Posts tagged with: Charles W. Baird

The Michigan legislature’s historic vote today on the right-to-work issue raises the important question: Do labor unions offer the best protection for the worker? Liberating Labor: A Christian Economist’s Case for Voluntary Unionism by Charles W. Baird answers that question and explains the Catholic social teaching on the issue.

In theory, unions foster good relations between employers and workers and prevent mistreatment or exploitation in the workplace. Pope Leo XIII sanctioned trade unions in Rerum Novarum during the Industrial Revolution; however, his support was very specific and is often misinterpreted. There is a common misunderstanding that Catholic social teaching supports any type of unionism or labor association.

Baird argues that Catholic social teaching supports voluntary unionism and condemns obligatory association—which is exactly what this Michigan legislation addresses. Liberating Labor observes and explains the basic principle of freedom of association and gives a clear and simple economic analysis of labor markets as well as the economic principle of voluntary exchange. It goes on to explain why these economic concepts are consistent with Catholic social teaching. Baird closely scrutinizes the common misconceptions about the process of the labor market that have caused the widespread support of compulsory trade unions. He concludes the essay by offering his own model of unionism that is consistent with papal teaching and sound economics.

Charles Baird is professor of Economics, Emeritus, at California State University, Hayward as well as founder and former director of the Smith Center for Private Enterprise Studies in Hayward, Calif. Liberating Labor is the fifth book in the Christian Social Thought series from the Acton Institute. You can learn more about and purchase the monograph in hard copy or ebook here.

Blog author: lglinzak
posted by on Thursday, February 24, 2011

The issue of labor unions has recently been a cause of much heated debate.  Throughout the United States, there are many states facing budget shortfalls and are trying to rejuvenate struggling economies.  State expenses are being slashed, and union benefits are just one of many expenditures on the cutting block for many states.  Recent events in Wisconsin have caused many people to engage in the debate of union benefits, and many more are still left wondering where to stand on this current hot button issue.

In his monograph, Liberating Labor, Charles W. Baird seeks to answer questions regarding how  the Catholic social teaching view unions and the role unions should play if they are to uphold the ideas held by Catholic social teaching.

Baird articulates that unions are fully endorsed by Catholic social teaching and are justified on the grounds of freedom of association.  In Quadragesimo Anno, Pius XI conveys that freedom of association is a natural right.  Furthermore, in Sertum Laetitiae, Pius XII states, “it is not possible without injustice to deny or to limit either to the producers or the laboring and farming classes the free faculty of association.”

However, while the right to unionization is supported by freedom of association, there are parameters under Catholic social teaching that unions should follow.

Baird further explains papal views concerning unions and how those have designed the current viewpoint regarding unions.  According to Baird, Libertas, and encyclical written by Leo XIII on the nature of human liberty in the Catholic thought, expresses that:

…liberty requires being free to choose and this freedom of making choices is the essence of free will.  This implies, for example, that in the market for representation services, workers should have alternatives from which to choose, including self-representation.

Later in Rerum Novarum, Leo XIII declares that workers must have the freedom to choose not to associate with unions whose actions are not consistent with the Catholic teaching, and, based on the freedom of association and the principle of voluntary exchange, compulsory unionism is forbidden by the Church.

Leo XIII is just one of the many papal leaders who Baird cites.  Throughout his monograph Baird communicates support against forced unionism that is not coherent to Catholic social teaching by Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, and John Paul II.

Not only does Baird criticize the current state of unionization, but he also offers a model for improvement.  Voluntary unionism, will fulfill the rights supported by freedom of association, and, as Baird explains, one aspect of voluntary unionization is that, “Each worker would be fee to choose which, if any union from which to obtain representation services.”  Such a model does not force workers into a union, gives them the option to represent themselves if they so desire, and does not force workers to paying union dues even when the worker chooses not to be represented by the union he or she is paying dues to.

To discover more on the Catholic social teaching on unions, and to read more of Baird’s arguments along with his solution you can purchase Liberating Labor at the Acton BookShoppe.  There is even further discussion on unions and the viewpoints held by Catholic social teaching on the post, Voluntary Association and Union Politics.