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The Dignity of Labor Requires Freedom and Truth

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As I celebrated Mass for our parish on the morning of Labor Day, I was struck by the Gospel which coincidentally was given to be read for Monday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary time: Luke 4:16-30. Here we see the people of Nazareth respond favorably to Jesus’ declaration that He personally fulfills the prophecy as the one anointed to bring “bring glad tidings to the poor” only to immediately attempt to kill him as they become furious at the accusation that they are beginning to reject him just as Elijah and Elisha faced rejection.

It then occurred to me that it was the answer I had been looking for since the early days of 2020. When I saw what was being done to the poor and downtrodden, I kept asking where the “labor priests” were and why the Catholic “social justice activists” were silent? I was driven to write my first op-ed condemning lockdowns, where I expressed my outrage at the grave injustice which was taking place:

Under the guise of executive powers reserved for short-term disasters such as hurricanes, leaders across the West have done the previously unthinkable: they have FORBIDDEN entire segments of the population from working. Using a nonsensical distinction between essential and non-essential (as if providing for one’s family is ever non-essential) our entire workforce has been divided into three groups: 1.) The upper class with jobs that can be performed in their pajamas at home, 2.) Laborers lucky enough to still be able to go to work, and 3.) Those intentionally rendered unemployed.

Those who belong to that final group include those for whom the popes of yesteryear wrote with concern. Waitresses, barbers, sales employees, janitors, those who provide child care and others who often live paycheck to paycheck. Also included are those who are small business owners, those who represent best the type of world envisioned by the popes for a fair market, namely those who aren’t rich themselves but through their own labor and risk create jobs so that others can provide for their families.

The now month-long and counting prohibition against labor for these people is intrinsically evil for it is a violation of the rights of these men and women to preserve their lives. Even if they are made whole (they won’t be) by the printing of cash by their respective governments, they are being robbed of the dignity of eating by the labor of their hands. This can NEVER be approved, regardless of the consequences, just as one cannot murder the baby to save millions of people.

I was baffled as to why the shepherds and others had remained silent. Little did I know that this silence would become for many (especially among those who considered themselves “social justice activists”) a fury against those of us who were against these supposed mitigation efforts.

The same dynamic that Jesus encountered in Nazareth held true today; bringing “glad tidings to the poor” is a popular slogan but very often those who embrace it most quickly care little for being called out for their own sins which prevent delivery of these glad tidings. Sadly, this is precisely what has happened to those whose political history has been tied up with what was once called the labor movement.

The Rise and Fall of the Labor Movement

Our celebration of Labor Day in the United States of America is a historical memory of the great achievement of the labor movement in the face of the grave injustices which occurred in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Robber barons like Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Vanderbilt effectively ruled the economy and laborers were largely treated as cheap and replaceable. As such, their jobs included unnecessary risk of death, they were poorly compensated, and in some towns may not have even been paid in real money but rather credit to be spent in the “Company Store.”

The initial attempts at unions commonly were broken, often by violence, but the victory of the labor movement established the rights of workers to unionize and thus have an even footing at the bargaining table with their employers.

Sadly, however, no human endeavor is free of the effects of sin. The movement was very quickly co-opted by the mob and politicians, meaning that concerns other than the legitimate good of the workers would take precedence.

We see the final outcome of this in the subordination of the concern for workers to that of the success of leftist ideologies which do nothing other than hurt the poor.

An Ideology that Hurts the Poor While Pretending to Love Them

Consider the following ways that those who claim to want “glad tidings for the poor” do nothing other than hurt them:

  • The most fundamental need of the poor is stable families. A man married to a woman for the whole of life and dedicated to the rearing of their children will always be the safest foundation for not merely material well-being but also the future upward mobility of the children. And yet, defense of this simple truth is considered anathema for ideological reasons.
  • A solid primary and secondary education for children is a second fundamental need for the children of these families. Yet, to use the quote attributed to Albert Shanker from when he was the head of the United Federation of Teachers, “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.” Every chance to allow poor kids to escape their public schools is opposed by these unions. (I will add that my mom cleaned St. Agnes grade school at night to keep me from the Pittsburgh Public Schools. For this I am forever indebted.) Political indoctrination of children is protected, while the actual teaching of “reading and writing and arithmetic” falls by the wayside. And then finally and most astoundingly, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, worked tirelessly during the Covid hysteria to harm poor children by keeping schools closed.
  • The poor depend on affordable necessities, including gasoline, heating, and electricity. And yet the Neo-Malthusian climate cult is embraced in its totality, which will ensure that the poor can’t afford to travel or even to heat their homes. 
  • Finally, and most astoundingly, the “labor movement” did nothing at all in defense of the actual right to labor. Consider this astounding policy statement of the AFL-CIO with regard to the alleged Covid crisis. There is nothing in it about protecting the right of a man to earn a living for his family, but rather we see a wishlist for less freedom, more regulation, a larger federal government, and more out of control spending. 

Much like in Nazareth almost 2,000 years ago, those expressing the most excitement at bringing glad tidings to the poor have worked diligently to make sure that it does not happen.

Conclusion

At one point, while discussing with another priest the sad state of affairs of the world which was locked down and a Church that was largely silent in response, it was jokingly suggested that maybe I’m the only “social justice” priest left. What began as a joke has become a mantle that I find myself increasingly wearing.

In the Catholic catechetical tradition there is a short list, based on Sacred Scripture, of “Sins Which Cry to Heaven for Vengeance.” These are sins which are particularly grievous in a way which bring about punishment in the here and now and not merely in the hereafter. One of these sins, derived from James 5:4, is the defrauding laborers of their wages. This sin has been perhaps THE principal sin of the Covid hysteria.

We defrauded laborers by forbidding them to go to work.

We defrauded laborers by causing them to lose their jobs as their employers failed or contracted.

We defrauded laborers by printing money which necessarily causes rampant inflation that eats away at the value of both their paycheck and any savings they may have. (You can also see how the poor are defrauded in times of inflation by examining how interest is paid or not paid by banks. Have a managed investment account? JP Morgan Chase pays you 5.35 percent on your cash. Otherwise, you just settle for 0.01 percent!)

We just lived through the “Greatest Transfer of Wealth From the Middle Class to the Elites in History” and to be perfectly blunt it is going to get worse at least until inflation is under control. This is a cry for justice that God indeed hears. Woe to us as a civilization if we continue to test Him! 



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Author

  • Rev. John F. Naugle

    Reverend John F. Naugle is the Parochial Vicar at St. Augustine Parish in Beaver County. B.S., Economics and Mathematics, St. Vincent College; M.A., Philosophy, Duquesne University; S.T.B., Catholic University of America

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