The Catholic Herald, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Madison, Wis., recently published a column by Dr. Constance Nielsen on the principles held by the Catholic Church concerning unions.  Dr. Nielsen provides a very insightful outlook on how Catholics can view the current debate occurring in Wisconsin over union rights:

In this context it is good to recall John Paul’s warning against too strong of a connection between the work of Unions and the political arena. Though Unions enter into politics, understood as “the pursuit of the common good,” they are not meant to engage in the struggle for the power of political parties, nor have too close of a tie with any political party. In such a case, “they easily lose contact with their specific role, which is to secure the just rights of workers within the framework of the common good of the whole of society; instead they become an instrument used for other purposes” (LE 20, emphasis in the original).

Again, the Pope primarily has the private sector in mind. Unions are actually meant to resolve economic issues in order to avoid undue intervention of the State, not to increase it (see RN 45 and CA 48). But his comments are even more pertinent for public sector unions where fiscal power, in the form of campaign contributions, could be wielded by the Unions in order to effectively choose their own bargaining partner. This has the potential for creating a relationship of mutual self-interest, leaving those outside of the arrangement marginalized and voiceless, but still paying for it. Such a condition actually poses a greater threat of excessive State involvement, which it is the very purpose of Unions to help avoid.

But however the secular media might portray the unrest in Wisconsin, as “taxpayers vs. public workers” or “liberals vs. conservatives,” an authentically Catholic view of society would not frame it this way. What is most salient for the Catholic perspective is John Paul’s corrective that the conflict ought not, in fact, be understood as a power-struggle. The struggle, he writes, should always be aimed towards achieving justice; it should never be seen as a struggle against other people (LE 20). In other words, both sides of any labor disagreement ought to be working for justice and the common good, rather than to achieve their own personal victory.

More can be found on Dr. Nielsen’s commentary on the Catholic Herald’s website.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico is interviewed by Joan Frawley Desmond, a reporter for National Catholic Register, in today’s paper:

Father Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, a free-market think tank, suggested that the bishops’ response to the union protests marked a new era of episcopal leadership and a more nuanced understanding of economic realities in the United States.

He noted that both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had sought to reorient an overly politicized approach to social justice concerns and that new Catholic leaders had responded to this new direction. “Politics is not the governing hermeneutic of the Church,” said Father Sirico, “but for many years politics was the whole paradigm through which everything was seen.”

But he also suggested the Wisconsin bishops’ stance implicitly acknowledged “the changing reality of the American Catholic population as a whole. “The only sector of union membership that is growing is public unions,” he said. “That is highly problematic from a Catholic point of view, because these public unions publicly favor abortion rights and ‘gay marriage’ and seek to undercut the Church’s agenda on social questions.”

Full article here.

On CatholicVote.org, Kathryn Jean Lopez interviews Rev. Robert A. Sirico about various bishops’ statements concerning the budget battles and labor union protests in Wisconsin:

Kathryn Jean Lopez: The archbishop of Milwaukee issued a letter a few days ago on the rights of workers, noting that “hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers.” Does that mean he is on the side of Democratic lawmakers who are hiding out on the job?

Fr. Robert Sirico: There are many commentators who would like us to think so, but Archbishop Listecki was simply outlining the Church’s teaching on the rights and dignity of workers (and all people for that matter, because after all, it’s not just employees who are “workers”) as well as his pastoral concern for the people involved in a very contentious debate. The archbishop knows very well the clear warning given to unions by Pope John Paul II to the effect that unions need to avoid partisan political identification.

Lopez: What’s the most important message of his letter?

Fr. Sirico: First and foremost, the Archbishop is a pastor and has many people within his flock who are torn on both sides of this divisive issue. From what I can tell, he is simply attempting to calm the waters, remind people of their mutual dignity, yet without taking sides. In all but the most extreme cases of industrial disputes, that’s exactly what a Catholic bishop should do.

Lopez: Thursday morning a press release went out from the Catholic bishops’ conference in Washington seconding what Archbishop Listecki had to say. Does this make it look like the Church in some way is all about the protesters in Madison and opposed to the governor?

Fr. Sirico: I’m not entirely sure of the purpose of the statement that came from Bishop Blair. On the one hand he wants to express his (and the Bishops’ Conference’s) solidarity with a fellow-bishop trying to guide his flock in a difficult situation. That is entirely appropriate. On the other hand, I can see how some might think it gives the impression that Archbishop Listecki has taken sides in the debate, which he and his spokesman said he has not.

Lopez: Does Bishop Robert Morlino’s letter on “fairness” provide the most clear moral guidance about what’s going on in Madison?

Fr. Sirico: Bishop Morlino, as the bishop of the diocese in which all this is going on, has given us a model of clarity of the role of a bishop in an admittedly volatile situation. In a letter published in his own diocesan newspaper, and modestly noting that he is only addressing the people in his diocese, Bishop Morlino clearly states that he and the Wisconsin bishops are neutral, and yet walks his people thought how one might think about the matter.

Lopez: Morlino wrote “I simply want to point out how a well-informed conscience might work through the dilemma which the situation poses.”

Fr. Sirico: This really demonstrates the respect that Bishop Morlino has for his own people. He helps them to inform their consciences and provides a model how to come to a conclusion on the matter without going beyond his role as a teacher of the Catholic faith.

Much more here.

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.

 

The original Article Who’s Responding: “The Call of the Entrepreneur” in La Spezia was written by Francesco Bellotti for the Italian newspaper “Avvenire” (translation and editorial contributions from Michael Severance):

Kishore Jayabalan responds to questions in the industrial city of La Spezia

“The Christian entrepreneur is not the person who goes about wealth creation all week and then leaves a nice offering at church on Sunday. Rather, he is exemplified by the type of person who gives the best of himself to create wealth and opportunity for himself and others,” said Mr. Kishore Jayabalan, Director of the Italian office of the American think tank, Acton Institute, while introducing the premier showing of the Acton documentary “The Call of the Entrepreneur” at the Teleliguria Sud TV studios in La Spezia, Italy last February 19.

The documentary’s showing and debate on television was organized in collaboration with the Movement of Christian Workers of La Spezia before a private audience of entrepreneurs, business executives, and free-lance professionals invited from the northern Italian region of Liguria.

“No doubt there are greedy entrepreneurs, just like any other group of greedy professionals and tradesmen,” Mr. Jayabalan said. “But they are certainly not defined by this (vice).”

For the good entrepreneur, “risk-taking is born out of his trust and hope in the future. He perceives things that others do not easily see and works to build something where there is nothing.”

Continuing his reflection on the entrepreneurial vocation, Jayabalan stressed that economics is not like a game of poker.

“Economics is not zero sum game in which the rich get richer at the expense of the poor. The free market is a means by which all of man’s material needs may be satisfied.” The entrepreneur must “study his fellow men in order to better satisfying their needs. In this way, his creative work contributes to the common good. What’s more, he creates jobs while risking his very own well-being.”

To be sure, it is not this way for all entrepreneurs, but “we must know how to recognize and value such a vocation that is absolutely rich in meaning, especially in the social sense,” said Jayabalan.

When asked, how can we help support the growth of entrepreneurship, Jayabalan concluded by saying “we cannot “program or plan” for good entrepreneurs to come about. Indeed, they are persons who respond to a certain calling. But, at any rate, there are some fundamental conditions which our state institutions must guarantee to facilitate entrepreneurship, namely: respect for private property, rule of law, minimal bureaucracy, and fair taxation.”

One of the panelists at the debate, Massimo Ansaldo, an attorney and executive member of Italian Catholic business society “Compangnia delle Opere di Liguria”, said: “When thinking about it, the principle of subsidiarity must be followed, in order for us to pass on social responsibility from the state directly into the hands of the local private intermediaries, such as the family, businessmen, professional associations and cooperatives.

Gianluca Ceccarelli, an infopreneur on the discussion panel, said, “With my work, I am able to support my family. I am not interested in earning huge lumps of money, but rather reinvesting it to continually improve my state…The internet affords endless information and opportunity for growth. It is an incredible phenomenon, though we need to know how to take advantage of what it offers, otherwise we can easily lose our wealth.”

Gian Piero Marafante, an entrepreneur in attendance, gave his reactions to the documentary: “What I like most is teamwork in building up business. Often people ask me why I am so willing to share my business secrets with my colleagues. My answer is that, first off, no one can take my experience from me. But, above all, when teaching others my skills I contribute to the growth of the team and gain tremendous satisfaction from this.”

Finally, Rev. Pietro Damian of the nearby Diocese of Massa Carrara and immigrant from Bucharest, gave his personal testimony from the speaker panel: “When I arrived in Italy, I came to understand the ‘secret’ of economic development in Western countries.”

“Unlike in communist countries where the state owned everything, here people could freely develop (wealth) according to their own talent and ingenuity,” he said.

“My participations in Acton’s educational initiatives (Acton University) in the United States has enriched my knowledge and inspired my pastoral outreach to promote the values that have made our civilization great. Without faith, we risk stifling progress, even in economic terms! Instead of ideologically demonizing business, let’s inspire a rebirth of a culture that unites free enterprise with ethical responsibility, as we find its very foundation in our Christian faith.”

The Acton Institute’s Italian premier of “The Call of the Entrepreneur” in the city of La Spezia was the first of many more showings foreseen in the coming months to stimulate debate in Italy on the virtues of entrepreneurship. Soon the American think tank will travel to Verona for another showing of its documentary before members of the Union of Christian Entrepreneurs and Managers from the Italian region of Veneto.

Electronic engineer Dr. Francesco Bellotti is Professor of Industrial Research and Development for the University of Genoa.

In light of the recent events in Wisconsin and the statement published by the state’s Catholic bishops, we’re republishing this 2005 article from the Acton Commentary archives:

Voluntary Association and Union Politics

By Charles W. Baird

The 50th anniversary celebration of the AFL-CIO in Chicago has been marred by internecine strife. The Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have broken away from the Federation, reducing its membership by 25 percent. At least three other unions – UNITE-HERE (textile and hotel workers), UFCW (grocery workers), and LIUNA (construction workers) – representing another 15 percent of AFL-CIO members, may join the exodus. The dissidents call themselves the Change to Win Coalition (CWC).

The issue behind the split is the survival of the American union movement in the private sector. In 2004 only 7.9 percent of private sector workers were union members. By comparison, in 1900–before any union-friendly legislation had been enacted–the figure was 7 percent. Private sector unionism is on the verge of irrelevance, and union leaders are trying to figure out what to do about it. There are two principal approaches – politics and organizing. John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO since 1995, believes the solution to the problem lies in spending union money to buy the favor of politicians who will in return change the law to make it more difficult for private sector workers to remain union-free. Sweeney has been following that strategy since 1995 to no avail. Andy Stern, president of the SEIU and prime mover of the CWC, says that to survive and grow unions must pay attention to recruiting new members.

Stern has the more logical approach. To survive and grow, businesses must constantly recruit and maintain new customers and congregations must recruit and maintain new members. Why should unions be any different?

There is a deeper problem that unions must confront. Since Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891), Catholic social teaching has supported labor unions as part of a general defense of freedom of association. This defense has not extended, however, to unions that are coercive or politically partisan. Freedom of association has two parts. First, each person is free to associate with any other willing person or persons for any purposes that do not trespass against the rights of any third parties. Second–and this is implied by the first–each person is free to decline to associate with any person or persons no matter how fervently those others may desire the association. American unions, formed and operated under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), are not voluntary.

The NLRA forbids workers individually to decide whether a union represents them, imposes union fees on workers to pay for representation they do not want, forces employers to bargain with unions, and permits workers who choose not to work at terms offered by an employer to prevent other workers, who are willing to do so, from working.

My approval of Stern’s desire to recruit new members applies only to recruiting activities that are themselves based on freedom of association. Peaceful persuasion is fine, coercion is not. Lately some unions have turned to blackmail of employers through so-called “corporate campaigns” to force employers to give them monopoly bargaining privileges over employees who want to remain union-free. For example, efforts to organize workers at Wal-Mart by peaceful persuasion have consistently failed as evidenced by the failure of unions to win majority votes in every Wal-Mart representation election that has been held. Now those same unions are trying to bring community pressure on Wal-Mart to force its workers into monopoly bargaining arrangements.

John Paul II took a firm stand against Sweeney’s strategy of relying on politics to save unions in his Laborem Exercens (1981, n. 20). “The role of unions is not to play politics…. Unions do not have the character of political parties struggling for power; they should not be subject to the decision of political parties or have too close links with them.” Sweeney’s goal of controlling the Democratic Party through the AFL-CIO has always been at odds with the popes’ emphasis on the common good.

Stern’s strategy has the better hope of arresting the private sector decline of unions. In order for unions to continue to be a relevant force in pursuing workers’ rights, organized labor must rely on persuasion rather than coercion. Workers’ interests need to be contextualized within the globalization of competition, which is a necessary condition for sustained real economic growth in both developed and developing economies. Labor unions should not be immune from the challenge to constantly respond to their constituencies and changes in the marketplace.

After taking a look yesterday at economic consequences of rising food prices along with the affects ethanol may have on the rising food prices, a moral perspective must also be taken into account.

As I stated in my previous blog post, the World Bank says rising food prices have pushed 44 million more people into extreme poverty in developing countries since June of 2010, and are having an adverse effect on people around the globe.  The increase in demand and expanded use of crops have caused global stockpiles to erode.  Stockpiles are important to help ensure a steady flow of food, especially during traumatic times such as large food shortages.  Even the corn stocks of United States, the world’s largest corn producer, amount to 5 percent of annual use which is far below the 13.6 percent average that they have been kept at over the last 15 years.

We are also called to be stewards of the Earth and this not only means not abusing the one planet we are given, but also ensuring that we leave a planet in good condition for future generations.  However, recent studies have called into question whether ethanol is actually better for the environment.  A study conducted by the University of Minnesota demonstrates that corn ethanol is actually more harmful than gasoline to the environment.  Furthermore, a recent article from Forbes also articulates that ethanol gasoline lets out more harmful toxins than regular gasoline.  There are even suggestions that ethanol uses more energy per gallon to produce it than the energy contained the actual gallon of ethanol.

In 2007, Ray Nothstine’s commentary Big Corn’ and Unitended Consequences pointed out some of the effects of rising food prices and the environmental implications of ethanol production.

Ethanol is expensive to produce, has contributed to a rise in gasoline prices, and has its own pollution problems. It requires a lot of fertilizer, fresh water, and productive farm land. And, because of corrosive properties that make pipeline transportation problematic, it takes a lot of trucks to haul it.

While the policies behind increased ethanol production may have been intended to promote good environmental stewardship, the actual results may show a higher negative environmental impact than other fuel sources.

If ethanol is causing the problems recent studies have indicated, then is the ethanol subsidy and the government mandate to continue the increase use of ethanol sound policy?  Continued funding for the ethanol subsidy and a mandate to increase the use of ethanol, when it may not be accomplishing its originally intended goals, might be cause to reevaluate ethanol’s future.  With food prices on the rise, and the demand for wider uses for crops across the globe also rising, the United States continues to fund the current ethanol policy, which may become counter intuitive to its original goals. The United States currently dedicates 40 percent of the amount of corn it produces each year to ethanol, and so you wonder if we are actually working at cross purposes to sound stewardship, and if so, it may be time to look towards a more morally sound solution.

Michigan’s State Board of Education is now calling for expanded funding to pay for universal preschool for 3- and 4-year olds.

One could hope that this news story slipped through a worm hole from a parallel universe in which Michigan has a budget surplus, where businesses are flocking to the state to take advantage of a business-friendly tax structure, and where government-funded preschool strongly correlates with future educational performance.

But no, the story comes from our universe, where the state of Michigan faces a major budget shortfall, has been chasing businesses and workers out of the state with a business-unfriendly tax structure, and where, as Carrie Lukas notes, new data shows that government-funded preschooling does not give children a “Head Start”:

The Head Start program was launched in 1965 and today provides subsidized preschool for about 900,000 children from low-income families at a cost of more than $7 billion. The logic behind Head Start is that it is more than just a transfer program (subsidizing childcare for lower-income Americans). Head Start champions argue that the investment in higher quality preschool will lead to better educational outcomes — and therefore better life prospects — for participants. The government books are ultimately supposed to benefit due to participants’ reduced use of welfare programs and greater economic productivity.

Unfortunately, there’s very little evidence to suggest that this is how it actually works. The Health and Human Services department released a congressionally mandated study that examined how former Head Start students fare. The study revealed that what gains Head Start participants enjoyed during the program all but vanished by first grade. In other words, the billions invested in Head Start failed to change the prospects of participants in any meaningful, measurable way.

And keep in mind that Head Start has achieved these disappointing results while bringing kids into preschool who are at higher risk of coming from dysfunctional home environments. Imagine the effect if Michigan begins subsidizing children out of generally healthy home environments and into public preschool?

Certainly preschool is a good option for many families, and there are many loving, conscientious preschool teachers touching the lives of young children in positive ways. But none of this means the government should be in the business of providing free preschool for anyone and everyone. State governments should focus on their core competencies and let families do what families do best–raising children.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
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From Abraham Kuyper’s opening address to the First Social Congress in Amsterdam, November 9, 1891, The Problem of Poverty:

The first article of any social program that will bring salvation, therefore, must remain: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” This article is today being erased. Men refuse any longer to recognize God in statecraft. This is not because they do not find the poetry of religion charming, but because whoever says I believe in God thereby acknowledges God’s ordering of nature and an ordinance of God above human conscience–a higher will to which we as creatures must submit ourselves.

Kuyper said this at the close of the nineteenth century, and in the intervening decades the question of the place of the Christian faith in public life has become even more pressing.

This year’s Novak Award winner Hunter Baker has written an important volume on the place of religion in civil discourse, The End of Secularism. He also participated with Jonathan Malesic on a controversy appearing in the latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality on the question, “Is Some Form of Secularism the Best Foundation for Christian Engagement in Public Life?” (PowerBlog readers can get complimentary access to the controversy in PDF form here.) Baker and Malesic were also kind enough to follow up on their exchange in the journal with a Radio Free Acton podcast, “Concealing Christian Identity.”

This year also marks the 120th anniversary of the First Social Congress, held in Amsterdam from November 9-12, 1891. In that same issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, we have the pleasure of publishing a translation of a paper composed by Herman Bavinck at that congress, “General Biblical Principles and the Relevance of Concrete Mosaic Law for the Social Question Today.” This translation also includes an extensive introduction from John Bolt, who writes of the “overlooked” tradition of European social congresses as “organized movements for social reform, often including a variety of groups and interests, and acting in varying degrees of concert over an extended period of time.”

I am Acton’s Web Coordinator, which means I’m behind the scenes making sure everything works in regards to our web presence and web communications. My first post to the Acton PowerBlog brings good news, which is to make everyone looking for a career or internship aware that Acton is hiring talented individuals to fill several positions.

We have a very good internship program that runs primarily during the summer. Interns help out departments including programs, media, publications and communications. You might be a web developer or an aspiring theologian; most talented individuals will find something to sharpen their skills in the intern program. Summer interns always help during Acton University, which is an unforgettable experience that introduces you to hundreds of unique people from around the world. If you’re interested you can check out our internship page for additional information.

If you’re finished with college and need a real job, or you’re just looking for a change, we can help you with that too. We’re looking for a great speaker to fill the role of Program Outreach Director. This position involves plenty of travel and you’ll get to meet a lot of new people. If speaking isn’t your strong suit you could apply for the Program Outreach Coordinator position. You’ll be more involved with administrative tasks like making blog posts (probably much better ones than this) and event coordination. The media department has a similar Media Logistics Coordinator opening you could apply for instead. You’ll work with our media department that produces documentaries promoting Acton’s mission and captures the audio and video at our events. If you feel like you mesh well with Acton’s mission and objectives and need a job you may be the person we’re looking for. Visit the careers page for more information about these jobs.

Our main office is located in Grand Rapids, Mich. We accept applications from all around the world, so don’t be shy!