Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Bishop Hubbard's Labor Day Message

In his Labor Day message, published in The Evangelist, Bishop Howard J. Hubbard writes about the debt ceiling debate in Congress and how it might affect Americans. He writes:
On this Labor Day weekend, we are particularly concerned about how the action already taken last month and under consideration between now and Nov. 23 will affect America's workforce.

With the economy faltering and 25 million people in need of full-time work, almost everyone wants Washington and other governmental entities focused on how to create jobs and to get the economy going, not on slashing spending for the rising number of poor children and homeless, while sheltering tax havens for millionaires and billionaires.

More than four million Americans have been out of work for more than a year, the largest number of long-term unemployed since World War II; yet Congress has gone on a summer recess without extending unemployment benefits to their out-of-work constituents.

What is particularly distressing is the growing disparity of wealth in our country. In their new book, "How Washington made the Rich Richer - And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class," John Hacker, a political scientist at Yale University, and Paul Pierson, a political scientist at the University of California at Berkeley, posit that we have experienced a "30-year war" in which the long, slow struggle through the 20th century for greater equality of income and wealth has been reversed.

They note that, from 1979 until the eve of our current great recession, the top one percent have held 35 percent of our nation's wealth. Between 2001 and 2006, the top one percent amassed more than half the gains, while the median income of non-elderly households actually fell.

In fact, the top one-tenth of that one percent "received over 20 percent of all after-tax income gains between 1970 and 2005, compared with the 13.5 percent enjoyed by the bottom 60 percent of households."

In other words, the total of new income going to roughly 300,000 people was one and a half percent the size of the total going to roughly 180 million people.

In the last four decades, these authors conclude that our democracy has become the most economically unequal nation in the advanced world. Meanwhile, the working and middle classes have either fallen behind or kept up by going into debt and having more family members work longer hours.
. . .

Every Pope from Leo XIII to Benedict XVI has underscored that economic injustice, not economic growth, is the cornerstone of our Church's teaching. The Church condemns the social and personal damage done when employees and their families are treated as voiceless underlings or disposable parts.

Just last month, during his travels to World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, Pope Benedict denounced "the profit-at-all-costs mentality" that has contributed to our current economic crisis. He noted that "people must be at the center of the economy, and the economy cannot be measured only by the maximization of profit, but rather according to the common good."

That is why Catholic social teaching has upheld the rights of workers to organize and to bargain with employers for a living wage and decent medical, disability and retirement benefits. Therefore, with workers under so much pressure and unions facing open attack - most recently in the state of Wisconsin - it is helpful, this Labor Day, to recall three fundamental themes of Catholic social teaching on labor:

1 Human dignity is achieved through work.

2 In a world of powerful corporations and weak borrowing power on the part of workers, unions are necessary for achieving a fair and decent livelihood for workers and their families.

3 The principal role of the government is to protect the common good by safeguarding and implementing the rights of working men and women.

It is true that unions have sometimes abused their powers, and when this happens they must be held accountable. "But without them," as Commonweal magazine editorializes, "who holds employers accountable?"

The rest of the message is here.

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