The National Catholic Review

I keep running into this passage from Caritas in Veritate and am always struck by its uncanny relevance to the politics of the present moment in the U.S. and in my state of Ohio:

25. From the social point of view, systems of protection and welfare, already present in many countries in Paul VI's day, are finding it hard and could find it even harder in the future to pursue their goals of true social justice in today's profoundly changed environment. The global market has stimulated first and foremost, on the part of rich countries, a search for areas in which to outsource production at low cost with a view to reducing the prices of many goods, increasing purchasing power and thus accelerating the rate of development in terms of greater availability of consumer goods for the domestic market. Consequently, the market has prompted new forms of competition between States as they seek to attract foreign businesses to set up production centres, by means of a variety of instruments, including favourable fiscal regimes and deregulation of the labour market. These processes have led to a downsizing of social security systems as the price to be paid for seeking greater competitive advantage in the global market, with consequent grave danger for the rights of workers, for fundamental human rights and for the solidarity associated with the traditional forms of the social State. Systems of social security can lose the capacity to carry out their task, both in emerging countries and in those that were among the earliest to develop, as well as in poor countries. Here budgetary policies, with cuts in social spending often made under pressure from international financial institutions, can leave citizens powerless in the face of old and new risks; such powerlessness is increased by the lack of effective protection on the part of workers' associations. Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the Church's social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers' associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level.

In both Ohio and the national debate, these structural shifts are being covered over by parallel tax-cut induced, recession deepened budget crises.  Beneath that smoke screen, the logic is the same as the one Benedict describes.

Comments

Anonymous | 6/27/2011 - 6:19pm
''I will say, however, that there are a number of families of non-union miners in West Virginia who would likely be interested in your assertion that workers no longer need worry about slaving away in dangerous conditions''


When I wrote my comment, I thought for about 5 minutes about the phrase ''dangerous condition'' and decided to let it in to see what the response would be.  We had a discussion a little while ago about OHSA and dangerous conditions.  It is true that in certain occupations workers do have more dangerous situations than others and in mining that is certainly true.  In such a case I would support the unions in negotiating for safer working conditions.


However, the comment about the history of unions and Rerum Novarum has no relevance to public service unions in this country.  Any attempt to link the two is disingenuous because the workers in public service unions are a completely separate situation and the only word that is the same is ''union.''  They are a travesty and are the single biggest obstacle in this country to helping the poor and I am sure that the intent of Rerum Novarum was helping the poor.
Michael Appleton | 6/27/2011 - 4:25pm
Mr. Cosgrove:

I won't respond to your entire comment because I believe it reflects a woefully inaccurate understanding of the history of industrial development in this country, not to mention complete unfamiliarity with documents such as Rerum Novarum.

I will say, however, that there are a number of families of non-union miners in West Virginia who would likely be interested in your assertion that workers no longer need worry about slaving away in dangerous conditions. 
Anonymous | 6/27/2011 - 4:07pm
Not in anyway imaginable do the unions in this country today represent the economically disadvantaged.  They represent just the opposite and in the process create more of the economically disadvantaged.  The group they represent gets higher than usual salaries and in many cases, extremely high salaries and this process cause more poor as there is less for them.  The unions have gamed the system especially the public sectors unions who appoint the person they negotiate with through their union advocacy during elections and then have a third person pay for it.


They are basically a corrupt movement as it exists in the US today. Gone are the days of immigrants dieing in fires or people slaving away for low wages and dangerous conditions.  One way to reform the unions is to prevent them from spending any money on elections.
Michael Appleton | 6/27/2011 - 2:05pm
We did not eliminate corporations in response to the depradations of Enron and other corporate empires over the past ten years. No one has suggested eliminating government as an appropriate method for dealing with public corruption. There is no proposal pending to prohibit the sale of securities as a remedy for the Madoff scandals. Therefore, it is silly to argue that corruption on the part of some union officials justifies the elimination of collective bargaining rights. That that is occurring is due not to the need to tighten our belts in the current economic climate, but to the fact the powerful interests view the present crisis as an opportunity to crush unions entirely.

One cannot, as Paul Ryan and his supporters attempt to do, profess a commitment to Catholic teachings on social justice in principle while simultaneously promoting Randian economic policies. The economic elite do not require our solicitude because they will always be protected. Economic and politicial power, after all, are permanent companions. 

Nore does the issue have much to do with understanding economics and sociology. There are plenty of socially conscious intellectuals who are quite knowledgable in those fields. The task is to remain true to the ideals of social justice in spite of economic hardships. In practice, that means that social safety nets should be kept intact during economic downturns even if that requires generating additional revenues from the wealthiest segments of society. 

 
Stanley Kopacz | 6/25/2011 - 1:23pm
Unions, like all human organizations, are subject to corruption.  The main fountainhead of corruption in this country is not the anemic unions but the concentrated wealth driving our politics toward the benefit of those powers in a positive feedback loop from hell.  The present situation is scary.  And as far as the free trade fetish is concerned, why should the actual fabrication of something be worth less than 10% of what it costs.  That's the bottom line.  A shirt that cost $1.50 to make sells for $35.00.  Now there's an auger job.

If the fabrication work is shipped overseas, let the rest go, too.  If a chinese can do the work for 10% of an American factory worker, you can also find one to do the work of a Cosgrove or a Kopacz.  See you all at the bottom of the garbage pit that the US is becoming.

Sometimes I think that the cunning rich see the country collapsing and rotting and are looking for how to end up on the top of the garbage heap.  I think they've figured it out.  But don't expect me to admire them for it.
Anonymous | 6/24/2011 - 10:12pm
It is ironic that in the US it is the unions and who they represent that are the fat cats and are the ones hurting the poor.  The unions will also eat their young as they get raises for their employees as the employer is then forced to cut lower seniority union workers.  They are a despicable bunch who are eating well while a large number are out of work or cannot get enough work.


Also is protecting something in this country actually screwing someone else in another country who makes proably about a tenth as much.  Free trade is the process that raises the water in all lands but there will always be some that sink in such an environment and it will be these that the protectionist points to as opposed to the starving elsewhere they may now be able to get a decent meal.
Michael Barberi | 6/24/2011 - 7:58pm
Everyone bargains in good faith when times are good. When times are bad, choices have be made for the greater good. This does not mean that I agree with the inequity of current events. However, there is no one social, poliitical and financial system of government better than all the others. The Soviet Union collapsed, Greece is in a similar situation and the U.S. Government faces a crisis if difficult choices are not made. There are reasons for these problems, but no easy solutions.

When there is inequity, individuals, groups and govenments must be held accountable for poor decisions and actions. Social justice is be emphasized, promoted and adopted. As a social principle, there must be a safety net for workers and citizens. If pay and benefits must be cut, there must be a commensurate reduction in required working hours, more vacation time, etc. These are principles that should guide us. However, they will not guarantee equitable solutions when one is faced with conflict, dilemma and limited choices.