The Common Good
September-October 1998

When You're Through Reading

by Kristin Brennan | September-October 1998

Suggestions and questions to encourage faithful engagement with labor issues.

This special issue on the church and labor provides a vehicle for both groups and individuals to engage with the issue of worker justice, unions, and the labor movement from a faith perspective. Because of the nature of the labor issue in general, and the call to establish bonds contrary to our individualistic culture by joining together for mutual goals, the material's effect is multiplied when used in a community setting. Since a Christian spiritual perspective underlies each article, it may be most effective to use the material in connection with parishes, congregations, religious orders, Christian colleges, or other faith-based organizations.

This magazine can be a guide both for educating people and inviting them into potential and existing religion-labor connections. Using the articles and the accompanying questions, as well as the resources on the next page, many activities could be considered:

  • Organize educational gatherings in your faith community, focusing both on the history of the labor movement as well as its current activities and struggles.
  • Seek to integrate economic justice into worship services and liturgies.
  • Sign up for campaigns, write letters, and voice concerns about worker justice through the available media.
  • Contact the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice or Jobs With Justice to locate religion-labor committees in your area.
  • Form coalitions with pro-worker justice organizations.

Most important, make it a priority to reach out to other workers within your community, since it is in talking with one another that we gain a clearer sense of how different kinds of workers are being treated in their jobs.

Questions

  • In "To Follow the Carpenter of Nazareth," Perry Bush describes a long history of church support and mobilizing around worker justice. What is your denomination's relationship with the labor movement, past and present? What is the value of understanding the church's historical relationship with worker justice?
  • Bill Wylie-Kellermann describes the role of the churches in fighting the powers and the principalities as both "a preferential option expressly urged upon us by scripture" as well as "potentially an alliance on behalf of human life." What point is he trying to make here? How do these two roles differ? Why does he suggest that such a mission may be "as much like a call to the unions as it is to the church"?
  • Wylie-Kellermann believes that the "powers and principalities" in our economy must be accountable to "vocation." Reflect on the calling of each of the companies or corporations that affect you daily. Are these organizations clear about their root purpose and consistent in their mission? In what ways have they strayed?
  • Wylie-Kellermann describes the powers-that-be as both spiritual and material, and notes that the struggle of unions and churches must take into account both of these aspects. What are ways that your faith community could spiritually confront the powers and principalities? How can you respond to the material needs of workers struggling for justice? What specific strengths and resources could your particular faith community offer to local workers and union efforts?
  • In "Captive to Capital," Jane Samuels describes the difficulty of organizing within church institutions and non-profits. What are some of the factors that contribute to this? Has treatment of workers been an issue within faith-based organizations in which you have worked or interacted? In what concrete areas could your church or faith community "reflect the values of justice that birthed them" in reference to treating workers with dignity?
  • In "From the Bottom Up," Jane Slaughter calls for democracy within unions, insisting that real change will emerge from the rank and file. How does her bottom-up claim affect a faith community's approach to working with the labor movement? In what ways could your faith community seek relationship with labor leaders while still prioritizing the connection to workers? What enables the church to claim a voice in both of these places?
  • While labor and the churches have worked closely together in the past, John Sweeney, AFL-CIO president, insists that both "are responsible for the decline in that relationship." What are ways in which connections can be re-established? How can church leaders refocus on issues of worker justice? What kind of commitment do members of faith communities need to make to look forward to strong and fruitful alliances? On the other hand, what are ways in which the labor movement can reconcile itself to the faith community?
  • In "Workin' 9-to-4...," Murray MacAdam proposes the shorter work week as both a way to counter the harried pace of life as well as to provide work enough to employ more persons in the economy. How realistic would a shortened work week be in your present occupation? What changes would have to be made within your workplace to enable employees to adjust to a 35-hour week? How would you need to alter your own work ethic?
  • What are the recent worker justice struggles within your community? How were these publicized? What was your reaction, action, and/or interpretation in relation to these events? What was the outcome? Were local churches and faith communities involved in the negotiations?

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