Sirico Completely Wrong on Church's Support for Unions
Robert Sirico's well financed defenses of libertarian economics often rise to the level of self-parody, but his statement in the NY Times story on Duquesne University's scandalous attempt to fight a union for adjunct instructors is astounding in its ignorance or mendacious misrepresentation of the basis for the Church's support for unions.
It's hard to find the proper tone to engage so serious a distortion. It is hearbreaking to know that it will no doubt go blythely unnoticed and uncorrected by those charged with oversight for the Church's doctrine.
Sirico argues that the teaching is historically contingent, more relevant to 1891 than to today.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico, a Catholic priest and the author of “Defending the Free Market,” says that the importance of unions in Catholic teaching is historically contingent. It matters, Father Sirico said, that Pope Leo XIII’s “Rerum Novarum” was written in 1891, not today.
“In the industrial revolution, the church was concerned about communism, and not just capitalism but savage capitalism,” Father Sirico said. “People were being brutalized. That’s just not the case in Pittsburgh today.”
The Church's support for unions based on Natural Law. They are forms of "private society" that serve the interests of their members within the context of the common good. The argument is based on natural law, not on any relativistic read of specific needs which vary from decade to decade. The natural right of such socieities to exist is a fundamental part of the doctrine of Subsidiarity, which pundits like Fr. Sirico are so fond of quoting without ever understanding.
Leo XIII was a scholastic thinker through and through. His arguments spoke to history yes, but alway from the perspective of Thomistic philosophy and theology which he firmly believed were the only adequate answer to the questions posed by modernity. (See Aeterni Patris.) To claim his teaching is merely historically contingent betrays a stunning ignorance of the thought of the founder of the modern social magisterium.
So back to the trouble of tone here. How to respond to such a well financed, ever quoted, and oft respected figure who apparently doesn't know what he's talking about, but is always willing to offer a quote that scores one for his team? All the appropriate nouns just sound so harsh.
Below are some passages from Leo's Rerum Novarum, which perhaps Fr. Sirico should read. (Bold face added to help save time.)
49. The most important of all are workingmen's unions, for these virtually include all the rest. History attests what excellent results were brought about by the artificers' guilds of olden times. They were the means of affording not only many advantages to the workmen, but in no small degree of promoting the advancement of art, as numerous monuments remain to bear witness. Such unions should be suited to the requirements of this our age - an age of wider education, of different habits, and of far more numerous requirements in daily life. It is gratifying to know that there are actually in existence not a few associations of this nature, consisting either of workmen alone, or of workmen and employers together, but it were greatly to be desired that they should become more numerous and more efficient. We have spoken of them more than once, yet it will be well to explain here how notably they are needed, to show that they exist of their own right, and what should be their organization and their mode of action.
50. The consciousness of his own weakness urges man to call in aid from without. We read in the pages of holy Writ: "It is better that two should be together than one; for they have the advantage of their society. If one fall he shall be supported by the other. Woe to him that is alone, for when he falleth he bath none to lift him up."(34) And further: "A brother that is helped by his brother is like a strong city."(35) It is this natural impulse which binds men together in civil society; and it is likewise this which leads them to join together in associations which are, it is true, lesser and not independent societies, but, nevertheless, real societies.
51. These lesser societies and the larger society differ in many respects, because their immediate purpose and aim are different. Civil society exists for the common good, and hence is concerned with the interests of all in general, albeit with individual interests also in their due place and degree. It is therefore called a public society, because by its agency, as St. Thomas of Aquinas says, "Men establish relations in common with one another in the setting up of a commonwealth."(36) But societies which are formed in the bosom of the commonwealth are styled private, and rightly so, since their immediate purpose is the private advantage of the associates. "Now, a private society," says St. Thomas again, "is one which is formed for the purpose of carrying out private objects; as when two or three enter into partnership with the view of trading in common."(37) Private societies, then, although they exist within the body politic, and are severally part of the commonwealth, cannot nevertheless be absolutely, and as such, prohibited by public authority. For, to enter into a "society" of this kind is the natural right of man; and the State has for its office to protect natural rights, not to destroy them; and, if it forbid its citizens to form associations, it contradicts the very principle of its own existence, for both they and it exist in virtue of the like principle, namely, the natural tendency of man to dwell in society.
Of course unions have occasionally been mobbed up or resulted in positions deserving of the gentle mockery. But this is no different than any institution. Let us not forget that the geniuses of finance have caused more misery since 2008 than all of the unions in world history combined. And they are no less racketeers, just in legally permissible ways.
It is also paternal and naive to presume the workers don't wish to unionize. Given the lupine libertarianism of the last 30 years, the NLRB regulations from the New Deal had been consistently unenforced (parenthetically, I cannot help but note the irony of those on the Right lamenting the failure to enforce the text of immigration laws, and they are perfectly fine and simply refusing to enforce the unambiguous text of the antitrust laws and the NLRB regulations). Corporations have used a host of illegal and unethical methods to try to threaten those who wish to organize. Any attempt to card check or the regulations to reverse this trend had been defeated by the misguided lupine libertarianism of those purchased by business will also happen to be members of Congress.
The middle class has suffered due to the concerted attack on unions
"The repeated calls issued within the Church's social doctrine, beginning withRerum Novarum, 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."
If Reagan started an era of union busing then why does this decline predate the Reagan Revolution? Curious!
An additional section from Rerum Novarum, bolding added (available www.vatican.va):
43. We now approach a subject of great importance, and one in respect of which, if extremes are to be avoided, right notions are absolutely necessary. Wages, as we are told, are regulated by free consent, and therefore the employer, when he pays what was agreed upon, has done his part and seemingly is not called upon to do anything beyond. The only way, it is said, in which injustice might occur would be if the master refused to pay the whole of the wages, or if the workman should not complete the work undertaken; in such cases the public authority should intervene, to see that each obtains his due, but not under any other circumstances.
44. [large portion deleted for brevity; conclusion:] It necessarily follows that each one has a natural right to procure what is required in order to live, and the poor can procure that in no other way than by what they can earn through their work.
45. Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice.
I infer that Father Sirico is basing his position on the positive workings of a free
There are at least two significant trends that led to a decline in union membership long before Pres. Reagan was elected, one legal/political in one simply a factor of economic evolution, Ricardian equivalence if you want to be more precise.
The 1947 Taft Hartley Act and its political progeny started a trend long before Pres. Reagan. And even part of the movement that birthed Reagan predated him, the lupine libertarianism that has produced a preferential option for the wealthy and powerful which dominates our current politics. He was a product of that movement more than an originator of it.
Further, the decline in manufacturing has also significantly contributed. That was the unavoidable with mature economy, but the lupine libertarianism has also attacked organizing attempts in the service sector.
The major difference since Reagan is the reductions in social norms against illegal conduct. Beginning with appointments in that era, the NLRB stopped enforcing laws which remain on the books, and permitted corporations to act illegally when facing organizing attempts. They know the laws will not be enforced, and that they will suffer no consequence for illegal or unethical conduct.
What if we simply wanted to fire union organizers? That was possible to do, said Stief, as long as you were careful to do so for other reasons. “Union sympathizers aren’t entitled to any more protection than other workers,” he explained. But the firing could not be linked to their union activity.
What if we felt like saying a lot of anti-union stuff to our workers? Lotito introduced a segment called “You Can Say It.” Could we tell our workers, for instance, that a union had held strike at a nearby facility only to find that all the strikers had been replaced–and that the same could happen to the employees here? Sure, said Lotito. “It’s lawful.” He added, “What happens if this statement is a lie? They didn’t have another strike, there were no replacements? It’s still lawful: The labor board doesn’t really care if people are lying.”
But if everything failed, and we found ourselves negotiating with a newly formed union, then we still shouldn’t lose heart. Instead, we could continue to undermine the union by rejecting all of its demands during negotiations. (In fact, in about a third of the cases after a union victory, employers don’t even agree to a contract.) The trick was in how to word refusals. First, with a shout, Stief demonstrated what not to say in response to a demand for increased wages: “I’m not listening to no stinkin’ wage increases!” He resumed his normal voice: “Does that sound like good faith? No.” Then Stieff showed us the proper alternative: “I’m not inclined to agree to that proposal at this time.” He observed. “Does that sound like good faith? Yes, but I’m saying the same thing I did before.” The lesson? “You can say no to anything.”
Father Sirico misses the point. He talks about the rights to private property but does not include a worker's right to property which is their labor. Their labor is their property. They lend it to others in return for wages. Rerum Novarum sorted out the rights of workers and owners. It is about owners making enough money to enjoy a decent living where all the workers enjoy the same opportunity.
We do not need any conspiracy theories to know globalization did not evolve in any natural fashion but has been driven by powerful forces outside the will of the people.
Workers have no voice in the process. Globalization uses free trade as its tool to spread the process. Free trade is not trade as historically practiced and defined. It is about moving production from place to place for the sake of cheaper labor. The main commodities being traded are human beings who are put on a world trading block to compete for the same jobs down to the lowest levels of wage slave and even child labor. It is the new slave trade of our times with the so called free market isolating markets through this process. The so called free market has ransacked the real free enterprise system and fair trade. It is not a question of about government control versus a free market. Once President Obama bailed out the financial communities, the banks and large corporations, all bets are off . He did this while ignoring the suffering of workers with many losing everything it took a lifetime to accumulate. Virtually no one got the help they were promised if they lost their jobs or businesses to free trade. President Obama bailed out big money and put them back in charge of a failed system. We have a new "ism" in the world that came unannounced in the form of globalization and free trade where all old "isms" have been mixed into one where greed rules.
The value of workers and labor has been deflated and degraded. This value is a real asset and money standard. Now it has been discounted to the point where no kind of economy can be supported be it flowing down from government or private enterprise.
I hope all those reading this blog will use the link. I note the calm reasoned tone that is in contrast to Vincent Miller's opening article above, where he struggled with ''finding the proper tone.'' But, in charity, it is possible that Vincent inadvertently saw your quote out of context and will correct himself. Now, I must read your new book, discussed in this interview here http://newsbusters.org/blogs/matthew-sheffield/2012/06/17/newsbusters-interview-robert-sirico-author-defending-free-market
The final sentence was meant to read I infer Father Sirico is basing his opinion on the positive workings of a free
Maybe Mr. Miller should read it to better understand economics and its interaction with social policy before he mocks Fr. Sirico. But mocking is the thing to do around here to show you are morally superior. One of the things I am sure Mr. Miller will learn if he ever investigates the affect of unions on employment is that unions create more poor. They are great for those who belong to them but the process of unionization ends up making more poor. It may not be so direct in Duquesne situation but is definitely apparent in a lot of areas such as with public service unions.
So is Catholic social policy the making of more poor. That seems to be what I am taking away from the authors here who seem to favor a certain form of social and economic policy that favors a privileged sub group of the work force such as union members over the poor and then favors other policies that have devastated the poor in the last 50 years. Somehow I don't think this is what Catholic Social Policy should be about.
Even Milton Friedman thought that workers had a right to form unions. The problem is that workers also have a natural right to not form unions or to not be a member of a union. The state all too often (in collusion with union bosses) makes it very difficulty for workers to choose to not be a member of a union. This violates their natural right to freely negotiate with an employer independent of a union.
I do not know if the natural right to form unions applies to public workers (was this ever addressed specifically in Catholic teaching?), since their work is not supposed to make a profit for their employers and their employers are in the unusual situation of being able to coerce taxes from private companies - in effect taking money from private workers to pay for benefits of public workers. This is the major dispute today, as happened in Wisconsin and is now happening even in Democratic Chicago.
And the occupational safety and health guidelines put in place because of the work of unions are being decimated even as I write. Women's wages are still not on a par with those of men with rare exceptions. And whether the employee is part of a union or not, employees must purchase the health and medical insurance plan their employer chooses. This means that employees don't have the freedom or luxury of being able to locate to another job for fear of losing their health insurance. This renders them vulnerable to unfair demands of employers. The Reverend Siroco ought to give up his clerics collar for about five years and do some blue collar or white collar work to find out what it's like. We're still in 1890, it's just that the technology's more advanced.
He had a road to Damascu event as he was criticizing a conservative on his views and found out that all he believed was nonsense. So an honest liberal who could not justify his political views with what he came to see as the truth. Not much different than a lot of other conservatives who once bought the left nonsense about how economics and the world worked and then learned it was nothing more than pie in the sky promises with very dysfunctional policies.
Disagree with his ideas but try to understand them first before casting aspersions. And public employee unions are very, very dysfunctional. The problem with unions is that they are organized to solve a specific problem or two and then when they are solved, they continue on like a crazed knight errant going after imaginary wrongs and doing damage instead of providing for the common good. Essentially today unions stack the decks in favor of a chosen few as they cause problems for those outside of these chosen ones.
I don't think you know the background of Fr. Sirico, who was actually an agnostic secular left-liberal activist (worked on the campaign of Jane Fonda's husband Tom Hayden in the 70s) who worked before reverting to Catholicism in his 30s and was ordained a priest at age 38. So, he has more non-clerical world experience than you presume.
Unions are human societies that can work for good or evil, like all things human. So, they can be monopolistic or support dictators or tyrants (as in the twentieth century) or block non-union members from access to certain jobs or demand unaffordable benefits (as in the 21st century), just as they can be a force for good and protect workers. One has to discern if their goals at any particular time are good or bad. In any case, they are less important for workers today because they represent so few of them. One should ask why workers overwhelmingly prefer to not be represented by unions when given the chance today.
I am aware of several things in Fr. Sirico's past prior to making his conversion to Catholicism including that he was a Pentecostal minister at one time and that Michael Sean Winters tried to his usual hit job on him a couple years ago and made himself look small in the process. Does any of this have anything to do with Fr. Sirico's understanding of economics and what helps the poor.
Fr. Sirico has a couple interesting stories in his book on how charity can hurt the poor in ways we never think of. For example, he recounts a story of how the donation of second hand clothes from Europe and the US to African countries has devastated the cotton and clothing industry in Kenya because who wants to buy something from a local manufacturer when people are giving out free stuff or how a soup kitchen run by nuns undermines local restaurants and food stores. Again who wants to pay for something when you can get if for free but the result is local businesses people pay the price.
I am only about 25% into the book and he has some fascinating stories about the unintended consequences of social policy and how he and others are helping the poor in several countries. Sounds more like St. Francis then those defending public service unions and their high salaries which we have several around here doing. I am sure there are some things that cold be drug up on him, but how about dealing just with the economic arguments.
Fr. Sirico makes the point that subsidized food in the US devastates third world countries by letting cheap US food, which is only cheap because of Congressional subsides, undermines their food production. He gives the example of Haiti and how Bill Clinton testified in 2010 that farmers in Arkansas who were given unfair subsides were able to ship rice to Haiti and essentially impoverish Haitian farmers.
Subsidized products are not an example of free trade but just the opposite. Free trade has been the source of our global wealth and restrictions of it end up screwing everyone eventually. A small number make out in the short run when restrictions are made or subsidies made and less still make out in the long run but the overwhelming evidence is that free trade is the source of wealth as it allows all to be creative in what they can produce knowing that there will be a market for it if in fact what they produce is of value to others in another place in the world. Restrict free trade and we will be back scrubbing a living at a subsistence level. We are now on our way to eliminating global poverty thorugh free trade. The technology and science we have today would not have been possible without the wealth developed through free trade and internal freedom of the people. The countries with the most internal restrictions are usually the poorest. Here is one of the most dramatic examples of what free trade and freedom can do. It is the night lights of North and South Korea.
One of the exacerbating elements of the Great Depression was the Smoot Hawley tariffs. It turned a unpleasant economic situation into a disaster as the whole world retaliated against the US. The Depression had many causes but restrictions of free trade was a big part of it.
Even if you are right that ''many of the economic difficulties facing working-class and middle-class families in the US today are connected to the loss of union members and union power over the past few decades'' would you suggest that we force worker to be in unions? It is clear that a large portion (probably a large majority) of workers if given a free choice would choose to not pay union dues and be in a union. Even if these workers, according to you, are choosing somethin against their own interest, would you suggest that we take liberty away from them in order to ''protect'' their interest?
It is more paternalistic to conclude that workers are not making rational choices when they reject union membership.
Unfortunately, the unions have contributed to their plight, and not just because of their heavy-handed attitude to their members. By successfully negotiating high wages and benefits, they raised the price of labor in a time when the economy, through technology advances in transport and communications (not just free trade policies), was becoming global. The higher cost of labor drove manufacturing abroad to cheaper foreign countries with hungrier workers. New jobs in America have been in the more diverse services sector where it is more difficult and less profitable to organize.
I guess that whole thing called "globalization" and free trade agreements introduced, supported and passed by Democrats like Bill Clinton had absolutely nothing to do with it. It's all the evil Republicans fault - everything is!
The fact of the matter is that in the present time when union membership is made a free choice then union membership decreases.
Employers regularly use immoral coercion tactics to try to defeat elections and prevent employees from having a meaningful choice. They do so with lies and intimidation.
The last thing the industry wants his actual free and fair elections. It will lose most of the time.
Some 82 percent of employers hire high-priced union-busting consultants, according to American Rights at Work. Further, when employers are faced with organizing campaigns:
30 percent fire pro-union workers.
49 percent threaten to close a worksite when workers try to form a union, but only 2 percent actually do.
51 percent coerce workers into opposing unions with bribery or favoritism.
91 percent force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with their supervisors.
Chirag Mehta and Nik Theodore at the Center for Urban Economic Development, share an example that illustrates how quickly support for unionization can erode when a management consultant is involved:
But even if employees beat the odds and join to form a union, it doesn’t mean they’ll get one. Just ask Christopher Bloncourt, a telecommunications technician for Verizon Business. Bloncourt and his co-workers, who troubleshoot phone circuits for corporate clients such as Bank of America, IBM and Microsoft Corp. in the New York metropolitan area, sought to form a union in 2006. Bloncourt became an outspoken leader in support of the union. Soon, he says, it seems he was singled out and his manager was scrutinizing his every move. Worse: A senior manager flew in from Pennsylvania to meet one-on-one with him. Bloncourt says his stomach was constantly turning under the pressure because:
Bloncourt says the company not only sought to send him a message—management meant to warn all workers. The company held several mandatory anti-union meetings trying to scare the workers, while telling them the union just wanted their money and predicting the union would force them out of strike. Break rooms were littered with anti-union literature.
Your numbers or those of the site you linked to seem ridiculously exaggerated, if not impossible. You claim that 82% of employers hire union-busting consultants. 82%??? - when only 7% of workers are in unions. I presume you are refering only to private industry, not public workers?
For your numbers to be correct, union-forming and union-busting would be one of the major preoccupations of work in America. Union-busting might be the only secure job in America. Let's everyone stop trying to form unions for a year and put all those busters out of business.
Wiki says that the term ''union-buster'' is sometimes used to describe any employee who doesn't want to join a union. Could that be what you mean? I am trying to find out how many employers there are in America to see what 82% comes to.
PROBLEM: EMPLOYERS DENY WORKERS FREE CHOICE
Employers often manipulate the system to silence employees who attempt to form unions. According to unionbusting consultants used by 82 percent of employers faced with organizing drives, “the greatest achievement is not having
The point is clear, employers resort to unethical means to "win" the elections. Those who contend that workers really don't want unions based upon the outcome of these elections must also logically contend that Hosni Mubarek possessed a legitimate mandate of the Egyptian electorate as he obtained 88.7% of the reported vote in 2005.
I wish you were more clear. If I understand the modified claim (a huge difference from your original claim), it is a quote from 82% of people classified as union-busters (not sure how they are defined) not that 82% employers use these consultants. So, it could be from a few manufacturing companies, hardly representative of the general employee or employer population. As Churchill said, "there's lies, d..n lies and statistics." Reminds me of the 1% vs. the 99%, or the 98% Catholic women supposedly using contraceptives.
With respect to the other two drive-by statistics cited, we certainly know the 1% versus 99% is accurate. To the extent that it is inaccurate, it actually understate the situation, as the true concentration of wealth occurs at the 1% of the 1%. In any event, some useful graphics are located at
As for the percentage of Catholic women to use contraceptives, one need not rely on surveys. Just look at the pews in your parish. How many families do you see with more than three children?
And to the extent that you believe they're using NFP, check the numbers of those that attend the class. It doesn't add up.
Of course, in the parish my wife and I were married in, we had to attend at least a single class as part of our pre-Cana. But again, use the principle of parsimony of that great Franciscan, William of Ockam. There is only one conclusion to draw. If it's not 98%, it sure is close
Read your first post again. You clearly tried to use the 82% differently than you are now. As regards the 1% (who pay 40% of Federal Taxes), it is the misuse of this number to suggest that it is all evil bankers, when it is in fact doctors, lawyers, employers and nearly all union bosses and the Democratic politicians who attack the 1% (pretending they are not in it). As regards the laughable 98% contraceptors (invented by the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute and used by the Obama administration), see Lydia McGrew’s most detailed analysis of the “98%” in her article “How to lie with statistics, example umpteen” (at http://catholicliberty.com/364).
Joe (#24) makes a good point. Scholars debate this issue. Most point to two key factors:
1. The Taft-Hartely Act (1947) heemed in unions, e.g., the law prohibited foremen and management from CB units. Alongside this law was the NLRB's narrowing of what was negotiable; by the 1970s management looked more carefully at the Wagner Act and realized that it could engage in unfair labor practices and face only minor penalties. By the early 1980s the post-WWII labor-business consensus had broken down.
2. The arrival of multi-year, generous contracts in key industries (e.g., the automobile industry's late 1940s' "Treaty of Detroit") pacified the labor movement. It made some-not all-parts of the movement, self-satisfied and lazy. They lost the "fire in their belly" feelinfg that characterized the 1930-45 period. Meanwhile, conservatives and business interests pushed forward with their intense anti-union message.
By the 1980s the labor movement was reeling just as inequality and aggressive market populism was putting peoples' security and workplace rights in danger.
Fr. Sirico provides other comments of Church thought on unions from Pope John Paul II and Pope Paul VI. It is nice to get the other side of the story sometimes. Again the link to Fr. Sirico's reply is