lord Peter Wimsey, says that Christians will have only a pro forma adherence to the faith as long as they do not hear or feel that Christianity has anything to do with the meaning of work—on the job, around the home and in the community. An intelligent carpenter, she says, hears that religion means “not to be drunk and disorderly in leisure hours and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him [or her] is this: The very first demand that religion makes…is that he [or she] should make good tables.”
To be clear: God wants catechists and preachers in the mission field and around the parish. God wants those teachers and preachers to be compassionate. But a tender heart and willingness to volunteer are not sufficient. God feels pleasure when preachers, catechists and all workers do it well. For example, God expects preachers and catechists to critically study Scripture. God expects them to stay current, using magazines like Commonweal, America or Christianity Today, just as God expects doctors to read medical journals carefully, engineers to keep up with safety manuals and to read about new materials or chemical compounds.

God made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure, said Olympian Eric Liddell. The Lord takes delight in all endeavors well done.

Droel edits a free newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Labor Apostle

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

There’s a new edition of Christian Socialism: An Informal History by John Cort (Orbis Books, 2020). Gary Dorrien of Union Theological Seminary provides its introduction. The book generally goes in chronological order from the New Testament onto the Church Fathers (East and West), then St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and St. Thomas More (1478-1535). Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) appears in a chapter about France and Most Rev. William Temple (1881-1944) in one about England. The chapter on Catholic socialism draws upon papal encyclicals, the thoughts of Msgr. John A. Ryan (1869-1945) of St. Paul and on liberation theology.

John Cort (1913-2006), a 1935 Harvard University graduate, served our country as a Peace Corps volunteer in Philippines, as a local director in the Office of Economic Opportunity and as a director of a municipal program. He is best known as founder of Association of Catholic Trade Unionists in February 1937.
In the 1940s the Communist Party controlled 15 major labor unions in the U.S. and had influence within others. Many blue-collar workers at the time were immigrant Catholics. If Catholicism was indifferent to the world of work, Cort reasoned, the door is open to communists to use unions for their ideological purpose. Thus ACTU would encourage Catholic workers to join unions and be active members, Cort said. It assisted with CIO membership drives, battled racketeers and sponsored labor schools where workers learned leadership skills and discussed Catholic social principles. At ACTU’s peak there were 5,500 members in 14 cities. Many ACTU chapters published hard-hitting newspapers.
ACTU was controversial. Some Catholics accused it of cooperating with communism. The greater criticism came from the other end: ACTU was a voting-block within union locals, so fixated on anti-communism that it turned a progressive labor movement hopelessly rightward. Indeed, a few ACTU chapters got so obsessed with communism that they lost ACTU’s original purpose. Cort repeatedly said that the U in ACTU stood for unionists, not unions. He did not advocate Catholic trade unions or Catholic political parties, as sometimes occurred in Europe. Catholics display their faith in public life simply by being good unionists–or in other examples, good politicians, good civil servants, good nurses, good teachers. The workers in ACTU met outside their job site with fellow Catholics for mutual support, spiritual formation and instruction on social doctrine. Communists in the 1930s and 1940s were not socialists or progressive prophets who planted seeds of reform, said Cort. They were Stalinists who denied the spiritual life and who jeopardized national security. ACTU, Cort insisted, “was a progressive organization most of whose leaders and members were dedicated to honest democratic trade unionism.” Thus for Cort non-violence was a non-negotiable religious principle. No exceptions.
Only in the 1970s did Cort publicly call himself a socialist. But he was clear that socialism is not crazy radicalism, not totalitarianism and not communism. For Cort it came from a vision of society based on religious principles, not on Marxism. The vision is sketched in Catholic social encyclicals and develops through the efforts of ordinary Catholics, in cooperation with like-minded colleagues, to improve policies in their workplace and their community. By the way, these encyclicals—from 1891 to 2000—equally critique total systems like communism and unrestricted systems like neoliberal capitalism. Cort gave an example. A 1937 encyclical by Pope Pius XI (1857-1939) was, of course, published in Latin. It is often titled in English as On Atheistic Communism. “I analyzed this encyclical and found that one-quarter of it is devoted to the evils of communism and three-quarters are devoted to the evils of capitalism,” he said. “It might well have been entitled On Atheistic Capitalism.

For those not interested in the history lessons contained in Cort’s Christian Socialism, get a used copy of Cort’s autobiography, Dreadful Conversions (Fordham University Press, 2003). It is terrific spiritual reading.
St. Basil (329-379) gives “the best and shortest summary of Catholic social teaching,” Cort was fond of saying. “The coat that hangs in your closet belongs to the poor.”

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter on faith and work.

St. Joseph

The Working Catholic: St. Joseph Day
by Bill Droel

Some years ago I was part of a lobby group to change the feast of St. Joseph the Worker from May 1st to the first Monday in September. The change would apply only to dioceses in the United States; the country that has Labor Day in September. The proposal got a respectable hearing from some bishops but the liturgy police (smile) at the bishops’ conference said no.

In 1889 communist and other pro-worker groups in Europe designated May 1st as International Workers’ Day. It is today celebrated as such by many people in Europe, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. To counter the communists, the Vatican designated May 1st as St. Joseph the Worker Day. Ironically, the May 1st designation is not directly related to a communist event from Europe. It commemorates an event in the U.S., specifically here in Chicago. The issue was an eight-hour workday.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) was interested in an eight hour day. When he wrote about it in 1867 he referred to the situation in the U.S. A stateside group, National Labor Union, championed the cause. Move ahead to 1886. The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions obtained a City of Chicago permit dated May 1st for a rally in support of the enforcement of eight-hour-per-day laws. This event, writes William Adelman in Haymarket Revisited (Illinois Historical Society, 1986), has uniquely “influenced the history of labor in the U.S. and even the world.” What happened?
Late in the evening of the rally someone threw dynamite. Police fired their guns wildly. Soon seven officers and four workers were dead. Eight labor activists were rounded up and arrested. Those apprehended included a lay minister, a printer and others. Within about three months seven of the activists were found guilty. One was sentenced to 15 years; two others got life sentences; one was killed in jail. The remaining four were hanged in November.
The issue didn’t totally disappear. Beginning in the last months of the 19th century various unions were able to include an eight-hour provision in contracts: the United Mine Workers, a Building Trades Council in California, the Typographical Union and more. Only in 1937 with the Fair Labor Standards Act did the restriction on working hours become a national standard. Even then, however, its application was only gradually extended to various sectors.
In recent times the Illinois Labor History Society (www.illinoislaborhistory.org) has refurbished the graves of the Haymarket workers who are buried in Forest Home Cemetery, located in Forest Park, Ill. The Society has several resources related to the Haymarket event and to the meaning of May 1st.
Haymarket Square itself, located just west of Chicago’s Loop, is today home to several trendy restaurants and relatively new condos. Tourists who go there would have to know some history to understand Adelman’s contention that an event occurred there that “influenced the history of labor in the U.S. and even the world.”

Parishes in the U.S. routinely include symbols and prayers about the dignity of work during the September Labor Day weekend. It would be an enhancement, in my opinion, to also have a feast day that weekend honoring that long ago tradesman, St. Joseph.
“O God, Creator of all things… by the example of St. Joseph and under his patronage may we complete the works you set us to do and attain the rewards you promise.” – Collect from Mass of May 1st

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter on faith and work.

Workers in New York

The Working Catholic: Exhibit about Workers
by Bill Droel

Museum of the City of New York (1220 Fifth St., New York, NY 10029) just ended an exhibit about the history of workers in its city. It’s not too late, however, to enjoy the exhibit. It is the basis for City of Workers, City of Struggle edited by Joshua Freeman (Museum of City of NY, 2019; $40). Our Chicago Public Library has a copy, as do other libraries.
The book’s introduction notes that working people help define politics, culture and the public sphere. In struggles between employees and employers, in struggles among groups of workers and in struggles within unions, people determine “what makes a good and livable city.” The book is about labor movements (plural), the introduction explains. That’s because the marketplace is fluid with new labor sectors replacing the old, with new immigrant groups arriving with new skills, with new wage arrangements and more. The book’s contributors devote chapters to colonial New York, slave labor, housework, sailors and dockhands, garment workers, labor relations and race, Puerto Rican contributions, civil servants and others. The book is richly illustrated with old pictures, news articles, posters and the like. A recurring theme is the rise, fall and renewal of several unions. There are more union workers in New York City, by the way, than anywhere else in our country.
Any story about New York City, particularly a story about workers, must treat the fire of March 1911 in the Asch Building (now known as Brown Building, owned by N.Y. University). Within 18 minutes, 144 workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory were dead and two more died subsequently. It happened that Frances Perkins (1880-1965) was in a nearby café. She witnessed the horror. If you have ever drawn overtime pay, ever collected an unemployment check, ever benefited from Social Security, ever been thankful for safety features at your job site, it is because of the tireless efforts of Perkins—first with the Consumers League, then as a New York State official and finally as the first woman cabinet member, serving as Secretary of Labor through all of President Franklin Roosevelt’s (1882-1945) terms. She often said that the imprint of the Triangle Company tragedy compelled her to improve conditions for working families.
City of Workers, City of Struggle details how the CIO grew during the late 1930s in New York City, borrowing the sit down tactic from John L Lewis (1880-1969). The tactic was effective at a public transportation powerhouse, at Woolworths and other dry goods stores and more. Although the CIO is associated with steel in Pittsburgh and automobiles in Detroit, many CIO unions had their national headquarters in New York City.
The book’s chapter on health care features Local 1199, a union for which I briefly worked in the early 1970s. Led by Leon Davis (1905-1992), this union began among pharmacists and other drugstore workers. Davis hired Elliott Godoff (1905-1975) to organize hospital workers. For 40 years after the National Labor Relations Act (aka the Wagner Act) voluntary hospitals remained outside of labor relations jurisdiction. Also many nurses felt that as professionals they did not need a union. And, concerns about public safety limit a union’s tactics in a hospital setting. Nonetheless in December 1958 a Bronx hospital recognized Local 1199 as “sole and exclusive bargaining agent” for its workers. There were lots of ups and downs for Local 1199 and other health care unions for several years. At critical moments, Cardinal John O’Connor (1920-2000) assisted the union with dramatic testimony and action. In 1995 an on-again-off-again merger between Local 1199 and Service Employees International was ratified.
Near its conclusion, City of Workers, City of Struggle considers the new worker centers. These centers do not engage in collective bargaining. They are a combination of social service and successful advocacy for workers.
Domestic workers have since 1938 been excluded from federal labor standards, though recently some federal policies have been extended to “direct care workers.” The remarkable Ai-Jen Poo is U.S. born of Taiwanese heritage. As a college student, Poo volunteered with an Asian-American service agency. Still in her 20s, she began systematic visits to many New York City playgrounds where she built relationships with nannies and other care workers who frequented the parks. She organized small meetings and by 2002 her groups were pressuring city entities for improved oversight of their occupation. In 2007 she launched National Domestic Workers Alliance (www.domesticworkers.org). NDWA successfully lobbied for labor standards that exceed federal minimums in nine states and in Seattle. NDWA is now pushing for a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights to include paid overtime, safe working conditions, meal and rest breaks, earned sick time and fair scheduling.
Bhairavi Desal is another remarkable woman who has spent years visiting garages and airport lots talking with taxi drivers. Her Taxi Workers Alliance (www.nytwa.org) lobbies for precarious workers. Fekkak Mamdouh, a leader with Restaurant Opportunities Center (www.rocunited.org), does the same with food service workers. In particular, ROC campaigns to end harassment, to improve scheduling and to establish a fair wage structure. These centers must rely on public attention gained through rallies, education materials, and individual meetings with decision makers.
City of Workers, City of Struggle is a history book. But it is inspiring. It reminds the reader that although there are setbacks, social improvement is possible. The essential ingredients are always dedicated people and focused action over many years.

Droel edits a print newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (P O Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Formation through Action

The Working Catholic: Action Is Necessary
by Bill Droel

“Consuming and participating in politics by obsessive news-following [and] by arguing and debating” is not politics, says Eitan Hersh in Politics Is for Power (Simon & Schuster [2020]; $27). To binge on MSNBC, devour Fox News or constantly share one’s opinions with friends and family on social media or in phone calls, is “to satisfy our own emotional needs and intellectual curiosities” but in itself serves no “serious purpose.”
Hersh calls the trap political hobbyism: Instead of electoral engagement (canvassing, participating in meetings, etc.), citizens pay lots of attention to political comings-and-goings. By one survey, 83% of those who spend an hour or more daily on news consumption (TV, mobile devices, reading) spend no time on political activity. Nor does the majority ever act on a community problem. Hersh does not suggest that citizens abandon the news. Genuine activists are well-informed. However, it does not work in the opposite direction: News junkies are not active.
Genuine politics is when people volunteer in order to acquire power. They build relationships, win supporters and broker their power for some social improvement. Hersh, a young professor at Tufts University, is sympathetic toward students and other young adults who support causes. However, he supplies several cautions. Genuine politics might entail spirited protest, but protest in itself is not enough. Though one-off events appeal to young adults, genuine politics means a longer-term commitment to others.
Hersh’s term for shallow participation is slacktivism. This is any symbolic on-line activity or token action that conveys support but only fulfills an altruistic need. These shallow gestures put off the necessity to learn how to vote, how to canvass, how to build relationships. He furnishes fascinating studies about how wearing a button or T-shirt subjectively removes the obligation to do something.
Political hobbyism is not neutral; it “hinders the pursuit of political power.” It puts attention on entertainment and melodrama. Similarly, it favors “short-term emotional highs,” pushing away the often boring process of real social change. It also favors ideological struggles in which all manner of policies become moral convictions over which there can be no compromise. Both citizens and electoral officials buy into this made-for-TV culture.
Hersh profiles several competent organizers. They are people of empathy who know that whining and yelling only narrow the base. They have no set script but are open to dialogue with anyone. They do not campaign around policy issues so much as they are disciplined about winning and holding power. They have “generous hearts” and exhibit patience.
Hersh’s examples come from electoral politics. He does though apply his theory to the withering of religious organizations, labor unions and civic groups. The phrase spiritual but not religious can typify a hobbyist. Whereas the word religion means to bind together, the hobbyist occasionally tries out spiritual practices like yoga or solitary meditation.

Specialized Catholic Action (capital A) was a worldwide movement in 1940s and 1950s. Its key insight was that faith formation must include action. Discussion groups, theology on tap speakers in the parish hall and Scripture reflections in the bulletin are fine. But adults do not grow in wisdom without action. The Catholic Action method was summarized in the slogan: observe, judge act. In particular Catholic Action said that young adults will be disposed toward Christianity through disciplined action around their concerns about work and relationships. It trained young adults to steadily organize like-to-like, student-to-student, worker-to-worker. Specialized Catholic Action used no gimmicks and promised no quick fix. It is difficult. Several formation programs (Renew, Christ Renews His Church, etc.) have solid content but nearly all stumble on the necessity for action.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a print newsletter about faith and work.