Catholicism & Collective Bargaining

While reading Heath Carter’s “With the Prophets of Old” this week, I had trouble believing the scene which was being set out in front of me. Carter was describing Chicago as the first unions were beginning to form within the city. As the Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers is one of the tenents of Catholic Social Teaching, I assumed this piece would be an article of praise on how the Catholic Church helped early immigrants. I was wrong. Carter quotes the Interior which claims, “The church is the ally of the capitalist and the oppressor, the Bible is the rich man’s book”. This claim is the opposite of what I hear at Mass on Sundays. The Church now presents itself as an ally to all of those in distress whose voices cannot be heard. In Carter’s retelling of industrial Chicago, the Catholic Church became the oppressor itself.

Sketch of the Chicago Battle of the Viaduct during the Great Railroad Strike.
Police fire at a crowd of striking railroad workers (1877, Source)

I am, however, happy that the Church has realized the hypocrisy of this stance. To be a religion which claims to uphold the Bible and Catholic tradition, it is our duty as Catholics to be an ally to those put down by society. I strongly believe that, if workers believe they are not receiving fair pay or are being forced to work in unsafe conditions, it is not only their right but their obligation to act. In many cases, unions are currently the best way to make those changes.

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