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Opinion
The Labor Guild: The value of labor unions

By Father Patrick J. Sullivan
Posted: 9/2/2011

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For the U.S., Labor Day is a national holiday, marked by cookouts and the unofficial end of summer. For labor unions, it is a time to celebrate labor history and to revive its dedication and determination in the present and future. For the Church's liturgy, it is a time to celebrate and reassert the dignity of all workers -- academic and administrative, corporate and union, resident and immigrant, service and trade, skilled and unskilled. All, in the words of Pope John Paul II, are co creators with God, so forcefully and beautifully portrayed in his 1981 encyclical, "On Human Labor."

Unfortunately nowadays too few hear and too few heed John Paul II's badly needed message, especially when there are so many violations of workers' rights. Such rights include an adequate family living wage, healthy and safe working conditions, reasonable hours of work and adequate vacation time, resources for health care and retirement, and forming and joining labor unions. Despite differences about details on all of these rights, none are so vehement as over labor unions. The usual pitch is that unions are unnecessary because employers are so considerate, unions are more corrupt than corporations, unions make workers lazy and greedy, or unions cost taxpayers too much. Empirical disproof of such myths is for another time.

In June of this year, a large group of Catholic scholars published a document entitled, "The Core of Roman Catholic Teaching on Workers' Rights," establishing several principles which insist that unions:

-- are indispensable for the common good;

-- are rooted in the right of free association;

-- protect fair wages and benefits;

-- foster solidarity through participation and subsidiarity;

-- must seek cooperative relations with employers;

Elaboration of these principles is an opportunity for another day. However, worthy of note now is that no civil law and no economic enterprise may deny these natural rights.

Father Patrick J. Sullivan is executive secretary and chaplain of The Labor Guild, a Church affiliated organization headquartered in Weymouth dedicated to education and advancement of labor-management relations.