Catholic World News

USCCB Labor Day statement reflects on unions, chides candidates’ ‘relative silence’ on poverty

August 14, 2012

In its annual Labor Day statement, the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called for a “national economic renewal that places working people and their families at the center of economic life.”

“The sad fact is that over 46 million people live in poverty and, most disturbingly, over 16 million children grow up poor in our nation,” Bishop Stephen Blaire, the committee’s chairman, wrote in the statement, which was released three weeks before Labor Day. “Public officials rightfully debate the need to reduce unsustainable federal deficits and debt. In the current political campaigns, we hear much about the economy, but almost nothing about the moral imperative to overcome pervasive poverty in a nation still blessed with substantial economic resources and power.”

“The relative silence of candidates and their campaigns on the moral imperative to resist and overcome poverty is both ominous and disheartening,” he added. “Despite unacceptable levels of poverty, few candidates and elected officials speak about pervasive poverty or offer a path to overcome it. We need to hear from those who seek to lead this country about what specific steps they would take to lift people out of poverty.”

Bishop Blaire also reflected on the strengths and weaknesses of labor unions:

Unions and other worker associations have a unique and essential responsibility in this needed economic renewal. Our Church has long taught that unions are "an indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrialized societies" (Laborem Exercens, no. 20) and are examples of the traditional Catholic principles of solidarity and subsidiarity in action. At their best, unions demonstrate solidarity by bringing workers together to speak and act collectively to protect their rights and pursue the common good. Unions are a sign of subsidiarity by forming associations of workers to have a voice, articulate their needs, and bargain and negotiate with the large economic institutions and structures of government.

Like other institutions, including religious, business and civic groups, unions sometimes fall short of this promise and responsibility. Some union actions can contribute to excessive polarization and intense partisanship, can pursue positions that conflict with the common good, or can focus on just narrow self-interests. When labor institutions fall short, it does not negate Catholic teaching in support of unions and the protection of working people, but calls out for a renewed focus and candid dialogue on how to best defend workers. Indeed, economic renewal that places working people and their families at the center of economic life cannot take place without effective unions. This renewal requires business, religious, labor, and civic organizations to work together to help working people defend their dignity, claim their rights, and have a voice in the workplace and broader economy.


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  • Posted by: aclune9083 - Aug. 16, 2012 11:09 PM ET USA

    The bishop's statement is well-meaning, but simplistic. Politicians in Washington cannot "cure" poverty, unless the people who are working are willing to contribute a substantially larger portion of their earnings than at present to feed the democratic party poverty machine. Unions, particularly in the public sector, demonstrate time and again that their agenda is self-serving for the few who pay dues. Poverty does not go away until substantial economic reform and job growth occurs.

  • Posted by: lauriem5377 - Aug. 16, 2012 6:58 AM ET USA

    The relief of poverty begins in every single individual parish - as does support for the sanctity of human life. Let's stop making these things government's job.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 15, 2012 2:48 PM ET USA

    It would seem that Bishop Blaire is divorced from reality. The surest way to economic recovery is the path of Ronald Reagan expanding opportunity and letting our capitalist system work. Unfortunately the chief obstacles to that success are public employee unions and an administration which creates and wants to maintain as much dependency as possible to buy votes while borrowing money from China.