Magazine article Tikkun

Labor's Role in a Meaningful Society

Magazine article Tikkun

Labor's Role in a Meaningful Society

Article excerpt

I am honored to be with you at the Summit on Ethics and Meaning. You are helping to advance the val.ues and the vision we share: an America that honors working people, that rewards their work, and that restores their spirit of community and solidarity.

You know, I didn't plan it this way, but my schedule today reminds me that the labor movement and people of faith share common values and common goals. And, of course, quite often we're the same people.

If I could speak personally, my own commitments are rooted in the social teachings of my Church.

I was taught that, since men and women are created in God's image, their dignity must be respected at work. Working people have the right to a living wage. And, while there will always be some churning in the economy, working people should not be cast aside like disposable parts when the last drop of energy and effort has been wrung out of them. I believe that, as the U.S. Catholic Bishops recently declared: "The economy exists for the human person, not the other way around."

Over the years, I have been struck by how many in the movement have been influenced by the teachings of their own traditions--from the prophets of the Old Testament, to the social gospel of modern Protestantism and the determination of the African-American church to help people make "a way out of no way."

I have heard these teachings in the words--and seen them reflected in the work--of such leaders of labor as A. Philip Randolph, Jerry Wurf, and Cesar Chavez, and in the struggles and sacrifices of so many women and men whose names are forgotten but whose deeds live on.

And, whenever I hear the voices of prejudice and privilege claim scriptural sanction for their views, I wonder how they managed to read their Bibles without coming across words like "justice" and "love."

I'm not saying that people who believe, as I do, in the traditional values of work, family, and faith must support the labor movement in everything we do. But I do believe that, for people to live decent lives--with lasting commitments to their families and neighbors--they need some security.

For instance, the plant closings of the 1980s and the corporate downsizings of the 1990s cut millions loose from their livelihoods. And this did at least as much harm to families and communities as all the violent TV shows and raunchy movies that Hollywood could churn out--even if they ran their studios 'round-the-clock, like steel mills in the boom years.

Wherever I go, I try to say four simple words: "America needs a raise." I'm sure you understand that this slogan sums up a set of concerns that are moral as well as material. If people are going to be able to give their families the time and care they need, if Americans are to reach out across the barriers of class and color and culture to restore our spirit of community--then we are going to have to lift the living standards of working men and women. And the best way to do this is by strengthening and revitalizing the labor movement, so that we can give voice to the needs and the values of working Americans, restore their power and advance their purposes on their jobs, in their communities, and all across this country.

I would like to amplify two of these points--and forgive me for preaching to a congregation that understands and acts upon these principles as well as anyone. First, the crisis in the living standards of ordinary Americans is straining not only our family budgets but our family life. And it is tearing at our social fabric and poisoning our political process. Working men and women have been taking it on the chin for twenty years or more because corporate America decided to compete in the world marketplace by downsizing our jobs, our wages, and our working conditions.

And, second, the best answer to this crisis is to build a stronger, smarter, more effective labor movement. Just as in the past, we can restore a spirit of solidarity among working people of every heritage. …

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