Over the door at the old Guild facility in Weymouth was a sign with the words of Fr. Mortimer Gavin that read, “YOU ARE ALL WELCOME TO THIS HOUSE.”
The Labor Guild’s mission is to promote good order in the workplace, to teach workers to act in good conscience and to provide them with the knowledge and courage to be effective in the field of labor-management relations.
Economic and social justice has no race, religion or ethnicity; rather it lives in our soul and is owed to every person. It means having access to the basics to sustain and prosper in this life. It means having enough to eat. It means having a safe and dignified place to live. It means a safe place to raise and educate our children. It means access to a job that can pay for one’s basic needs to sustain a family. The cornerstone of our faith is charity and respect and dignity for our fellow man. Our existence stands on economic and social justice. Thus, it is appropriate that the Labor Guild speaks to the issue before us.
To contrast the gains that were made in the 1960’s, which had promise to truly change this country’s attitude, with where we are now is disheartening to say the least. We have drifted backward as a society and must reclaim our collective soul. As part of the curriculum here at the Guild, we teach labor history. One lesson of labor history, which we see borne out time and time again, is that power concedes nothing without a struggle.
We must continue that struggle to peacefully stand for values that are just. In the words of Pope Francis, “My friends, we can not tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.” We seek justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others who have been persecuted by the hand of injustice.
When the powerful defeat the weak, the victor carries out their will. The defeated depresses and harbors their resentment until it festers and resurfaces later because the matter has not been settled. This is especially true regarding race relations in this country.
At the Guild we teach the lessons that help workers attain and promote economic and social justice. We also teach strategies and tactics to influence one’s opponent—focusing on bargaining over each other’s interest so that both parties can prosper. Respect and understanding the views of all the parties is one of the most central dispositions that is necessary for any productive dialogue. Likewise, we hope that these peaceful demonstrations will pressure all stakeholders to come to the table. Lasting change will come from a dialogue that concludes with legal, structural, and cultural changes.
There are many alternatives of resolving disputes. The entrenched problems of racism and injustice cannot be solved with a zero-sum approach. Rather, we need a collaborative of all the stakeholders to address all the issues that are outstanding—work that is long overdue.
My studies have brought me to the conclusion that—whether it be labor, apartheid, civil rights, gun control or LGBTQ+ rights—the courts, government and its agencies are pressured to change the law only after an issue comes to the forefront of the societal mind and soul, and only after the opposition’s tactics have become so morally repugnant that a society demands change. Unfortunately, it has taken the deaths, the beatings, the imprisonment, the character assassination and the blacklisting of the innocent to move a societal soul. And only then, when such tactics can no longer be defended, does the issue become a movement. When that happens, the movement itself becomes the very catalyst that is used to halt the injustice and change the law.
I believe this is what we are witnessing today and as a nation we must develop a more just way for channeling conflict, in a peaceful manner, that provides for equitable change.