Monday, March 21, 2011

An Indispensable Element

OK, quick. Which leftist pundit said the following:

“Labor unions are an indispensable element in social life…indeed a mouthpiece for the struggle for social justice.”

You might ask yourself who came to mind. Michael Moore? Russ Feingold? Karl Marx?

The answer is Pope John Paul II. This quotation comes from his encyclical Laborem Exercens. And, as the editorial in this month’s Christian Century notes, “Having seen how Poland’s workers fared under capitalism and communism, John Paul knew firsthand that neither the market nor the state can be counted on to automatically deliver justice for workers."

Of course, that vision is being vindicated in spades in today’s America. From Tallahassee to Madison, Wisconsin, workers have become the targets of state legislators and governors and the new robber barons they serve in their attempts to emasculate any kind of ability public workers have to protect their own interests. This occurs in a context where their abilities to fight back are already constrained. Most public employees are legally barred from ever going on strike, the only real power a union has, and have been relegated to largely perfunctory roles in negotiating contracts, negotiations in which binding arbitration conducted before agents of management largely rule in favor of their suzerains. It’s not terribly difficult to win in a contest in which one side gets to set all the rules of the game. And it’s not terribly difficult to exploit workers when they’ve been legally prevented from fighting back.

One of the primary residual protections public workers have had is due process requirements in terminations. Due process requires fairness in treatment of employees. That includes being able to demonstrate plausible and demonstrable reasons why workers should be demoted, not promoted, fired and not hired. What the wealth of new laws which cynically paint themselves as “reforms” create is a privilege for management to simply fire employees at will. What would be reasonable about such a method of governance? More importantly, how does the arbitrariness of such an approach further the interests of the public which public workers are pledged to serve?

So what happens when an “indispensable element in social life” is dismantled and the members of that element publicly dehumanized? What happens when “the struggle for social justice,” indeed, the ability to even conceptualize notions of the common good, is aborted? Finally, what happens to a country whose children learn to pledge allegiance with words which celebrate “liberty and justice for all” grow up to find that unless one is a thrall or a beneficiary of the oligarchy, there is neither liberty nor justice?

These are dark days for America in which we are deciding our very future as a people. I share Jefferson’s foreboding when he said,I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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