Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Labor Day and the Bishop of Rockville Centre

It's a couple weeks before America's Labor Day, and between traditional observations and a looming midterm election, most folks in public positions will be saying something about the holiday, the economy, workers, employment, or unemployment.

Rockville Centre, New York's Bishop William Murphy is no exception. He's called for "new things" in a new social contract.1

I haven't read Bishop Murphy's five-page document through, yet. It's getting late, and I didn't run into it until a few minutes ago. One reason I'm writing this post is to help me remember that it's there - and prod me into giving it a good once-over.

I've skimmed it, though: and it picks up with the Industrial Revolution and Pope Leo XIII's encyclical on what we should be doing:
  • "Rerum Novarum"
    Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII | On Capital and Labor (May 15, 1891)
Things have changed a bit since 1891: covers over moving parts, warning signs and minimum standards for working conditions, for starters.

That Doesn't Sound Very Conservative

Quite a few folks in America seem to think that there are two possible philosophical/ethical stances: conservative; and liberal. Three, if you count moderate/amoral.

It's a convenient way to categorize the way people view the world, but the conservative/liberal continuum doesn't fit the Catholic Church too well.

Or, rather, the Catholic Church doesn't fit into the local culture's assumptions. That's pretty much par for the course as millennia roll past.

One cherished American assumption is that the Catholic Church is very "conservative." If you look only at certain facets of Catholic teaching on the nature of marriage and respect for life: yes, we seem to be "conservative."

Take a look at other Catholic teachings, and we look like liberals. I've written about this before. (November 3, 2008)

Bottom line? For about two millennia now, the Catholic Church has been teaching pretty much the same thing: Love God, love your neighbor. (June 18, 2010)

That puts us as far out of the mainstream now as it did when my Lord made Peter the first Pope - and will probably still be counter-cultural when words like "conservatives" and "liberals" will be as archaic as "optimates" and "populares" are today.

Although, come to think of it - no, I am not going to be sidetracked by Roman-era politics.

"Workers" aren't "the Masses"

Something I think many ideologues tend to forget is that people are people. Not interchangeable units in a socioeconomic matrix.

I see a great deal of promise in the sort of global society that's possible with today's information technology. I also didn't have any problem agreeing with this:
"...The risk for our time is that the de facto interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interaction of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development. Only in charity, illumined by the light of reason and faith, is it possible to pursue development goals that possess a more humane and humanizing value...."
(Caritas in Veritate, section 9)
I've quoted that before. (January 31, 2010)

I Don't Belong to a Union: But I Did Once

I've spent most of my working life in jobs that weren't unionized: which was fine by me. I've also been a member of a union: not by choice. It was either join, or not get the job.

I think labor unions were important. In the 19th century, and part of the 20th. Today, I think they're part of the establishment: and that's yet another topic.

The point is that there needs to be some means by which people who are employed by others can - at a minimum - be assured that they'll be treated fairly.

My checkered employment history gave me opportunities to learn a little about how folks in several of America's subcultures live. Quite a bit of this sounds all too familiar:
"...In too many places across America, workers are not being fully paid for their labor. National reports tell of factory workers whose time begins with the start of the conveyor belt not their arrival; of retail workers who are 'clocked out' and then required to restock or take inventory; and wait staff whose employers do not give them their tips...."
("A New 'Social Contract' for Today's 'New Things'," Most Reverend William F. Murphy, (September 6, 2010) (released August 24, 2010))
Not all employers treat the folks who work for them badly. Some of my bosses have been gems.

But some employers quite simply are not nice. We need to have some way to deal with them - and, perhaps more importantly, help the folks who depend on jerks for their livelihood.

Related posts:
1Full text of USCCB press release on Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York's 2010 Labor Day remarks:
"Bishop Murphy Calls for New Social Contract for 'New Things' in Today's Economy in Labor Day Statement"
USCCB News Release (August 24, 2010)

"With millions unemployed and U.S. workers experiencing tragedies such as mining deaths in West Virginia and the oil rig explosion and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Americans 'must seek to protect the life and dignity of each worker in a renewed and robust economy,' said Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York. Bishop Murphy addressed these issues in the 2010 Labor Day Statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), entitled 'A New "Social Contract" for Today's "New Things," ' which can be found online in English (www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/labor_day_2010.pdf) and Spanish (www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/labor_day_2010_spanish.pdf).

Bishop Murphy, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, compared the challenges faced by today's workers to the changing society of the Industrial Revolution addressed by Pope Leo XIII in the 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum (Of New Things).

" 'America is undergoing a rare economic transformation, shedding jobs and testing safety nets as the nation searches for new ways to govern and grow our economy,' said Bishop Murphy. 'Workers need a new "social contract." ' Bishop Murphy said that creating new jobs would require new investments, initiative and creativity in the economy. He also drew on the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI, which call for placing the human person at the center of economic life and emphasize the role of civil society and mediating institutions such as unions in pursing the common good.

" 'Workers need to have a real voice and effective protections in economic life,' said Bishop Murphy. 'The market, the state, and civil society, unions and employers all have roles to play and they must be exercised in creative and fruitful interrelationships. Private action and public policies that strengthen families and reduce poverty are needed. New jobs with just wages and benefits must be created so that all workers can express their dignity through the dignity of work and are able to fulfill God's call to us all to be co-creators. A new social contract, which begins by honoring work and workers, must be forged that ultimately focuses on the common good of the entire human family.'


"Keywords: Labor Day, unemployment, economic life, labor unions, social contract, social encyclicals, Rerum Novarum, Caritas in Veritate, Pope Leo XIII, Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop William Murphy, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development"

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.