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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Catholic Democrats Stands in Solidarity with Labor and the Public Employees of Wisconsin

Governor Walker has had the benefit of a Jesuit education, but apparently he missed the part about social justice.  I have received a press release from Catholic Democrats that goes into detail on this. 

Boston, Mass. - Catholic Democrats is urging Catholics to stand in solidarity with the teachers, nurses, snowplow drivers, and other unionized employees of the state of Wisconsin and other states where Republican governors and legislators are seeking to eliminate or diminish their collective bargaining rights. The right of workers to organize and bargain collectively is a foundational principal of the rich Catholic Social Justice tradition, which dates back to 1891.

In Wisconsin, newly elected Republican Governor Scott Walker has led an unprecedented assault on labor in his first month in office.  Through the so-called "Budget Repair Bill," which was scheduled to be brought before the state legislature with little debate, Walker has not only demanded compensation concessions from state workers but is also demanding a roll back public employees' right to collectively bargain.

In the past week Walker's true intentions have become evident through his own words - to break the union.  In an interview with  conservative columnist George Will regarding  a provision  that would prohibit the state from collecting union dues, Walker said the provision was designed to pit union employees against the labor union.  Walker predicted in the interview that "eventually" most union members will say about the dues collectors, "What do we need this for?"  Similar union-busting bills have been introduced in at least five other Republican-led states, including Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, Idaho, and Oklahoma.

"The Wisconsin Catholic bishops, with the strong support of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, are standing in clear solidarity with the working people of Wisconsin," said Dr. Patrick Whelan, president of Catholic Democrats.  "We urge the Catholic Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate, Catholics across Wisconsin, and indeed Catholics across the nation to recognize that the right to organize is a longstanding Catholic principal, dating to the abuses of the Industrial Revolution.  Governor Walker had the benefit of a Catholic education, at Marquette University, and could stand to be reminded that the Jesuits there taught that 'the development of leadership is expressed in service to others.'"

Labor Rights Underpin Catholic Social Justice Tradition

First codified in Pope Leo VIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum, the principles of social justice that apply to labor rights  have been further developed for more than  a century by popes, bishops and theologians.  Most recently, Pope Benedict XVI raised the bar for the rights of workers in his 2009 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, in which he recognized that an increasingly complex world  requires governments to develop a new economy that serves the needs of people and the common good, while also diligently defending labor's right to organize.  He says:    

... Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the Church's social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum [60], for the promotion of workers' associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level. [25]

"Inherent in labor's right to organize is both the protection of the dignity of the individual and the manner in which such protections serve the common good," said Professor Daniel Maguire, of Marquette University's Theology Department.  "The history of our nation has been influenced by Catholic Social Thought, from providing rights to workers and the poor, to the most recent establishment of affordable quality healthcare for all.  Wisconsin has been a leader in worker's rights. Governor Walker, who sought to undo over a hundred years of progress in two days, is out-of-step with the people of Wisconsin and the American public.  He should take stock of which master he is serving - the people of Wisconsin, or the ideological conservatives who supported his campaign and whose philosophy is antithetical to the common good."

Two recent public opinion polls showed similar results in opposition to Walker's efforts to break the public employee unions.  A February 21st Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll  showed that 58% of registered voters in Wisconsin opposed eliminating collective bargaining for public employees with 31% supporting the Budget Repair Bill.  A similarly worded question in a USA Today/Gallup released on February 22nd showed that 61% of adults across the country opposed eliminating collective bargaining rights with 33% supporting these provisions.

"Workers cannot be treated as just numbers on a spreadsheet.  The budget challenges facing our nation, the state of Wisconsin, and most other states are not solely math problems to be solved, but ultimately they are problems that challenge how we apply the values of our society," said Steve Krueger, Catholic Democrats' national director.  "Accountants and budget analysts can offer financial solutions, but governors must lead, engaging in the hard work of building the public trust to move the citizenry to support policies in the public interest.  Public employees who serve society play a unique role in connecting us to one another.  The common good can only be served when labor is treated with dignity, which includes good faith negotiations with public employees to address the budgetary concerns of Wisconsin."

"Governor Walker's threats to call out the National Guard, his reliance on the Republican majority in the state legislature without providing ample time for public debate, his consideration to send 'troublemaker's' into the public demonstrations, and his threats to begin layoffs unless his proposed legislation is passed by the end of this week demonstrate a disregard for the dignity of public employees, and indeed all citizens," said Krueger.  "His actions highlight the concerns that popes and progressives have had for more than one hundred years regarding the risks that men and women in the labor movement face. By undermining the public trust across the nation, he is setting-back our nation's ability to work on these daunting challenges for the common good."

About Catholic Democrats

Catholic Democrats is an association of state-based groups representing a Catholic voice within the Democratic Party, and advancing a public understanding of the rich tradition of Catholic Social Teaching and its potential to help solve the broad range of problems confronting all Americans. For more information about Catholic Democrats please go to

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