Holy Rights


WHY DO ROUGHLY 70 PERCENT of European workers have collective bargaining coverage, while only 13 percent of their American counterparts do? Religion is a surprisingly big part of the answer.

In Europe, polities evolved hand in hand with forms of Christianity--especially Catholicism-that were sensitive to "labor's dignity in a religious sense; observes Lew Daly, author of God's Economy: Faith-Based Initiatives and the Caring State (2009). As a result, in many parts of Europe, natural associations such as the family, churches, and labor unions were incorporated into public structures and protected from market competition because they were seen "as vital instruments of the common good."

In the United States, however, polities and religion developed separately--the Constitution, after all, establishes a strict division between church and state. And that's one of the main reasons unions are so enfeebled, in Daly's view: American culture just isn't set up for them. In the United States, individual rights are the bedrock of politics, not natural associations. That unions exist in the United States at all is due in large part to influential Catholic Americans inspired by the labor protections the Vatican began to endorse in the late 19th century. …

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