Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A Catholic New Deal: Religion and Reform in Depression Pittsburgh

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A Catholic New Deal: Religion and Reform in Depression Pittsburgh

Article excerpt

A Catholic New Deal: Religion and Reform in Depression Pittsburgh. By Kenneth J. Heineman. (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press. 1999. Pp. xv, 287. $60.00 cloth; $22.50 paperback.)

A Catholic New Deal, as Heineman tells the story of Pittsburgh in the 1930's, is one of a temporary success and a longer-term failure. Pittsburgh, more than other American cities, was an amalgam of polyglot tides of immigrant laborers where the Democratic Party won political power by including as many ethnic groups as possible, rather than by empowering some and excluding others as Democrats in NewYork and Boston had. Phil Murray more than any other labor leader of his era, took seriously the papal social encyclicals and their insistence that labor and management must eschew class warfare and work together for the common good. Labor priests like Carl Hensler and Charles Rice, more than many of their fellow clergy worked shoulder to shoulder with Phil Murray and the Congress of Industrial Organizations to do battle against conservative, violence-prone industrialists on the right and treacherously subversive Communists on the left.

Success came when David Lawrence welded together an inclusive Democratic plurality to overturn decades of rule in Pittsburgh by a narrow Scots-Irish Presbyterian elite. It came when Phil Murray acceded to the leadership of the Congress of Industrial Organizations and substituted his sober consensus seeking for the sometimes vitriolic rhetoric and sometimes punch-drunk conduct of his predecessor, John L. Lewis. It came when U.S. Steel's Myron Taylor decided that good-faith collective bargaining offered a brighter future for his corporation than the union-busting tactics of "Little Steel" and other competitors. It came when the labor priests and their bishops and enough rank-and-file workers and their families stood up for the simple human dignity of labor and stood against the blandishments of atheistic materialism and foreign agendas. Above all, success came when the yearnings of these Pittsburgh reformers were aligned with the political fortunes of twentieth-century America's master politician, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. …

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