My blue-collar father and immigrant mother, with great sacrifice. sent me to parochial schools so that I would be taught to live my life with the moral teachings of a church that was in accordance with the ethics of scripture and the historical figure of Jesus Christ. They, and many other parents. did this knowing the tragedy of industrial accidents, the difficulties of raising families with inadequate wages, and the pain and sorrow of dislocation. They were the people who came to these shores believing in a promise that often was not delivered; and if delivered came with blood, sweat, and tears. They came from poverty and often ended their lives destitute or with a moderate semblance of success in a foreign land that was often hostile and treated them as commodities to be used and discarded.
At school, I (along with my classmates) was taught the social teachings of the church that originated with Pope Leo X111. Catholic social teaching – and I believe most men and women can agree with including the agnostic and atheist – is that it is not enough to be charitable to those in need but all obstacles to economic justice must be removed. One of the ways to remove these obstacles is that workers must receive a living wage, have a secure and safe workplace, and an economic security when too old and/or unable to work. This can be achieved according to Catholic social teaching when workers are encouraged to organize unions to collectively bargain. Cardinal Gibbons said, “It is the right of laboring classes to protect themselves and the duty of the whole people to find a remedy against avarice, oppression, and corruption.”
The recent victory of Scott Walker in Wisconsin after a recall election is evidence that collective bargaining is not considered a right by our elected leaders of both parties and, unfortunately, the voting public. It is time for the hierarchy of my church to lead a campaign to remind this nation of the social teachings of the church. An invitation to join should be made to have all people that cry for economic and social justice whether leaders of other belief traditions, captains of business and finance, civil liberties advocates, or Hollywood celebrities and creative artists.
Without worker dignity and a living wage for all Americans, our nation cannot be considered the land of promise that attracted our immigrant ancestors.