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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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