Toward More Christian Unions
My February column for The Rhode Island Catholic takes up the subject of the Church’s support for labor unions:
Catholic theology enters the political mix with the holding that God works through the individual conscience. What organized labor does, in the ideal, is to combine the power of individuals to construct a stronger, more substantive assertion of human conscience. In the workplace, the purpose is to counterbalance the economic power of business leaders or the political power of government officials.
The problem is that these sources of power are not parallel. A company gains influence by increasing the importance of its products and services to the market. The source of a business’s power is therefore manipulable as a means to an end and constrained by regulation, competition, and employee morale. The source of a government’s power is the entire society, and we rightly constrain its actions through civic structure. The parallel dynamic and constraints for unions are complicated by the doctrine that people — union members — must always be ends in themselves, with inviolable rights to pursue their own interests. And it’s a much more comfortable (and remunerative) project to extort money from local communities than to fight foreign tyrannies on behalf of a distant workforce.