Kevin Drum gives an intriguing and believable analysis of the fall of unions and the incorporation of elected democrats over the last 40 years. The story concerns the decline of union power that emerged in the late 60′s as the New Left focused on social issues at the expense of economic issues. Unions were not as keen about social issues. And so the two power-houses of the left — unions and the New Left movement — failed to form an alliance which led to the real defeat of democracy today. Drum believes that unions cannot recover in the US and wonders what to do to strengthen the left today.
In a different article in America magazine, the editors lament the loss of ties between unions and Catholic social teaching. Essential to this story is the strong support of unions by Catholic social teaching.
Catholic social thought defends union membership as a right. This defense makes sense as a way to secure a certain amount of equality for the everyday person — you and me. Yet, if unions have lost the power to be effective in the US, what becomes of this right? Where do Catholics concerned with social justice turn to shore up the everyday person against the constrictive capitalism that jokes out freedom and autonomy?
I wish I had answers. I’ve tried to defend a right to a job before, but such a right has obvious practical problems — perhaps more so than revitalizing unions.
I can, of course, talk for hours about the importance of defending and maintaining the local community. But these local communities must find ways to make sure everyone can work. And they must do so at the expense of paying more for the things they buy locally than what they could buy at Walmart or some other box store. I know the pain of this: shopping locally in the summer at farmers’ markets can save money. But through the winter season, it can become more expensive. Poor people cannot afford this greater expense.
Perhaps, then, and I don’t like to become too religious on here, but perhaps what is called for is a form of martyrdom — a sacrifice of our everyday comforts to garner some room for freedom and autonomy in our everyday world. We buy local knowing that it supports our community and that such a support means we do not buy as much.
But in a world of consumption, perhaps that’s the only truly Christan way to live.