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.

Christmas Shopping II

The Working Catholic: Christmas Shopping Part II
by Bill Droel

Clothes were once made in the U.S.  Yes, labor abuses occurred in our domestic production–in cotton plantations, mills and factories. Conditions greatly improved, however, with the labor laws and reforms introduced by President Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945) and his Labor Secretary Frances Perkins (1880-1965).
Through the post-World War II years, New York City’s Garment District “had more apparel factories than anywhere else in the world,” Dana Thomas, a fashion expert based in Paris, writes in Fashionapolis (Penguin, 2019). From there production expanded to Bronx, Brooklyn, Rochester and Chicago; and in the 1970s to NYC’s Chinatown and to Los Angeles.
Starting in about 1980 two trends converged to create the apparel industry as we have it today. First, President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) encouraged free trade deals. It soon became more profitable for clothing companies to import from countries where wages are low and building standards are nearly nonexistent. Second, fast fashion became the new concept. U.S. consumers, even those with money, crave cheap clothes—everything from socks to formal wear. Consumers shop “off-the-rack” or expect “next day delivery” from retail outlets where wages are relatively low.

How many clothing items per U.S. shopper? Jessica Iredale writes about blue jeans for Wall St. Journal (12/1/19). “Staying on trend can be an exhausting, not to mention expensive exercise in denim acrobatics,” she says. She has 18 pairs in her closet and a few more in storage bins under her bed. Of these, Iredale has three “in regular rotation.” The others are mostly out of fashion. By one estimate, the average number per U.S. adult (women plus men) is seven pairs in the closet. That adult regularly goes to the alley or resale shop because that adult buys four new pairs per year. Each shopper (including those shopping for their children) buys 68 garments per year.

There are varying degrees of exploitation involved in the overseas production of each garment. The most harrowing production is in Bangladesh, Thomas details. There are thousands of apparel factories there, employing 40million workers. The doors are locked at many of those plants in order to keep workers from leaving during the day. The world learned of this inhumane practice in April 2013 when the Rana Plaza collapsed, killing 1,134 workers and injuring another 2,500. The Rana Plaza tragedy “is the impetus” for every subsequent improvement in Bangladesh manufacturing, says Thomas.
Thomas summarizes the reforms that occurred and didn’t occur after the Rana Plaza collapse. IndustriAll Global (54 bio Route des Acacias, Geneva, Switzerland; www.industriall-union.org) developed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety (www.bangladeshaccord.org). About 200 fashion lines and retail outlets signed up. Teams of engineers, including leaders from Canada, made the rounds of Bangladesh factories. The Accord participants were mostly European firms. The U.S. firms, spearheaded by Walmart, started the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, similar to the Accord. However, the U.S. Alliance is voluntary and uses in-house inspectors. Human rights activists believe it is deficient.

President Donald Trump is interested in the U.S. trade deficit. The apparel industry which thrives on free trade and on consumers’ desire for fast fashion annually accounts for $77billion of the trade deficit, according to Thomas. Might Trump find ways to bring clothing manufacturing back to the U.S.?
His original MAGA hat was “assembled in the U.S.A.” (The hats could not say “made in the U.S.A.”) The MAGA hat is now a knockoff, selling for $6.99 from 16 importers. All the other items in Trump’s failed clothing line were foreign made, including in some sweatshops. White House advisor Ivanka Kushner’s apparel items, a line which went under in July 2018, were imported from China, Indonesia and Bangladesh. The Kushner subcontractors employed women toiling in sweatshops. Thomas begins her book with details about Melania Trump’s cynical jacket, worn on a 2018 visit to a detention center. It cost $39 from a Spanish manufacturer (unless our government overpaid for the item).

On short notice it will be difficult to buy completely clean clothes during this holy season. A donation to a human rights group is appropriate. I recommend International Labor Rights Forum (1634 I St. NW #1000, Washington, DC 20006; www.laborrights.org) and Worker Rights Consortium (5 Thomas Cr. NW #500, Washington, DC 20005; www.workersrights.org).

Social justice is a relatively new virtue in that it once was not possible to do anything about wrongdoing that occurred in remote locations or in complex systems. Today social justice, though difficult, is possible. Action on behalf of justly-made clothes is possible and, thanks to conscientious students, many consumers and a few sophisticated groups, there is momentum behind justice in the clothing industry.

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

CHRISTMAS SHOPPING

The Working Catholic: Christmas Shopping
by Bill Droel

Will your shopping for gifts this holy season include buying apparel? Be warned: It will be difficult to find clean clothes. Some are hopelessly stained with child labor, even slavery. Most have flaws like sweatshop wages, dangerous working conditions, wage theft, harassment and more.

In recent years some consumers have shown interest in healthier food. The slow food movement has even reached the menus within the biggest fast food chains. Now a slow fashion movement is budding. For example, you can purchase clean jeans from Blue Delta in Oxford, Mississippi. There is an Ivy League educated woman in Tennessee who is doing well growing and selling indigo domestically. About 700 cotton farms in South Carolina practice re-shoring; that is, growing stateside and supplying manufacturers here. Even a few well-known apparel brands are gradually turning away from sweatshops.
It is likely too late to get into slow fashion purchasing before Wednesday, December 25, 2019. However, Advent (also called the Journey Outward) is an appropriate time for solid reading on the topic of clothing.

In Beaten Down, Worked Up (Alfred Knopf, 2019) Steven Greenhouse gives two thorough chapters to the history of U.S. apparel manufacturing.
In the early 1900s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was a premier manufacturer of affordable women’s blouses. It occupied the top three floors of New York City’s Asch Building (now known as Brown Building and owned by N.Y. University). In November 1909 the women there and in other factories staged a strike. Aided by Women’s Trade Union League and by International Ladies Garment Worker Union and for a time by a few wealthy women called Mink Coat Brigade, the Triangle workers held out for over two months. Their demands were modest: Managers must stop “yelling at them, threatening them or harassing them” plus a change in the pay system–from a set amount per day, no matter the number of hours to an hourly wage. When they settled, the Triangle workers got a small raise and a 52-hour week. They did not get the first goal of every worker action: sole and exclusive bargaining rights. Nor was workplace safety part of the outcome.
Beaten Down, Worked Up profiles Clara Lemlich Shavelson (1886-1982). She was 23-years old in those last weeks of 1909. She emerged as a leader of the garment workers. At a crowded union meeting held in Cooper Union she pushed her way to the front and shouted: “I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in general terms. I move that we go on a general strike.” Her activism continued through her life. She pioneered the tactic of consumer boycott and started tenants’ groups in her neighborhood. In her 80s Lemlich Shavelson lived in a senior facility. Sure enough, she organized the nurses and aides. With these working conditions “you’d be crazy not to join a union,” she told the workers.
Beaten Down, Worked Up goes on to detail a devastating fire at Triangle Company that occurred in March 1911. After just 18 minutes, 144 people were dead.
Before 1900, it might be noted, there was no such thing as fashion in our country; except among the elites in Virginia and elsewhere along the Atlantic coast who took cues from Europe. There was no “off the rack” shopping for working women and men (only standard issue uniforms or homemade clothes). Only with mass production of apparel and other products in the 20th century could working-class people have an interest in and be able to afford fashion. The Triangle Company, like many other shops, cut and assembled stylish shirts; the beginning of what today is called fast fashion. Of course, the main ingredient in the early 1900s as with nearly all garments today was cheap labor. An exploitative wage system was and is justified.
Beaten Down, Worked Up then profiles a witness to the Triangle Company tragedy: Frances Perkins (1880-1965), an Episcopalian. She was in a nearby café, on break from her position with National Consumers League (www.nclnet.org). Her friend was Florence Kelley (1859-1932), a Quaker and the first general secretary of Consumers League.
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. After her time with the Consumers League, she worked for New York State and then became the first woman cabinet member, serving through all of President Franklin Roosevelt’s terms. She was compelled to improve conditions for working families by the imprint of the horrible Triangle Company tragedy.

How is it that all our clothes come from Asia or Latin America? Might President Donald Trump revive apparel manufacturing in the U.S.? Is there something we can do about dirty clothing even during these short days before Christmas? To be continued with information drawn from Fashionapolis by Dana Thomas (Penguin, 2019).

Droel edits a print newsletter of faith and work for National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Strikes

The Working Catholic: Strikes
by Bill Droel

Strikes are in the news: auto workers, janitors, teachers, hotel workers and more. Catholicism has a well-developed doctrine on labor relations that includes moral considerations regarding strikes. Most Catholics, I suspect, know nothing about this doctrine. Some who know about it don’t accept it.

Catholicism says that a wholesome, holy society must have bargaining associations for workers. This teaching is part of the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity. It also fits with Catholicism’s experience of responsible freedom—something lacking in societies without independent worker associations and other countervailing forces. Totalitarianisms, on one hand, squash unions. Libertarian capitalism with its equation of freedom with extreme individualism likewise rejects unions and other mediating structures. A healthy society by contrast encourages workers’ groups and other associations.
Catholicism does not say that every workplace must have a union. It does not say that this or that union is a good fit for this or that workplace. It does, however, assert that the workers make the choice for or against a union without the maternal or paternal meddling of management. In support of this doctrine Catholicism says that bona fide workers’ groups are entitled to job actions. Catholicism does not vouch for the wisdom of any one job action. That’s a prudential matter for the workers.

A strike is morally OK with some conditions. It must be a just strike. That is, the workers have previously exercised good faith in expressing their position. The issues are serious enough. No violence can occur, though strikers can be loud and can temporarily assert extreme demands. During a strike the union must have a negotiating posture. So too, says Catholicism, must management. This is why a lock out is immoral.
Finally, the strikers are not allowed to put customers, patients, students, neighbors and the like in danger. This is why a wholesale strike by police officers is immoral. For the same reason a nurses’ strike is morally dicey. It could be acceptable, only if provisions for patient care are taken and if it is of short duration.
In keeping with these criteria Catholicism says that no Catholic is allowed to cross a legitimate picket line. No Catholic, meaning suppliers, customers and managers. (If this stricture were observed, all strikes would be settled quickly. After all, about 25% of all executives are Catholic.)
Cardinal John O’Connor (1920-2000) of New York was schooled in labor doctrine from his childhood. One time a major Catholic entity scheduled its high-priced ticket fundraiser at an elite country club. Days before the event the club’s staff went on strike. O’Connor announced that his religion prohibited him from attending the event and mentioned that the prohibition should apply to any Catholic. The event was cancelled, even though the entity really needed this fundraiser.
From the doctrine pertaining to strikes it logically follows that the use of permanent replacement workers is a contradiction in terms. O’Connor testified to our U.S. Congress on this point.

Finally, the record must state that Catholic institutions sometimes flaunt our faith and engage in union busting. That their trustees and managers are able to get away with their behavior, provides proof as to why workers need their own associations, free from maternalism or paternalism. A list of Catholic institutions that harmoniously deal with a union is found on this Catholic Labor Network website.

Droel is an author of Catholic Institutions and Labor Unions (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $1)

Disabling Help

The Working Catholic: Disabling Help
by William Droel

Good intentions are not enough. Indeed, good intentions can be harmful.
Tarence Ray provides a case study of wasteful, ineffective and disabling social improvement programs in “Hollowed Out: Against the Sham Revitalization of Appalachia” for The Baffler (https://thebaffler.com/; 10/19). He assessed 15 organizations in his region that received money from Appalachian Regional Commission plus he looked at other economic development projects. ARC is a federal agency with state cooperation. It began in 1965 and is targeted to West Virginia and parts of a dozen other states. The particular funding arm that concerns Ray began during the administration of President Barack Obama to create employment that would offset job loss from the coal industry.
“Wading into the bureaucratic refuse of these [15] organizations was exhausting,” Ray says. He was bounced from one employee’s phone extension to another; several groups didn’t respond to him at all. Only one located in southwest Pennsylvania supplied information.
The organizations are strong on narrative-building (i.e. verbiage) but never really do much, Ray discovered. It could be that leaders of these groups are sincere. They presume that enough high-sounding talk and writing will trickle down to Appalachian culture, will change mindsets and will somehow create prosperity. Some of their goals are simply impractical. For example, proposing a Silicon Holler or tech utopia in rural areas that lack adequate broadband infrastructure. Or in one of a handful of other examples, a program suggests that a former miner train as an elevator operator in a region that has only a few four-story buildings.
Ray’s essay is not a critique of government bungling, though that occurs. These same organizations get foundation grants, which encourages the government to renew funding, which attracts more grants. His target is the crucial fallacy of these and other Helping Interventions: The priority is never to help the underemployed help themselves. It is not a bottom-up agenda. It is top-down assistance always packaged with an “enduring faith in technology.” Developers and investors will acquire property, build facilities, install hardware and garner consulting contracts. College-educated planners, supervisors, technocrats, lawyers and others will oversee the project. Some of whom will be located on the scene but many of whom, after an initial visit, remain in an office with a high-grade computer in Boston or Washington. If a rationale is needed, the government and foundation leaders invoke “trickle-down.” And again, maybe they are sincere in their incorrect belief.

How can a responsible citizen, an ordinary worker avoid a government-sponsored, foundation-funded merry-go-round to nowhere? Run away from jargon. Ray supplies several terms associated with “sham” programs: entrepreneurship, business incubation, targeted, deployed, innovation ecosystem, business coach, sustainable infrastructure, feasibility study, cultural heritage assets, elevating awareness, opportunity zone and the like.
One word that doesn’t appear in all this is organize. The alternative to neoliberal paternalism or maternalism is organized citizens who through their church, their union, their precinct and their self-funded community organization tell big tech and big government what they want in their schools, their communities and their environment. And they say, “Let’s negotiate.”

On this topic of disabling help I recommend Listen, Liberal by Thomas Frank (Picador, 2016). He is particularly good on the use of jargon to avoid genuine social change. Also read Winners Take All: the Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas (Knopf, 2018). And we would benefit from once again considering any of the books by Ivan Illich (1926-2002).

Droel’s booklet, Public Friendship, is available from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $6)

Extreme Capitalism

The Working Catholic: Extreme Capitalism
by Bill Droel

Economic indicators ebb and flow, though not with high predictability. In the years after World War II the U.S. economy was growing and its benefits were enjoyed by most middle-class families. Sputtering began in the late-1960s and by the mid-1970s U.S. companies were losing their competitive edge, details Steven Pearlstein in Can American Capitalism Survive? (St. Martin’s Press, 2018). U.S. consumers judged all types of imports to be of better quality and/or of a better price than the U.S.-made counterpart. Several U.S. companies, slow to innovate, were near extinction.
A rescue effort, indeed a transformation, began in the 1980s. President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) is often associated with this economic comeback, but the factors were many. Re-engineering, mergers, deregulation, sub-contracting, new tech businesses and more all played a part. “The transformation was messy, painful, contentious and often unfair,” writes Pearlstein. However, “it worked.” He outlines the business philosophy that drove the recovery. Briefly: 1.) Government is “significantly responsible for the decline” in U.S. competitiveness; 2.) “The sole purpose of every business is to deliver the highest possible financial return to its investors; 3.) No matter how ruthless, no matter how big the wealth gap, business “must ignore and dismiss moral concerns as naïve and ultimately self-defeating.” Pearlstein nods favorably toward these principles—to a degree. He summarizes them as supply-side economics, maximum attention to shareholders and a self-justifying market.
Pearlstein goes on to argue that the improvements of the 1980s have gone extreme. “What began as a useful corrective” became “morally corrupting and self-defeating economic dogma.” The business philosophy of the moment is driven by supply-side fantasies, anti-regulatory zealots, single-mined management focused on short term stock returns, the “grubby pursuit of self-interest” and a perversion of justice that cheats, manipulates and disrespects loyal workers and ordinary consumers. Today’s business philosophy has “betrayed its ideals and its purpose and forfeited its moral legitimacy,” Pearlstein concludes.
Catholicism agrees. But it is not because the economy has taken some useful principles to an extreme. No, the principles named by Pearlstein are at fault, no matter the degree. Business is a noble vocation, Catholicism repeatedly proclaims. (See Vocation of the Business Leader, NCL, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; free.) Further, there can be legitimate differences over how much government regulation is proper; over the relationship between shareholders and stakeholders; over the best way a business can serve the common good. But the prior principles for business are different in Catholicism than in extreme capitalism.
Work and creative genius are needed for any healthy economy, Pope Francis recently told an Italian business publication. A healthy economy “is never disconnected from the meaning of what is produced and economic activity,” he said. The meaning of work, Catholicism insists, is the worker. The first purpose of a business is its workers, which includes executives, janitors, sales force, delivery drivers, part-time consultants, assembly-line people and all others. Start with that principle, says Catholicism, and the chances increase for regular customers, honest suppliers, responsive lenders, successful recruiting and profit over time.
Unfortunately, Francis continued, some people have a business mentality which says money is made by money. But “money, real money, is done with work. It is work that confers dignity on people, not money.” Of course, financial investment is essential. And of course, profit is a good thing as long as “actions and responsibilities, justice and profit, production of wealth and its redistribution, operation and respect for the environment, become elements that over time guarantee the life of the company… From this point of view the meaning of the company widens and makes us understand that the sole pursuit of profit no longer guarantees the life of the company.” When Francis says “This economy kills,” he means extreme capitalism. It kills the very outcome that it pretends to desire.
Presenting Catholic economic principles is a hard sell. Who believes that our company or any company or firm is here for all the workers? It is a hard sell too because Catholic institutions are hypocritical when, for example, they preach justice but do not pay a family wage. Or hypocrisy is the word when bishops do not deal responsibly with deviant employees while preaching respect for life.
Yet some companies do operate under the principle that each worker is a subject of work. They do not—and should not—trumpet Catholicism on their marquee. A company does not have to be Catholic in any sense to be excellent. Nor is it is necessary that these good companies are even aware of any ethical sources for their operations. Finally, they don’t—and probably cannot—be consistently principled. There are though—partially, imperfectly, inconsistently—companies that are not interested in extreme capitalism.
Can you think of any? Chobani? Southwest Airlines? Starbucks? Procter & Gamble? UPS? Dick’s Sporting Goods? Please react to these suggestions and nominate others.
Businesses, says Pope Francis, “can make a great contribution so that work retains its dignity by recognizing that people are the most important resource of every company, working to build the common good, paying attention to the poor.”

Droel is associated with National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

On the Edge

The Working Catholic: On the Edge
by Bill Droel

There are prophets of peace and builders of peace. There are protesters and institutional reformers. There are outsiders and insiders. The distinction is fluid. A person might be a prophetic outsider on one topic and an expert insider on another.
Newspapers and textbooks often present the outsider as a model for social justice. The outsider is concerned with social change but not overly concerned with how to implement reform. The insider gets less attention. They are the ones who speak institutional jargon. They can be dull. They know tax tables and zoning laws; they know about international protocols and about pipeline treaties. These insiders resist the first answer that occurs to them because they have heard the world’s complexities reduced to slogans. They take confidence in their faith but they do not believe that God is on their side or that God is opposed to their opponents. Insiders regularly wonder if they are right. They readily acknowledge to themselves that in this or that situation they are only 75% right.
The outsider is necessary for momentum but eventually the insider makes social change. Without inside reformers there are only passing reactions to grievances. Are there any bridges between the vociferous outsider and the stodgy insider?
The term ginger group is sometimes used in England and elsewhere. It refers to a conscience within a broader social reform movement or organization. A ginger group is loyal but it also dissents from an organization’s leaders. For example, Labor Notes (www.labornotes.org) with offices in Detroit and Brooklyn is loyal to unions. But it champions those workers that reform a workplace without waiting for clearance from an international union headquarters. Voice of the Faithful (www.votf.org), to mention a second example, has headquarters in suburban Boston. Its members have not left Roman Catholicism in disgust over bishops’ malfeasance nor have they challenged Catholic dogma. Instead they are a controversial ginger group that presses for reform.
Center for Action and Contemplation (www.cac.org) is the hub for all things regarding Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM. In a 2013 pamphlet titled Eight Core Principles and in some of his blogs, Rohr uses the term edge of the inside. A group on the edge of the inside of an institution is “free from its central seductions, but also free to hear its core message in very new and creative ways,” Rohr writes. An edge of the inside type group must love both the institution and the outsider critique of the institution, and it must “know how to move between these two loves.” An edge of the inside group advocates for change by “quoting [the institution’s] own documents, constitutions, heroes, and Scriptures against its present practice. This is their secret: systems are best unlocked from inside,” Rohr writes. The total outsider simplistically chooses one idealized alternative while denigrating the other institution. “This has gotten us nowhere,” Rohr concludes.
Does a posture of edge of the inside make sense in our current predicaments? Would Democrats for Life be an edge of the inside example? How about Change to Win, an affiliation since 2005 of four labor unions? Is an edge of the inside group ever effective? Or is edge of the inside but a temporary stop for outsiders with their denunciations and agitations on their way to being insiders? Please share your experience with this columnist.

Droel is an editor with National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Personalism

The Working Catholic: Personalism
by Bill Droel

Is there a sustaining philosophy for idealistic young adults? Is there a creative path that cuts through the inanity of social media, of most TV programming, of the self-help industry? Is there a comprehensive outlook that resists cynicism and resentment? Is it possible to access a fountain of inspiration while maintaining a busy work schedule and keeping up with family obligations?
World War I ended in 1918, only to be followed by the Great Depression which began in 1929. In the wake of these major traumas, idealistic young adults seriously probed the meaning or lack thereof in the feverishness of modern progress. Could it be that the promise of plenty necessarily results in the opposite? In grappling with these and similar questions, a cadre of young adults in Paris and elsewhere constructed a philosophy they called personalism. Emmanuel Mounier (1905-1950) was its initial leader; the literary journal Espirit (www.espirit.presse.fr) was its main organ. In addition to Mounier, other personalists included Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), Nicholas Berdyaev (1874-1948) and Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973). A young actor and seminarian in Poland, today known as St. John Paul II (1920-2005), contributed to Espirit. Jacques Ellul (1912-1994), sociologist and leader in the Reformed Church, can likewise be considered a personalist.
The common response to the Great Depression and to our own societal and economic disruptions is a call for more self-reliance, more unencumbered liberty. A personalist, however, knows that a hard accent on individualism only leads to worthless relativism. Today of course, relativism has taken over our culture. For example, White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, a Catholic, says there are “alternative facts” and Rudy Giuliani, another Catholic, says there is no truth to be found. Or there is this extreme expression of relativism from former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, also Catholic: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concepts of existence, of meaning, of the universe and the mystery of human life.”
Liberty is a marvelous modern achievement. Personalists, however, make a distinction between a solitary individual and a relational person; between freedom from and freedom for. One’s future is not predetermined by nor subordinate to one’s family of origin or by one’s caste. But the modern celebration of autonomy cannot mean an absolute defense of individual privileges. A person naturally self-actualizes within relationships, personalists say.
There is another characteristic of personalism that appeals to today’s young adults. The plan for life “emerges from the comradeship of the road rather than the diagrams of the classroom,” Mounier writes. Abstract principles preached from on high only answer questions no young adult is really asking. Moralizing, says Mounier, only further alienates. Experience is what counts. Serious thinking alone is but one more rotation on the merry-go-round. Friendship and involvement are crucial. Then young adults process the experience with critical reading and thinking, along with deep conversation. There must be action. A book club or a rump group is good, but alone such gatherings do not adequately contain enough substance. Action is essential for a meaningful, holy life. And along the way, young adults in action/reflection improve our world.
The secret is involvement in the world absolutely combined with a spiritual element, the personalists say. Don’t expect a fully formed spiritual life to come first, however. “The first step in the spiritual revolution is the economic and political revolution,” Mounier writes. The material world has to be reformed in a way that allows distressed people “to find their way towards things spiritual.”
Personalism is not an organization with a website. There is no Personalism for Dummies workbook. So where can a young adult find this philosophy? It is a process of reading, thinking, finding friends and small collective efforts for improving one’s workplace, school, neighborhood or society.
Peter Maurin (1877-1949) brought personalism to the United States from France. He was a co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, a chain of 174 hospitality communities in the United States, plus some overseas. Several publish a newspaper. The flagship publication is titled The Catholic Worker (www.catholicworker.org). The Houston Catholic Worker (www.cjd.org) is particularly good.
Some organic community organizations in our country, though maybe unaware of its influence, are promoting the basics of personalism. They stress one-to-one encounters prior to any public policy topic or any grievance. The bigness of the state and of industry is not a solution, a personalist group maintains. Action is essential. Then reflection, or what Maurin called “clarification of thought,” must follow.

Droel’s booklet, Public Friendship, is available from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5)

Corporate Elections

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

There are new rules for electing players to the All Star teams. As in a presidential election, fans now vote in a primary and then in a conclusive election. The primary determines the top three players at each position for each league (each league’s top nine outfielders are grouped together). The fan’s conclusive vote determines the starters. Then MLB players have a ballot, plus the All Star managers and the commissioner have some discretion. Thus some players will be in Cleveland on July 9, 2019 by way of the fans, others by way of fellow-players and some by way of management.

New rules for electing corporate boards are needed. Currently, stockholders vote (including by proxy). Many of these stockholders are “the most uninvested, irresponsible parties involved” with the company, says David Ciepley in Hedgehog Review (Spring/19). “They have never contributed a dime to the corporations” because they acquire the stock on speculation in the secondary market, often in a bundled retirement fund. They hold a stock on average for four months. They are uninterested in “making improvements for long-term returns” but instead favor “quickly squeezing what they can out of the company.” A few people acquire a company’s stock in a different way, but they too are often fixated on the firm’s quarterly performance on the Nasdaq or another exchange. These people are the company’s executives who are paid in stock, not cash. At election time they nominate and vote for like-minded directors.
A crucial step “for reducing corporate misconduct and for reorienting the corporation to public purposes,” writes Ciepley, is “overthrowing the baleful notion, currently regnant in law schools, the business press and even the courts…that corporations are purely private associations and that their stockholders are [in any meaningful way] their members, owners or principals.” He admits that “there is no simple or obvious path to restoring the public purpose of the corporation.” Ciepley does though allude to co-determinism, a mechanism for including stakeholders in corporate governance.

This notion, which derives from Catholic doctrine, has long been advanced by theologians, public policy leaders and business executives, as Matt Mazewski, a student at Columbia University, details in Commonweal (3/22/19). There are examples from Great Britain and elsewhere, though he concentrates on Germany.
Catholic philosopher and mining engineer Franz von Baader (1765-1841) was among the first to develop sound arguments for worker participation in corporate governance, Mazewski finds. By 1891 Germany passed legislation for factory councils to advise management. The notion gained popularity after World War II. For example, Heinrich Dinkelbach (1891-1967), a Catholic and a steel manager, devised a plan for general input from trade unions for business direction. In 1951 Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967), also Catholic, won legislative support for special co-determinism provisions.
The general concept appears in several Church documents. It is explicitly promoted by Pope Pius XI (1857-1939) in his 1931 encyclical Reconstructing the Social Order. His Latin phrase for co-determinism, collegia ordinum, is translated industry council plan in the U.S.  Pius XI and the others said that some form of this doctrine tempers adversarial feelings between workers and owners because both are participating in the company’s success. It puts an emphasis on self-regulation and thus makes government meddling in business less necessary. The temptation to absorb these stakeholder councils into one or another government agency must be resisted. Unions do not disappear; management does not disappear; stockholders remain and government retains a role. The council plan can be variously constituted and look differently in various sectors. With genuine and full cooperation a business grows because participation is enhanced through the plan.
Establishing a true community of work “will not be easy,” Mazewski concludes. But putting varied interests on corporate boards “would certainly be a good place to start.”

Droel is associated with National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629). NCL distributes Were You Born On the Wrong Continent by Tom Geoghegan ($20), which considers co-determinism in Germany.