Crunch time has come for “fixing” the U.S. economy with volumes of commentary (good/bad/indifferent), depending upon one’s ideology and integrity. Specific executive-judicial-legislative plans or programs are seldom the province of Catholic social teaching. Why? Simply, if the plans or programs fail, any intrinsic or integral theological underpinning may place that that entire teaching’s integrity at risk. Some critics in the past have called such a stand “playing chicken”. However, Catholic Social teaching does offer “recommendations” with the understanding and the prerequisite expertise (economics, military,etc.) is not enjoyed always by the theologians.
In this crunch time, there are very strong recommendations any executive and judge, legislator and journalist would disregard only at peril of violating the natural law and the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Indeed, such recommendations enjoy the status of moral law, binding on the conscience of people of good will. Let me list several, as formulated in the 1966 United Nations Charter convened on “Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: – work and humane working conditions, social security, protection of the family, an adequate standard of living, the enjoyment of physical and mental health, training and education, participating in cultural life.
Noticeably absent from such rights is any specific reference to forming and joining unions for purposes of collective bargaining, even though one of the U.N.’s agencies, the International Labor Organization (I.L.O.), supports and protects such rights. However, very forthright is a recent statement by Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice (6-1-2011), which accepts, on the basics of labor-management history, that the rights of the U.N. cannot be guaranteed in the absence of a vibrant labor movement. The Scholars’ statement is entitled, “the Core of Roman Catholic Teaching on Workers’ Rights”, based on the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (2004, especially pages 71-94 and 115-182). These principles emerge:
- Unions are indispensable for the universal common good.
- Unions are rooted in the right of free associations.
- Unions protect the right to fair wages and benefits
- Unions foster solidarity through participation and subsidiarity.
- Unions must seek cooperative relations with employers.
- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports labor unions-cf. the 1980 pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All.
Examine the “remedies” for the present economic crunch and sooner or later the onslaught and/or support for labor unions in the public or private sector will emerge. Whatever the economic-political-social issue, the Catholic Scholars are quite insistent – “Any agency that denies this right is in violation of the natural law and no civil law and no economic enterprise may deny this right to pursue the universal common good.”
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