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Religious Voices Enter Wisconsin Union Debate

c. 2011 Religion News Service
(RNS) The pro-union rallies in Wisconsin have a retro feel to them — particularly for people of faith.
Clergy and faith-based groups were historically on the front lines of the American labor movement, but priorities shifted with the rise of the religious right and the weakening of unions.
In the Wisconsin protests over the governor’s budget proposal to reduce collective-bargaining rights for teachers and other public-sector employees, however, religious voices have re-entered the fray.
Groups like Faith in Public Life and Interfaith Worker Justice have mobilized coalitions that include Protestants and Muslims, in addition to the Catholics and Jews that dominated pro-union efforts in previous generations.
Clergy have led invocations and prayer vigils throughout Wisconsin, written letters and sent delegations to meet with Republican lawmakers. An Illinois church and synagogue even offered sanctuary to the 14 Democrat state senators who fled on Feb. 16 rather than vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s bill. (None of them had turned up at the houses of worship, as of Feb. 23.)
Interfaith Worker Justice has compiled statements affirming the right to organize from more than a dozen denominations
“We’re making this a bigger issue than just the workers involved. We’re making it a moral issue, and that it’s more than just fighting over pensions,” said Rabbi Renee Bauer, director of Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin. “We’re hoping that if lawmakers hear from religious leaders, it’ll help them have a change of heart.”
While some conservative Christians have used biblical language to oppose labor demands, the traditional role of religion is to support the rights of workers, said Thomas C. Kohler, a Boston College professor of labor law.
“Catholics and Jews have always taken the notion of work as being far more than instrumental,” he said. “As the rabbis taught, God starts creation, but humans are given the gift of completing it. Work is a holy thing.”
David L. Gregory, executive director of the Center for Labor and Employment Law at St. John’s University, agreed, but said that the blurring of lines between social and fiscal conservatives has eroded some religious support for unions.
“Anybody identified with the Judeo-Christian tradition is making a commitment to social justice dimension, but it depends on whether they’re operating primarily according to their faith or according to politics,” Gregory said. “Many evangelicals have increasingly been moving to the right side of the political spectrum.”
The religious-labor bond began to weaken during the Vietnam War and the civil rights conflicts of the 1960s, Kohler said. Among Catholics in particular, political efforts since then have focused on abortion and other “life issues,” he said.
By the time Interfaith Worker Justice formed in 1996, the ties between religion and labor had all but unraveled, said Kim Bobo, the group’s founder and executive director. But as the economic downturn has taken a toll on middle-class congregations, clergy have become more aware of the need to protect fair wages and benefits. Bobo said her Chicago-based group can mobilize those sentiments into action, in Wisconsin and other states considering union-busting budget measures.
“This attack is so vicious and so wrong that we’re seeing people step forward to support workers, and it has galvanized people in the religious community,” she said. “It’s a huge resurgence.”
Yet John Huebscher, executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, said Catholic leaders have consistently maintained the church’s commitment to labor and economic justice. For example, he said, in 2008, the conference published guidelines on “Dignity of Work & The Rights of Workers.”
In a Feb. 16 statement on the Wisconsin situation, Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee upheld the “legitimate rights of workers,” citing both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict as supporters of unions.
“The bishops feel it’s a teachable moment, with this kind of attention on the issue, to draw attention to Catholic teachings on the rights of workers,” Huebscher said. “This statement reminded everybody that the Catholic tradition says that workers have rights, and those rights don’t disappear in difficult economic times.”
Gregory concluded that clergy are uniquely positioned to serve as mediators between labor leaders and Republicans — in Wisconsin and across the country.
“People have to be willing to break bread together and be willing to talk to each other, with a rational conversation,” he said. “Faith leaders can play a role here.”

  • nnmns


  • Personal lubricant

    Its a ridiculous view point to inject religion into a situation where a Governor is trying to take negogation­s rights from the workers.They intend to steal everything they can from the honest toil of ordinary working people and will use any pretext to justify their crimes.

  • Child of Mercy

    James 5 (King James Version)
    1 Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
    2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.
    3 Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.
    4 Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.
    5 Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.
    6 Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.
    7 Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.
    James 5 (Amplified Bible)
    1 COME NOW, you rich [people], weep aloud and lament over the miseries (the woes) that are surely coming upon you.
    2 Your abundant wealth has rotted and is ruined, and your [many] garments have become moth-eaten.
    3 Your gold and silver are completely rusted through, and their rust will be testimony against you and it will devour your flesh as if it were fire. You have heaped together treasure for the last days.
    4 [But] look! [Here are] the wages that you have withheld by fraud from the laborers who have reaped your fields, crying out [for vengeance]; and the cries of the harvesters have come to the ears of the Lord of hosts.
    5 [Here] on earth you have abandoned yourselves to soft (prodigal) living and to [the pleasures of] self-indulgence and self-gratification. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
    6 You have condemned and have murdered the righteous (innocent man), [while] he offers no resistance to you.
    7 So be patient, brethren, [as you wait] till the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits expectantly for the precious harvest from the land. [See how] he keeps up his patient [vigil] over it until it receives the early and late rains.

  • Henreitta22

    Walker was willing to talk to the Democrat Senators, and stab them in the back at the same time, according to the “prank phone call by David Koch” on line for everyone to read, not particularly moral. This is an attack on all middleclass people, and the dessert was to be the Unions. The Churches should be concerned about the middleclass workers, because they are the ones that keep the congregations going.

  • religious conference call

    nice blog i am satisfy with information. thanks for giving informative information.

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