"Go to the Worker": America's Labor Apostles

"Go to the Worker": America's Labor Apostles

"Go to the Worker": America's Labor Apostles

"Go to the Worker": America's Labor Apostles


In the mid-1930s, as in recent times, the excesses of U.S. capitalism sent the American economy and its workers into a tailspin. Workers in that era responded by organizing massively and negotiating tenaciously, helped mightily by the Catholic social-action movement. This group of priests and laypeople, blending strong spirituality and a passion for worker justice, helped multitudes of workers claim their rights and exercise their responsibilities. Can workers today find inspiration in this movement as they seek to regain organized labor’s representation of one third of the American workforce? The author of “Go to the Worker” believes that they can, and tells here the movement’s story in hopes that you will come to believe that too.

Kimball Baker, a historian and writer, has long been concerned with social justice and its blending with spiritual inspirations. A native of Philadelphia, Kim graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1962 with a B.A. in American history. After U.S. Army service as a historical writer, he wrote documentaries and features for the Voice of America and was a U.S. Department of Labor writer and editor. He received a Master’s degree in American Studies from the University of Maryland and did additional graduate work at The Catholic University of America. His writings have appeared in Readings in American History, 200 Years of American Worklife, Smithsonian, and a variety of other publications. He retired to southern New Jersey, where he lectures and writes on American history topics.


People don’t find topics, topics find people. At least that’s my viewpoint after writing this book.

Its topic is social justice—worker justice, to be specific. I’ve come to consider this topic as a natural outgrowth of paired pursuits of mine, spiritual enlightenment and social justice.

After much soul-searching, I long ago arrived at the belief that all human beings are equally children of a higher power and thus equally one another’s sisters and brothers. Other searches, of social conscience and scholarship, have led me to the companion belief that wherever people form communities—from the national or even global level to the grassroots—we owe each other just and fair treatment in our economic and social dealings.

When I look around the U.S. economic and social scene, what I find most disturbing is the damage being done to Americans’ spirituality, economy, and society by the elevation of unrestrained free enterprise to the pinnacle of America’s treasury of values. I respect free enterprise, but only when it’s in balance with another treasured human and American value, the one we call “the common good.”

Throughout American history, especially from the Gilded Age on, limitations on the free enterprise system have by-and-large been so weak and ineffective that economic individualism, and the runaway materialism which accompanies it, have reigned supreme. America’s workers have borne the brunt of such tyranny—and by “workers” I mean nearly all of us, excepting only the owners of economic enterprises and their small circles of top managers. This super-rich and dominant elite has redefined “workers” to exclude as many of us as possible so that any thunder of resistance is stolen before it even begins to rumble.

This book is about a time in America’s history when thunder for the common good and against unlimited free enterprise, did rumble, loudly and to the great benefit of the nation’s workers, of every variety. Among the “rumblers” then were the members of the Catholic socialaction movement, inspired by the need to alleviate Great Depression sufferings, by Pope Pius XI’s 1931 call to Catholics to help workers to . . .

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