The emotionally-charged disputes over labor negotiations in states like Wisconsin and Ohio have led some Catholics on the political left to claim that the GOP will lose Catholic votes as a result. It’s true that the history of the labor movement in the United States was closely intertwined with Catholic social teaching beginning with the 1891 encyclical of Leo XIII on capital and labor, Rerum Novarum.
The question needs to be asked, however, if Catholic voters, even those from backgrounds with ties to organized labor, will be sympathetic with the demands being made by unions in the face of huge state budget deficits. Bishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee made a statement on “the Rights of Workers and the Value of Unions” that affirmed the Church’s support of the workers’ right to organize, but adds this does not mean that “every claim made by workers or their representatives is valid.”
In separate conversations this past week with two bishops, I heard from them that they considered Bishop Listecki’s statement to be right on the mark. The position of the Church in relation to these labor disputes should not be to treat collective bargaining as a necessary facet of Catholic social teaching on workers’ rights. Indeed, it’s foolish, they said, to ignore the overall state of the economy and the growing deficit of state and federal budgets.
It’s my view, given the strong Catholic socially-conservative presence in the Tea Party movement, that there will be much less sympathy among Catholic voters in the traditional Catholic states of the midwest and northeast than some liberal commentators want us to think.
No one questions the right of workers to organize or the historical contribution of labor unions to a more just economy. But, as unions continue to make demands that dig an already deep financial hole deeper they will inevitably lose popular support.
For more on the question of how labor disputes will impact the Catholic vote take a look at www.catholicadvocate.com.