by Whet Moser, Chicago Magazine
This week, Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich, the leader of the city’s Catholics in a time of intense transition, threw himself into the political arena with what the State Journal-Register’s Bernard Schoenburg called “a ringing defense of the labor movement.” And not just labor generally—the right of both public and private sector workers to unionize, and specifically right-to-work laws, as expressed directly in his speech:
For example in view of present day attempts to enact so-called right-to-work laws the Church is duty bound to challenge such efforts by raising questions based on longstanding principles. We have to ask, “Do these measures undermine the capacity of unions to organize, to represent workers and to negotiate contracts? Do such laws protect the weak and vulnerable?
Do they promote the dignity of work and the rights of workers? Do they promote a more just society and a more fair economy? Do they advance the common good?”
Lawmakers and others may see it differently, but history has shown that a society with a healthy, effective and responsible labor movement is a better place than one where other powerful economic interests have their way and the voices and rights of workers are diminished.
A ringing defense—but perhaps not a surprising one. The defense of labor is not just part of church teachings, but it’s an old element of church doctrine (in the context of the labor movement, if not necessarily the Catholic Church).
Pope Francis’s arrival in the United States this week has inspired some dramatic hand-wringing, perfectly satired by The Onion, on the part of the press about his statements on capitalism. Cupich certainly cited Pope Francis on the subject of a “just wage,” but pointed to where the Catholic Church’s explicit support of “the right to a living wage, the right to safe work places, the right to health care, and the need to provide for retirement” begins: in an 1891 encyclical from Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum.
“It made my heart go pitter-patter,” says Adrienne Alexander, about hearing Cupich’s citation of the work. She’s a policy and legislative specialist at AFSCME, named “Best Young Political Lobbyist” by the Chicago Reader in 2013, and a Catholic whose father worked for the archdiocese of both Atlanta and Washington, D.C. [Ed. Note: And a former national council member of Pax Christi USA.] “It’s so central. It’s always cited in the bishops’ Labor Day talks. It’s foundational.”…