The Working Catholic: Signs of the Times by Bill Droel

How do we become aware that a new age has dawned?
Did anyone in November 1492 proclaim that the modern age began the previous month when Native Americans discovered Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)? Did anyone in November 1517 realize that the modern age began the previous month when Rev. Martin Luther (1483-1546) challenged the Roman Catholic bureaucracy? Yet looking back to those events we trace global commerce, exploration, cultural imperialism, a turn to individualism and soon enough new forms of governance.
Did anyone in December 1947 say that modernity has been superseded by a post-modern age because the transistor was invented at Bell Labs the previous month? Did anyone in August 1954 mark the beginning of postmodernism because Elvis Presley (1935-1977) recorded That’s All Right in a style fusing country with rhythm and blues? Yet those events and others were forerunners to a youth culture, to a pervasive cyber-dimension of life, to a view of the earth from outer-space, to instant and world-wide communication of prices, weather patterns, celebrity gossip, political conflict and more.
The same lack of awareness and ambiguity applies to naming generations. After all, someone was born yesterday and someone tomorrow. So, can we really demarcate and easily differentiate Baby Boomers from Gen X from the Millennial Generation?
Yet we need markers to understand our place in history, to understand the forces that shape our lives and contour our agency in our place and time.
Gary Gerstle explores the signs of the times in The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order (Oxford Press, 2022). Gerstle calls each of his stages a type of liberalism. He admits confusion in terminology. For example, today’s neoliberals are usually called conservatives. But whatever the labels, every modern society accepts the basics of classic Liberalism. For example, according to classic Liberalism individuals are not bound by heredity and knowledge (science and reason) is better than superstition. Though the British and others still like the trappings of monarchy, citizens in all classic Liberal societies have a right to participation in governance. Classic Liberalism, no matter the labels of the moment, insists that the rule of law replaces vengeance and property acquired legitimately (including intellectual/creative property) is a protected possession.
Classic Liberalism was influential in the late 1700s and somewhat in the 1800s. It had an intellectual comeback after World War I, says Gerstle, because of economists like Friedrich Hayek (1899), Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) and others.
Gerstle applies the label New Deal liberalism to the second stage of liberalism. He associates this worldview with President Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945), to a degree with President Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) and with President Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973).
New Deal liberalism differs from the classic type of liberalism in that government, labor unions, associations and consumer groups play a role in society and the economy. The shift recognizes that without countervailing forces individual liberty and laissez-faire capitalism make for “an economic disaster.” The market needs an umpire to enforce contracts, to use the military to stabilize trade, to enforce tariffs and the like. Society also needs government to restrict businesses that disregard the public good, to employ workers when hiring slows, to soften the blows of poverty, to purchase when inflation dampens consumer activity, to tackle big projects (health care delivery, utility delivery, infrastructure construction and the like) when private enterprise is incapable.
Gerstle’s third type of liberalism is called neoliberalism. It harkens back to classic Liberal themes and is thus a reaction against the socially-minded New Deal liberalism of Roosevelt and others. Gerstle associates neoliberalism with Presidents Ronald Reagan (1911-2004), Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and with others.
Neoliberalism promises to recover imagination and serious aspirations in contrast to the deadening bureaucracies of the 1960s and 1970s. It says that private enterprise can be efficient and therefore government should use contractors for toll way collections, public transportation, garbage collection, some overseas military operations, space exploration, schools and more. Neoliberalism favors deregulation, free trade and information technology.
In the neoliberal view all encounters are monetized; that is, everything is for sale—even health care, recreation, personal information and water. Its centers of interest are Wall St., Silicon Valley, Hollywood and tech hubs in the Boston and Seattle areas. For neoliberals “cosmopolitanism [is] a cultural achievement,” writes Gerstle. Regardless of their rhetoric, neoliberalism applies to most Democrat and Republican politicians. Neoliberalism perpetuates an old strain of moralizing common in the rugged individual days. It assumes that some liberty can be denied those who are unable to handle responsibility. Neoliberals distinguish the deserving poor from the undeserving poor.
Gerstle hints that neoliberalism has lost luster and that we might be entering a new phase. The crash of 2008, the disruptions from Covid-19, the incompetence of President Donald Trump’s administration, a brutal war in Europe and more raise doubts about the neoliberal promise. What might be signs of a new era? Reports are welcome.

Droel is affiliated with National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629). It distributes two encyclicals that critique neoliberalism; one by Pope Benedict XVI, the other by Pope Francis ($15 for both).

Employee Participation

The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine, Part Nine
by Bill Droel

Capitalism today is of the libertarian or wild cowboy style. It destructs our middle-class way of life plus, let’s admit, it erodes the well-being of its supposed mega-beneficiaries. Alternative styles of capitalism are available. They preserve an industrial base, increase employee participation in the economy and improve the odds of maintaining peace. Along the way, the alternatives strengthen economic competitiveness. They support long-haul capitalism, a democratic capitalism.
Germany has an alternative capitalism embedded in its economy, writes Tom Geoghegan in Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?. Its elements are works councils, co-determined boards and regional wage-setting institutions. Employees in Germany can also, if they like, vote for a union to negotiate their wages and pensions. The works councils, each specific to one store or factory, give some managerial responsibility to an elected employee or two. “On layoffs and other issues [like store hours] the employer has to reach an agreement with the works council,” Geoghegan explains. On a co-determined board half the members are from among employees. (There is one extra member from the executive ranks who breaks a tie vote.) This board, which exists only in bigger companies, does not make all the decisions but it receives company information, considers normal operations and sets general direction. There is a separate board of directors elected by shareholders.
All well and good for Germany, you might say. But it can’t happen in the United States. Surprisingly, Geoghegan says, this German model gained its practical traction from the United States in the months following World War II. And guess what? There are elements of this model in our country.
The latest push for an alternative capitalism comes from California. Like a regional wage-setting institution in Germany, California may soon have sector bargaining for fast food employees. Workers in the United States normally bargain store-by-store, company-by-company. That is why each week a dozen Starbucks’ employees over here and another dozen over there file paperwork for a union at their corner store. And that is why employees at each Chipotle must follow the same protracted process. If Assembly Bill 257 is approved by California’s governor, there will be a ten-member council (some employees, some executives and two public officials) to review wage and safety standards across the fast food industry. The California example of sectional bargaining will not deal with everything. Sick leave, paid leave or scheduling issues are off its agenda. Also, the 257 Bill does not hold corporate headquarters liable for violations by one of its franchise owners. (N.Y. Times, 8/30/22 and In These Times, 5/22)
There’s another surprise regarding alternative capitalism. “There is a whiff of Catholicism about it all,” Geoghegan tells us. Well, maybe more than a whiff. In Catholic doctrine it is called collegia ordinum, Latin for arrangement committees. Other names include joint consultative committee (England), enterprise committee (France) and delegates for personnel (Belgium). In the United States labor leader Philip Murray (1886-1952) promoted the concept, calling it the industry council plan. It is under discussion in our federal Congress, where it is called accountable capitalism.
Matt Majewski provides the Catholic development of the concept, primarily as it came about in Germany. Franz von Baader (1765-1841), a Catholic mining engineer and philosopher, was the first to outline what he called “factory councils.” Fr. Franz Hitze (1851-1921) and Fr. Heinrich Brauns (1868-1939) wrote its legal structure. Fr. Oswald von Nell Breuning, SJ (1890-1991) devoted an entire book to the topic and included themes of alternative capitalism as he assisted Pope Pius XI (1857-1939) in composing Reconstructing the Social Order, the important 1931 encyclical. Following World War II, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967), a Catholic, embraced co-determinism as a recovery tool. (Commonweal, 3/22/19)
Co-determinism, its proponents believe, is good for capitalism. It decreases strife between managers and employees, prevents unfair competition among similar businesses and mitigates excessive state intervention in business by encouraging self-regulation. Our society cannot continue without a large number of steady working-class jobs, sufficient to support family life. Without alternatives to our current runaway cowboy capitalism, our society will only devolve further into resentment and sporadic violence. Co-determinism and other alternatives like cooperatives are guideposts on the way to an upwardly mobile common life.
For more on co-determinism get Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? by Tom Geoghegan from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $9).

Working Catholic: Social Doctrine

The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine Part Eight
by Bill Droel

Always do for others what they cannot do for themselves. That’s the rule of charity. Never do for others what they can do for themselves. That’s the rule of freedom. The Catholic principle of subsidiarity maintains the tension between the two. It guides the interplay of functions. It prevents charity from becoming disabling help and prevents freedom from becoming selfishness or libertarianism. Both extremes violate both charity and justice.
The parents of Siddhartha Gautama, for whatever reason, were overly protective. He eventually left home in search of what he called the middle way. The careless parents of recent mass murderers were overly permissive. The father of the Prodigal Son erred in both directions. He was first too protective of his son and then, when the son wanted an early inheritance, the father permitted too much freedom.
In Catholic social thought subsidiarity is usually invoked in the context of governmental responsibility and economic systems. The current picture in our country has ragged individuals at one end and big government plus big business at the other end. If something goes wrong with an internet or TV connection, it is a frustrated individual trying to reach an impersonal media company. If poverty overwhelms a family, a seemingly helpful array of social programs possibly debilitates that family further.

Despite some gestures and language to the contrary, Republicans and Democrats (with an occasional exception) include only individuals, government and business in their worldview. The operative philosophy and economic model of both political parties neglects those institutions that stand between the ragged individual and big forces—first the family, then associations like a parish, a union, an ethnic club, a veterans’ group, a community organization and more. Because these mediating institutions are not in the picture, the local groups have grown weak in recent decades.
Oliver Zunz has written a biography of Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), The Man Who Understood Democracy (Princeton Press, 2022). James Madison (1751-1836) “talked only about factions,” Zunz says in an interview. He “feared them and sought ways of limiting their impact on government.” Madison favored a strong central government. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), on the other hand, was a pioneer in creating civil society, the realm for volunteer fire departments, local post offices, clubs and other mediating institutions. De Tocqueville, Zunz says, found the United States to be unique in its dependence upon people’s institutions. However, de Tocqueville warned that our individualistic spirit could outpace our community spirit, resulting in a polarized society.
Sometimes subsidiarity is rendered small is beautiful. It does not mean, however, that government governs best which governs least. Subsidiarity insists that government step in, but not in a manner that creates dependence. Whenever possible and always to the degree that is possible, government assistance should be delivered closest to those affected, delivered through local institutions. Ideally, business should act responsibly. A particular business and an industry should operate justly–first toward its employees and then toward its customers and suppliers and then its other stakeholders. When business exploits employees, gauges customers, pollutes the environment and in other ways operates selfishly, government has a duty to regulate and punish.
Perhaps subsidiarity is better rendered no bigger than necessary. It desires the formation of ragged individuals into community-minded citizens. It protects an embedded person’s responsible freedom by buffering those big entities that can smother a person. To be continued…

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

Social Doctrine

The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine Part Seven
by Bill Droel

There are scores of books explaining Catholic social doctrine. The outline for many of them is a chronology of papal encyclicals (from Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 On the Condition of Labor to Pope Francis’ 2020 On Social Friendship). Or the author might pick issues like peace, health care delivery, labor relations and the environment; quoting relevant official documents in each chapter.
The Church’s Best-Kept Secret by Mark Shea (New City Press [2020]; 16.95) is different. In 159 pages written for a popular audience, Shea reflects on four social principles, giving two chapters to each: the dignity of each life, the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity. The encyclicals are referenced along the way. However, Shea prefers to illustrate the principles with lots of Scripture, some quotations from the early church and citations from C.S. Lewis (1898-1963).
Ethical consistency is Shea’s recurring theme. Some Catholics agree with our doctrine on some issues but not others. Other Catholics, including some bishops, claim to be consistent but mistakenly say one issue has greater moral weight than another. And some Catholics disingenuously claim to support Catholic doctrine, but they only use it to oppose policies or politicians they don’t like. “If your focus is on abortion, fine,” Shea writes. “But do not pretend to focus on it while actually spending your time and energy fighting against the Magisterium…and in favor of policies that harm the environment, fighting against a living wage and in favor of laissez faire capitalism.” The tone of The Church’s Best-Kept Secret is easy-going, not technical. But, as this riff shows, Shea can hammer points as needed.
There’s a difference between the world-as-it-is and “the way it is supposed to be,” Shea writes. Everyone has at least a dim notion of perfectibility, of a better situation, of the world as we hope it could be. He goes on to quote G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936): In the here-and-now people “do not differ much about what things they will call evil; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.” For example, some people justify torture during wartime (though doing so became harder in the United States after the publication of photos from Abu Ghraib Prison). Yes, says Shea, soldiers sometimes have to kill combatants in self-defense. But the moment an enemy becomes a prisoner, torture is absolutely forbidden “as gravely and intrinsically immoral.”
In the same way some people excuse abortion because in their calculus the unborn are less equal. “Hairsplitting arguments about when a fetus becomes a person are meaningless,” Shea says. Each person has a right to live “the whole of human life for the whole of life.”
Over and over, Shea insists that a moral person cannot say that one issue must take priority over others. Concern over 20 or more issues does not dilute or fracture the brand. Yes, “there is plenty of room…for specialization and focusing on specific issues and ills.” But, to make one issue morally higher than another is to make some people in some situations more equal than others. A moral person cannot deliberately excuse evil.
There is obviously imperfection in the world-as-it-is. Yet the moral person retains a vision of a world as it is supposed to be and consistently strives to lessen evil and enhance good. At the same time, Shea concludes, one must refrain from becoming a justice warrior in the sense that they presume to create a perfect world. Such a person will likely be ineffective. Always “begin where you are, and not where you are not,” he advises. You are inside a family, inside a voluntary group, in a union, at a protest or rally. Then challenge yourself and others to move a step outside your comfort zone.
Shea is not the last word on social action, its history, its principles and its current applications. Most readers will quarrel with him on some pages; which is a sign of a good book. The Church’s Best Kept Secret is fresh, accessible and challenging.

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

Daily Grind

The Working Catholic: Routine by Bill Droel

Clocks are everywhere because our modern economy needs to know the time.
     Our “regular measurement of time and the new mechanical conception of time arose in part out of the routine of the monastery,” writes Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) in Technics and Civilization (University of Chicago Press, 1934). It was long ago that Pope Sabinianus (d. 606) ordered bells to be rung seven times per day to alert the faithful to the liturgy of the hours.
     As an urban economy eventually emerged, merchants demanded more precision. A public mechanical clock appeared in Belgium in 1188; more places followed in the 1200s. By 1345 the measurement of 60 minutes to an hour and 24 hours to a day became standard. By 1370 Paris had a well-designed modern clock suitable for urban life. In the 1600s many families in Holland and England acquired a mechanical clock for their homes.
     Yet the monasteries came first, according to Mumford. They “helped to give human enterprise the regular collective beat and rhythm of the machine; for the clock is not merely a means of keeping track of the hours, but of synchronizing the actions of men.” As the years went by, however, some began to think that a “completely timed and scheduled and regulated” machine civilization “does not necessarily guarantee maximum efficiency,” Mumford concludes. Sticking to the clock is not best for human development.
     Meghan O’Gieblyn, drawing upon Mumford, provides a reflection on routine for Harper’s Magazine (1/22). Have people become machines, she asks? Is the routine imposed by our economy dehumanizing? Or “is it possible in our age of advanced technology to recall the spiritual dimension of repetition”? Does a spiritual motivation lurk “in the gears of modern routine”?
     High tech and advanced automation enhance work and life, say its cheerleaders. Computers and robots free us to set aside drudgery and bring forth our agility, flexibility, creativity and spontaneity. However, “the rhetoric of flexibility…despite its existential promise to make us more human frequently undergirds policies that make the lives of workers more precarious,” O’Gieblyn writes. For example, online retail and the apps on our mobile device decrease variety by conditioning our choice of products and services.
     The goal cannot be the elimination of clocks. Covid-19 previews an unstructured existence within a total computer economy, a total gig economy and a total do-it-yourself, round-the-clock life. What is the result of decreased regimentation? Maybe too many naps. Excessive internet surfing. Heightened anxiety about childcare and schooling. Unpredictable and/or lower wages. Spiritual exhaustion.
     Humane work and a fuller life is not liberation from repetition. The old analysis still applies: Despite talk about teamwork and participation, workers are estranged from one another, from the process and outcome of their labor and eventually from themselves. That’s because too few workers—from warehouse workers to floor managers to computer programmers to middle executives—are insufficiently taught the process and the product of their labor. There just isn’t enough time to do so, we’ve assumed.
     As for O’Gieblyn, she believes “there is [still] something transcendent in the pleasures of repetition.” Tranquility is not simply the absence of structure. She cites St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) in saying that a full life requires habits aimed toward the common good. A good habit is not slavery; it is a form of grace. And freedom, O’Gieblyn concludes, is not “eliminating necessity from our daily lives.” Freedom is “the ability to consistently choose the good.”
     For more from O’Gieblyn, get God, Human, Animal, Machine (Knopf Doubleday, 2021).

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

Social Doctrine

The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine, Part Five
by Bill Droel

Catholicism ducked its appointment with modernity for about 400 years. Not until Vatican II (1962-1965) did Catholicism open the door to dialogue with the modern world—not a wholesale acceptance of every modern trend, but an engagement conducted with patience and sophistication.
Catholicism opposed the Protestant Reformation (from 1517) because it was part of modern trends of individual standards, of sundry forms of worship and of authority structures unattached to Catholicism. Catholic officialdom was threatened by these and other emerging liberal values, including government autonomy, by professions that claimed their own independence and by secular culture. The violent anti-clericalism of the French Revolution in 1789 justifiably added to Catholicism’s fears. When the French monarchy was briefly restored, many Catholic leaders embraced it with a right wing, royalist mentality. However, by 1905 France firmly accepted modernity and its concept of autonomous society (laicite).
The Catholic/modern dialogue proceeds in fits and starts. Even today some Catholic leaders inappropriately revert to blanket condemnations, foregoing sincere dialogue with those who disagree. Yet to be fair, on several topics Catholicism’s caution about modern trends has proved prophetic.
In 1891 Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) inaugurated the formal body of Catholic social thought with his encyclical On the Condition of Labor. It condemned Marxism, a modern materialistic philosophy. To do so, Leo XIII reiterated a qualified approval of private property. As it turned out, communist collectivism oppressed rather than liberated many. Leo XIII was likewise prophetic in his condemnation of the modern materialistic philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism—what people today call neo-liberalism. An economy that spins with only the force of finance creates a hierarchical system in which the majority cannot meaningfully participate.
At its best the Catholic tradition fosters a reasonable approach with which to argue intelligently and temperately with the world, explains Fr. William O’Neill in America (12/21). The differences about current issues must respect common rules of the game, he explains. The conversation must be conducted in a common grammar.
For example, meaning must be moored to truth. The rules require that validating important matters solely on one’s opinion or one’s feelings is inadequate. Truth is arrived at through evidence. Truth-seeking is not a performance, not an avenue for vindication or a way to process resentment. An honest dialogue about modern issues has to forego cancelling the speech of others. It has to be void of self-righteousness. There is room for multiple interpretation of facts but there is no such thing as alternative facts. At the same time everyone has to understand that while the rules of truth-seeking are permanent, tomorrow’s discovery or future evidence can change yesterday’s conclusion.
O’Neill also reminds us that rights are not the same as interests. An individual right is normally a claim mixed within other rights. That is, each right comes with duties or considerations. Contrary to neo-liberal philosophy, a conflict of claims is not settled by calculating the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Decisions in the real world have to aim toward the common good; the good outcome that is only obtained if people cooperate. The decision-making process is informed argument, not outrage.
Finally, as O’Neill mentions, Catholicism or any other religion dialogues in the public square with reasoned language, not insider language. Sectarianism only isolates a religious voice. O’Neill uses abortion as an example. Catholicism opposes direct and purposeful abortion not as “one sectarian interest among others.” The opposition is not a Catholic position, per se. To influence the world, positions on abortion or other issues, have to be expressed in universal terms. And so, in a public dialogue O’Neill would put it this way: All people have a basic right to life and a right to the means of sustaining life—a right to basic nutrition, to adequate health care, etc. The “strongest case against abortion,” he says, is an argument based on “upholding the rights of all.”
Catholic leaders and ordinary Catholics can be as strident as anyone else, indiscriminately maligning groups of people. They can also shortsightedly put their faith in authoritarians or phony media personalities or corrupt business leaders. They can hurt the innocent. They can wash away their public sins as mere failures in management. Yet with humble application of our social doctrine Catholics can help improve business conduct, labor relations, social policy, care for the environment, respect for inherent dignity of each person, international affairs, the nurturing of children and more. A Catholic contribution to the world presumes, of course, that Catholics know their social doctrine and are capable of strategically using it. To be continued…

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


The Working Catholic: Lockout
by Bill Droel

Kellogg has used the lockout tactic before. In October 2013 the cereal company locked out its 220 Memphis employees. Issues included mandatory overtime and benefits. The situation remained until August 2014 when a federal judge ruled that in this case the tactic was illegal. The judge ordered that employees be brought back on the job with no penalty.
Now Kellogg has locked out 1,400 employees at four plants. The main issue is a two-tier pay scale—newcomers get less; as old timers retire the total wage and benefit expense decreases.
Employers who use the lockout tactic claim that it gives them leverage in negotiations. To stay on the legal side during a lockout employers must publically say that the door to negotiations is always open. A lockout is becoming a popular maneuver.
In 2011 the NFL locked out its players for 18 weeks. The NBA had a five month lockout the same year. In 2012 the New York City Opera locked out its performers. The Minnesota Orchestra did the same the following year. Also in 2013 Crystal Sugar in Minnesota locked out 1,300 employees. In 2015 Allegheny Technologies, a steel firm, locked out 2,200. And in 2018 National Grid, a Massachusetts gas company, had a lockout of 1,200.
To all of us in the Hot Stove League the most pressing labor-management disagreement these days involves the lockout of baseball players.
The lockout tactic is foolish without the threat of permanent replacement workers. On its own a lockout doesn’t make sense because a company would go out of business if it didn’t allow workers to come to the job site. Sometimes the threat of replacements is implied. In the current Kellogg dispute ownership makes the threat explicit.
Catholic doctrine has something to say about both lockouts and permanent replacements. First, however, here’s what our doctrine does not say. Catholicism gives general, abstract guidance on what constitutes a just wage and acceptable benefits. Catholicism does not endorse the specifics of any employer’s contract proposal in any given situation. Catholicism does not endorse the specifics of a union’s counter-proposal. (This applies, by the way, even if the employer is a bishop and the employees are gravediggers or janitors or teachers.)
Catholicism says that negotiation (which depending on circumstances can be smooth or hardball) is crucial. Totalitarianism (total corporate, total state or total both) is not conducive to a healthy society and holy people. There must be some form of negotiation, some form of democracy. Collective negotiation is the countervailing force that holds off totalitarian impulses. Catholicism strongly asserts that employees have a natural right and duty to meaningfully participate in the design and the benefits of work in some measure.
A lockout and its threats break faith with an acceptable negotiation process. Cardinal John O’Connor (1920-2000) of New York testified in 1990 to our U.S. Senate Committee on Labor. He introduced himself as speaking as a citizen and an employer. He also said that as a bishop he is a mandated moral teacher. The context was a dispute at the Daily News in New York City. Ownership threatened permanent replacements.
“It is useless to speak glowingly” about rights if either “management or labor bargains in bad faith,” O’Connor said. “In the case of management [it is] a charade of collective bargaining and a mockery [for management] with foreknowledge… to permanently replace workers who strike.” In 1999 O’Connor repeated Catholic principle, writing to nurses: “I remain strongly committed to a policy of no permanent replacements.”
O’Connor’s use of the phrase moral foreknowledge is important. A company that threatens the use of so-called permanent replacements knows the tactic is not an end in itself. Whatever the outcome of the lockout/permanent replacement gambit might be, its real purpose is to end possible negotiations and soon enough to bust the union.
To conclude on a positive note it is worth keeping in mind that the vast majority of contract negotiations are completed without any job action whatsoever. Yes, some posturing occurs; some swearing perhaps. But day-in-and-out negotiations are not newsworthy because nothing dramatic occurs outside the bargaining room and apart from the employee’s vote.
Droel edits a print newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Labor Day

The Working Catholic: Labor Day
By Bill Droel

International Workers Day (May Day), the counterpart to our September Labor Day, was inspired by an 1886 event here in Chicago. The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor obtained a city permit for a May rally/demonstration in the Haymarket area (now a trendy restaurant spot). Late in the evening someone at the rally threw dynamite. Police began to fire wildly into the dwindling crowd. Soon seven officers and four workers were dead.
Eight workers were quickly rounded up, including a lay minister, a printer and others. Seven were found guilty by August. Two got life sentences (one of whom was killed in jail); one was given 15 years. The remaining four were hanged in November.
A couple years after the Chicago event European countries designated May 1st as Labor Day to honor the Haymarket Workers. For that reason, May 1st became the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
And what was the issue that brought the workers to the Haymarket rally? Shorter work hours.
This was hardly the first effort in our country to reduce the working day. The 1830s saw an Eight-Hour Day Movement, details Mike Konczal in Freedom from the Market (The New Press, 2021). As part of that movement, Boston Trade Unions issued the “Ten-Hour Circular.” (Presumably they thought eight was unachievable.) This statement prompted six months of rotating strikes and protests across Boston. It was used in Philadelphia to start a general strike. There was a big parade after which the city passed a ten-hour workday law. In Baltimore the city mechanics, drawing on the same statement, won a ten-hour day. “Demands for time could unify workers facing different working circumstances,” writes Konczal.
By 1868 Pennsylvania had suggested “an eight-hour workday as the default.” When it came to enforcing this suggestion or any other work-related law, the obstacle was overcoming the prevailing attitude that contracts are “a foundational form of freedom and government should never interfere with markets,” says Konczal. The contract need not be a written document. The worker knew the score when she or he took the job. The freedom of contract assumption, then and now, is a fallacy because “government and courts intervened in important ways,” but not in the interest of workers. Laws and court decisions were for the most part intended “to boost the power of bosses and owners while limiting and stymieing the actions of workers.”
The notion of an eight-hour day gained traction during the Great Depression. In 1930 W. K. Kellogg (1860-1951) changed the work schedule at his cereal company. Production went to three shifts per day, six hours each. An employee normally clocked 30 hours per week. Wages were increased by 12.5%. “This will give work and paychecks to the heads of 300 more families in Battle Creek,” Kellogg said.
The union at Kellogg proudly issued progress reports, documenting improved efficiency, decreased unit cost and dramatic reduction in injuries. Other well-known companies (Remember Hudson Motor Car?) joined the experiment. However, after World War II workers and their unions wanted to participate in the consumer boom. They pushed for more hours in order to get more pay, including overtime. Kellogg gradually phased out the 30-hour week and completely eliminated it by 1985, writes Benjamin Hunnicutt in Kellogg’s Six Hour Day (Temple University Press, 1996).
Covid-19 presents an opportunity to experiment with remote work, flex time and other work arrangements. The topic of shorter hours is also in the mix because our Covid-19 economy has meant a shortage of competent workers in some key sectors. Thus, some business executives see reduced hours as a tool for recruitment and retention.
To be continued…
Droel is associated with National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Social Doctrine Part II

The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine Part II

Modern Catholic social doctrine dates from May 1891 with the publication of On the Condition of Labor by Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903). Customarily, social encyclicals are subsequently released on significant anniversaries of On the Condition of Labor.
In May 1981 Mehmet Ali Agca, a criminal from Turkey, shot Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) in St. Peter’s Square. Thus John Paul II’s anniversary encyclical was delayed until September 1981. It is titled On Human Work.
Every worker is equal in dignity, says John Paul II. That’s because the dignity of work originates with the person doing the work; the person who raises children, instructs students, assists homebuyers, manages portfolios, takes orders at the drive-through window, crafts legislation, develops affordable housing or supervises a manufacturing plant. A boss cannot confer dignity. An executive secretary is no more dignified than the night janitor. Every worker is equal—not necessarily in pay or expertise, but equal in dignity prior to, during and after the job or task.
The word work, according to John Paul II, is any activity that comports with God’s on-going creation and redemption. A homemaker is a worker. Unemployed workers, volunteer tutors and chief executives are all workers. A gun trafficker is not a worker because she or he detracts from the plan of God. A predatory lender is not a worker. An adult who abuses children is not a worker.
The design of an economy, the policies of a specific business, or the management style of a boss or the level of cooperation among fellow workers make it easier or harder to experience holiness through work. On Human Work says that the first purpose of any economy or business is the fulfillment of its workers. Fulfilling work is some combination of putting bread on the family table, benefitting society with a needed service or product, participating in a team effort and growing in self-knowledge. If a company first has regard for its workers, it will likely also respect its suppliers and customers or clients. (Remember, its workers include the shop hands, janitors, executives, nurses, top partners, drivers, public relations personnel, sales force and more.) That company with competent management and a needed product or service will likely be profitable.
The best test of whether a company respects its workers is its wage structure. “In every case a just wage is the concrete means of verifying the justice of the whole socioeconomic system” and each business within it, writes John Paul II. “It is not the only means of checking but it is…the key means.” Get wage structure right, the company and society will be right. Wage structure, by the way, includes the top (not paid too much) and the bottom (not paid too little).
On Human Work names other considerations for a whole, holy economy or business. John Paul II warns against an authoritarian business or a collectivist economy. No surprise coming from a champion of anti-communism. He likewise warns against neo-liberal individualism. No surprise coming from a Catholic. Instead, he favors businesses that value subsidiarity (bottom-up decision making), participation and solidarity (solidarność).
John Paul II devotes a section to the “importance of unions,” and he affirms “the right to strike.” He reminds employers and employees that the disabled have “ideas and resources” and can be offered a job “according to their capabilities.”
On Human Work concludes with an intriguing section titled Elements for a Spirituality of Work. John Paul II, in a totally neglected injunction, says that the whole church has “a particular duty to form a spirituality of work…which will help all people come closer, through work, to God.” Such spirituality is “a heritage shared by all.”

Next up: Pope Francis’ contributions to social doctrine. For now, obtain John Paul II’s Gospel of Work edited by Bill Droel (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $7 discount price).

Social Doctrine

The Working Catholic: Social Doctrine
By Bill Droel

Modern Catholic social doctrine is officially 130-years old. It dates from Pope Leo XIII’s May 1891 encyclical, On the Condition of Labor. Subsequent popes (as will be mentioned) advance social doctrine, often on anniversaries of On the Condition of Labor.
Doctrines are derived from reflection on the accumulated experience of Christians in many societies and from an application of reason or science, particularly the social sciences. Doctrines are in harmony with God’s revealed Scripture. Dogma, by contrast, comes to us directly from revelation; it cannot be figured out only through study of nature. The dogma of the Trinity, for example, fits an understanding of nature but God had to reveal the Trinity to us. Dogma is not irrational; it is not opposed to science. It is true but not empirical, like a spouse’s love.
Western Europe in the time of Leo XIII (1810-1903) was experiencing industrialization which in turn attracted thousands of families to urban centers. This industrial era held forth many promises including a higher standard of living and conveniences. However, Leo XIII among others saw that industry and urban life came with a paradox: degrading working conditions and great poverty amid concentrated wealth. The Communist Manifesto of 1848 addressed the paradox and named a resolution: proletariat revolution. Leo XIII countered Marxism with Christian principles.
The bedrock principle of Catholic social doctrine is the intrinsic dignity of each person. Humanists all agree that modern individuals are free and can exercise appropriate agency. Jews, Christians and Muslims know that this truth is additionally supported in Scripture; that each person is created in the image and likeness of God. (Genesis 1:27 & Qur’an 17:70)
The modifier intrinsic is important because the term dignity is sometimes used carelessly. Intrinsic means built-in. For example, a husband does not give his wife dignity. She has it long before they meet. An employer does not give employees dignity. It comes with them in the morning and stays with them after they punch the clock. God put dignity into each person.
A negligent husband or an exploitative boss can, of course, degrade a person’s dignity. Thus an obligation to improve degrading situations follows from the principle of basic dignity. To that end On the Condition of Labor advocates for safe and humane working conditions, for a family wage and for the right of workers to collectively bargain. To achieve these and other improvements, Leo XIII says government’s role includes restraint on laissez-faire capitalism.
A subsequent column will discuss other social encyclicals—specifically St. John Paul II’s On Human Work on its 40th anniversary and the recent encyclicals of Pope Francis, one on inequality/environment and one on public friendship.
Officialdom uses the term Catholic social teaching for these encyclicals and a few other Church documents. I prefer the term Catholic social thought and action. This includes the official teaching but it also includes reflection on the teaching and its implementation in worldly settings. Doctrine is principles that tell us what to do. But, they have to be applied with prudence. As the principles hit the streets or corridors, right-minded people can disagree on the how to implement the doctrine in fluid situations. Here’s one small example: Catholic social doctrine says employees have a right to bargain collectively without the maternal or paternal meddling of their boss. The application, however, is more complex. Do we necessarily want a union at this workplace? If so, do we want this union or a different union or an independent union of our own making? If we do not want a union, what is our alternative mechanism for improving conditions at our workplace? Sincere employees can respectfully disagree with one another. This example becomes more complex if unfortunately the employer violates the starting principle or skirts the law. To be continued…

Obtain Droel’s booklet Catholic Administrators and Labor Unions from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $1.50).