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The struggle of labor: Losses and wins, but no defeats

Guest Opinion

Guest Opinion

Guest Opinion

For this Labor Day, Americans should first remember those women, men and children who gave the last full measure in the cause of the dignity of labor that is the birthright of all of humanity, dying at the hands of those opposed to safe workplaces, decent wages, the elimination of child labor. The enemies of labor wished to prevent the lifting of such burdensome work that kept families from together enjoying the fruits of their labor. And the inalienable right for labor to organize their workplace is the foundation to all of the above. This right is recognized among a diverse set of secular institutions, including the 2018 Idaho Democratic Party’s platform, and is widespread among the religious faiths of this world, notably Christianity.

For example, the United Methodist Church calls for ‘…the right of all public and private employees … to organize for collective bargaining into unions.’ The United Church of Christ states that ‘Today just as much as ever, workers need unions. All people who seek justice must support workers’ rights to form and join a union.’

But from the Roman Catholic Church, one finds teachings that provide a deep-seated foundation for the rights of workers. In 1891 Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical Rerum Novarum; (Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor). In the Letter, Leo endorsed the formation of “workingmen’s unions,” arguing that “it were greatly to be desired that they should become more numerous and more efficient.”

John Paul II, since canonized, stated in ‘Laborem Excercens’ (Through Work) that “the experience of history teaches that organizations of this type, (unions) are an indispensable element of social life” and that they serve as “a mouthpiece for the struggle for social justice.” He clarified further the right to strike: “workers should be assured the right to strike, without being subjected to personal penal sanctions for taking part in a strike.”

In their 1986 Letter, ‘Economic Justice For All,’ the United States Bishops stated the church’s support of unions in no uncertain terms; “The Church fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions…. No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself. Therefore, we firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably now seen in this country, to break existing unions and prevent workers from organizing.” The current pontiff, Francis, praised unions on spiritual grounds, calling them “prophetic institutions” that give “a voice to those who have none, denounces those who would [as in the Biblical Book of Amos] ‘sell the needy for a pair of sandals’ … unmasks the powerful who trample the rights of the most vulnerable workers, defends the cause of the foreigner, the least, the discarded.…”

(In full disclosure, I am a practicing Roman Catholic; practicing in the full sense of the word, as far from perfect as one can be in this regard.)

So far in 2018, there have been some victories for our nation’s workers. In West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, teachers exercised their right to strike to improve their lives. In a clarion call of the Christian message of Human Solidarity, of the Body of Christ, of the Least Among Us, the West Virginia teachers refused to be separated from their brothers and sisters and demanded that aides, drivers and custodians be included in any agreement, and won. In Missouri, Right to Work was soundly defeated. The Idaho Democratic Party’s Platform demands the repeal of the onerous law, and Idaho labor is in the initial stages of taking direct action in this matter. Of course, the Janus decision, that wrongly conflated agency fees with free speech concerns was a loss. The struggle of labor for the fundamental human dignity for all is one of losses, and wins, but of no defeats.

In closing, I wish to return to those who, in Christ’s words, make the greatest act of love, dying so others may live. Enjoy this Labor Day, and rest of the weekends in your life, and perhaps give a silent word of thanks to them.

--John Andrechak of Kamiah, chair, Idaho County Democratic Party; member in good standing: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, (IBEW) Local #44, Laborers Union International of North America (LIUNA) Local #238.


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