Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Is Collective Bargaining a "Right" According to Catholic Social Teaching?

Jake Tawney of The American Catholic has some great analysis on the issue of Collective bargaining.  Is collective bargaining a "right" according to Catholic Social Teaching?  Is collective bargaining a necessity to have a just wage or humane working conditions?  I would argue that since we have the health department today, that in a majority of the cases working conditions are humane.  I would argue since we have a minimum wage requirement that more often than not we don't have to worry about wages being unjust.  Jake Tawney outlines what the CST encyclicals have to say about just wages, working conditions, and collective bargaining.

From Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum: 
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.

Here is a quote from Quadragesimo anno by Pope Pius XI: 

It is an intolerable abuse, and to be abolished at all cost, for mothers on account of the father’s low wage to be forced to engage in gainful occupations outside the home to the neglect of their proper cares and duties, especially the training of children.

In determining the amount of the wage, the condition of a business and of the one carrying it on must also be taken into account; for it would be unjust to demand excessive wages which a business cannot stand without its ruin and consequent calamity to the workers. 

Hence it is contrary to social justice when, for the sake of personal gain and without regard for the common good, wages and salaries are excessively lowered or raised; and this same social justice demands that wages and salaries be so managed, through agreement of plans and wills, in so far as can be done, as to offer to the greatest possible number the opportunity of getting work and obtaining suitable means of livelihood. 

The first two paragraphs shows the balance between the worker and employer.  The last paragraph makes no mention of collectively bargaining.

Next, we have text from Paul VI’s Populorum progressio: 

Every form of social action involves some doctrine; and the Christian rejects that which is based on a materialistic and atheistic philosophy, namely one which shows no respect for a religious outlook on life, for freedom or human dignity. So long as these higher values are preserved intact, however, the existence of a variety of professional organizations and trade unions is permissible.

Then, Jake quotes from Pope John Paul II's Laborem exercens: 

Union demands cannot be turned into a kind of group or class “egoism”, although they can and should also aim at correcting – with a view to the common good of the whole of society – everything defective in the system of ownership of the means of production or in the way these are managed. Social and socioeconomic life is certainly like a system of “connected vessels”, and every social activity directed towards safeguarding the rights of particular groups should adapt itself to this system.
In this sense, union activity undoubtedly enters the field of politics, understood as prudent concern for the common good. However, the role of unions is not to ‘play politics’ in the sense that the expression is commonly understood today. Unions do not have the character of political parties struggling for power; they should not be subjected to the decision of political parties or have too close links with them.

Lastly, he quotes from Pope John Paul II's Centesimus annus: 

Furthermore, society and the State must ensure wage levels adequate for the maintenance of the worker and his family, including a certain amount for savings. This requires a continuous effort to improve workers’ training and capability so that their work will be more skilled and productive, as well as careful controls and adequate legislative measures to block shameful forms of exploitation, especially to the disadvantage of the most vulnerable workers, of immigrants and of those on the margins of society. The role of trade unions in negotiating minimum salaries and working conditions is decisive in this area.

Jake Tawney contends that none of the encyclicals that he researched and quoted from designate that there is an outright mandate for collective bargaining  as a "natural right."  The Church states that you have a right to associate. But, the Church also makes it clear that you have a right to refuse to associate.  The way that unions today force an individual to join, forces them to hand over wages and doesn't give the person the choice to refuse to join is a violation of individual freedom and Catholic Social Teaching.  I agree with Jake Tawney's analysis.  

H/T TheAmericanCatholic 


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