Latest Republican Assault on Workers

Latest Republican Assault on Workers March 24, 2011

Lest there was any doubt that the fundamental aim is to tilt the bargaining power (even more!) toward employers, the latest initiative from the House Republicans calls for starving striking workers into submission. This is only the slightest of exaggerations. The proposal is to completely cut off food stamp benefits to household where any “able-bodied work eligible adult member” decides to go on strike. This is a fundamental assault on the non-negotiable rights of workers. It stands completely against the tenor of Catholic social teaching. It is evil.

As a reminder, here is what the Church teaches on the right to strike:

The Church’s social doctrine recognizes the legitimacy of striking “when it cannot be avoided, or at least when it is necessary to obtain a proportionate benefit”, when every other method for the resolution of disputes has been ineffectual. Striking, one of the most difficult victories won by labour union associations, may be defined as the collective and concerted refusal on the part of workers to continue rendering their services, for the purpose of obtaining by means of such pressure exerted on their employers, the State or on public opinion either better working conditions or an improvement in their social status. Striking “as a kind of ultimatum” must always be a peaceful method for making demands and fighting for one’s rights; it becomes “morally unacceptable when accompanied by violence, or when objectives are included that are not directly linked to working conditions or are contrary to the common good”.”

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  • Mark Harden

    “completely cut off food stamp benefits to household where any “able-bodied work eligible adult member” decides to go on strike”

    So, in this struggle between taxpayers and the public employee unions whose salaries they pay, the taxpayers are required to, in effect, subsidize the strike fund of the union?

    Yes, unions can go on strike. But it would seem that like all free choices, they must live by the consequences of that action. That would include the temporary loss of income, whether direct salary or welfare benefits for which strikers would not otherwise be eligible.

    • First of all, this is for all who strike, not just public sector workers.

      Second, I honestly find it appalling that people could support this, and tell workers that they can only exercise the right to strike if their families starve.

      • Mark Harden

        Right, the Church would never deny assistance to a family because their breadwinner went on strike. The same moral imperative does not apply to the government (the taxpayers, that is), though.

        I also wrote “welfare benefits for which strikers would not otherwise be eligible.” If a striking family was already receiving food stamps or other assistance, then obviously, that governmental support should continue. They should not be punished for striking. But if they had not qualified for assistance before, and then went on strike, voluntarily relinquishing their income, and then represent themselves to the government for assistance? And you want the taxpayers to be required to provide that?

        • smf

          This position, as clarified, would be logical. Government should neither increase nor cut benefits on account of striking, which is a voluntary loss of income.

          Further, I would be in favor of supporting strikers if they actually meet the strict tests of only seeking necessary changes in keeping with the common good and also if used only as a last resort. However, this is very often not the case. The last major strike in this my local area was so ridiculous the national union refused to provide strike funds after the initial period… fast forward a few years and the plant (which was considered a candidate for being moved) is still open, the union is gone, and those workers now have other jobs elsewhere. The former local president’s name is now a curse word among most of the former members of the local.

        • Caroline Hart

          Imagine if I a woman were an “erotic” dancer who, through a conversion experience, say, discovered that she now found the circumstances of her occupation morally insupportable for any person and quit. Do you think that taxpayers should refuse to support her now that she is unemployed because she voluntarily gave up her work? If a striker stopped working because he felt compelled by the morally insupportable circumstances that had arisen in his work do you think he should not be supported either?

    • Robert Klingle

      Public sector workers are not allowed to strike, by law.

      Just look at the Number of Catholics who do not hold with Catholic teaching. Even priest and bishops.

    • Isn’t it odd to cast this as a “struggle between taxpayers and the public employee unions”? How you characterize and categorize the players gives away whose cause you think is just a priori. This raises some more questions:

      Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to call this a struggle between the Governor and the unions? That would cast it as between one group’s representative and another group’s representative(s).
      Does paying taxes somehow confer special status on the taxpayers, and does this make the case against the unions stronger if the humble taxpayers rather than the Governor are in struggle?
      Do taxpayers have a more legitimate group identity or more legitimate rights than The People of Wisconsin?
      Aren’t the union members also taxpayers? Are they struggling against themselves?
      Does the Governor represent “the taxpayers” more generally and legitimately than the union represents “the public employees”?

  • Kurt

    Yes, [workers] can go on strike. But it would seem that like all free choices, they must live by the consequences of that action. That would include the temporary loss of income,…

    To her great credit, the Catholic Church rejects this assertion. In her own charitable work, she has never denied aid to striking workers.

  • Once again, the Republican Party shows who their real constituency is: the bosses, not the workers.

    • smf

      The Republican Party has many workers in its constituency, just not any of the minority of union workers.

      • I’m talking about whose side they take, every time there’s a conflict.

  • Ray

    Why doesn’t the Church have unionized workers at each level – School, Parish, Diocesan, Archdiocesan? And what would the Bishops/Cardinals do if they struck and didn’t come back to work? Most, if not all, make peanuts in comparison to what people make in the private sector.

    • smf

      While we are at it the brothers in the monestary ought to organize against their abbot and prior, those cruel task masters…

      After all, the old testament shows such grand results when the Chosen People tried to collectively bargain with God or his human agents…

      • So…employers should be treated as Gods? You’re a Republican, aren’t you?

    • Now, that’s a good question!

  • Dale Price

    The word I used on my FB page for this is “evil.” Not to mention retaliatory for the exercise of a legal right, collective punishment of entire families, purely inequitable because there are no consequences for employers engaged in lockouts…

    Yeah, evil fits.

    • smf

      Employers engaged in lock outs loose the productivity of their capital investment. That is a rather serious loss, be it caused by choosing to lock-out the employees, or be it from the employees choosing to strike.

      • Labor comes prior to capital remember.

        • Dan

          Not necessarily. You don’t get labour without capital, and you can’t get (honest) capital without labour. Capital is simply the stored value of labour. They work in tandem.

  • As soon as I see the word “evil” in this kind of context (i.e. the context of a political dispute), I ignore the rest and move on. I thought you might like to know, since if your purpose is not merely to get people who already agree with you to commiserate, but rather, to persuade those who don’t agree with you to change their minds, that kind of language isn’t likely to do it.

    • The word “evil” was deliberately chosen. There are many more things out there that are gravely evil than just abortion and sexual issues. The Church has always taught that denying workers their rights is evil.

  • MM writes, “The word ‘evil’ was deliberately chosen. There are many more things out there that are gravely evil than just abortion and sexual issues.

    Yes, I know. But by branding one side of an argument as “evil”, you have already ended the discussion. Tell me this: In a discussion with those with whom I disagree on the issues of, say, abortion or homosexuality, would it be more or less productive to characterize the position of the other side as “evil”?

    A genuine discussion leaves the conclusion open. Of course, when arguing with fellow Catholics, who agree that abortion is evil, you may characterize it as evil as a part of the premises upon which you are arguing, i.e., “since abortion is evil, and since Democrats favor abortion, I will not vote for a Democrat”.

    But it would immediately make the discussion more contentious and less productive if I were to assert flat out that “It’s evil to vote for a Democrat”.

    MM writes, “The Church has always taught that denying workers their rights is evil.”

    Yes, but one point of disagreement between the parties to the political dispute is whether the workers in question have a “right” to food stamps in the first place. By immediately pronouncing the other side’s view as “evil”, you have put a stop to any genuine and respectful discussion and moved straight to name-calling.

    Instead, I would suggest making arguments which you believe lead to the conclusion that the workers have the right to food stamps. Once that right is established, anyone can see that taking it away is bad. But if you have not even persuaded your opponents that the right exists in the first place, then calling their position “evil” can only throw a wrench into any kind of mutually respectful discussion of the issues.

    I mean, if you’re not interested in a discussion with your adversaries, but only wish to announce to the world that your political opponents are evil, you certainly have the right to do so. But just know that that’s all you are accomplishing.

    • Steve

      @Agelliu Your logic is pure evil my friend! I indubitably agree that the word evil in this argument is much to harsh and leaves very little room for open debate. While I don’t agree that Republicans should make this move, I haven’t heard very many solutions to our deficit problems from the Democrats. Where should the cuts take place? How can we balance the budget and get out of debt? Would anyone argue that debt is not evil?

      • Steve:

        Their solution is to tax the rich! Haven’t you been paying attention? : )

        • Paul DuBois

          You are right, that is the solution of the Democrats. One that worked very effectively in the 1990’s. The truth is the rich benefit much more from our society than do the poor, so it would be logical to ask them to pay more to allow it to continue. Also, the rich benefited greatly from the productivity gains and the prosperity of the 90’s.

          They arguement seems to state that we as a society do not prosper as much when we tax the rich more. This is not verified in history. We prospered as a socity much more when taxes were higher. The amazing thing is that the rich prospered more when taxes on the rich were higher. To state that the rich want lower taxes on themselves because that will somehow help the economy is simply dishonest.

  • Kurt

    the Church would never deny assistance to a family because their breadwinner went on strike. The same moral imperative does not apply to the government … you want the taxpayers to be required to provide that?

    Yes, I want the government to provide that.

    I want the government to act in the same high moral standards of the Church. Personally, I contribute more to the Church than what I pay in taxes to fund SNAP, so economically, the Church’s moral virtue in this matter has a greater economic impact on me than the government’s.

    This proposed law is evil. There is no reason to be shy of that word.

    Current policy looks at the actual income and assets of a family (and would include any strike benefits received). It does not look at how or why a person became without work. The Republican proposal is written to leave in place benefit eligibility for those who simply quit a job for no good reason or are fired for a very good reason. The Republicans were free to write this amendment any way they wanted and decided to make a striking worker the sole reason to be denied eligibility, leaving in place every other reason a person is without employment, no matter how frivolous or unjustified. In fact, if a person went on strike and took a low paying job that left him eligible for SNAP based on the income limits, he would still be ineligible the way the Republicans wrote the amendment. The motivation can only be an evil attempt to limit a legitimate action of workers seeking justice.

    • Kurt writes, “This proposed law is evil. There is no reason to be shy of that word.”

      I don’t say that the word should not be used. Just that it’s not likely to be persuasive to people who don’t already agree with you.

      • Kurt

        You mean sort of like organizations that call gay relationships or adoptions “evil”?

        • Kurt writes, “You mean sort of like organizations that call gay relationships or adoptions ‘evil’?”

          Yes. As I said before, in discussions between people who agree that they are evil (for example among Catholics), there is no harm in stating that they are evil, for example as part of a premise to argue another point.

          But if you are discussing those issues with people who don’t agree that they are evil, I think it would be very counter-productive to assert the evil of their position right at the outset.

          It depends whether it’s MM’s purpose to try to persuade, or if he’s just preaching to the choir.

    • Kurt writes, “Current policy looks at the actual income and assets of a family (and would include any strike benefits received). It does not look at how or why a person became without work.”

      Are you sure about that? When I sought unemployment benefits, I was told that I could only receive them if I had been fired or laid off, not if I had quit voluntarily. I realize that’s not the same program as food stamps…

      • Kurt

        Right, Unemployment Insurance is different. UI is a social insurance program for those who are laid off for economic reasons, not if you quit(*) or are fired for cause (you get fired because you showed up for work drunk or punched the boss in the nose). SNAP is different. It is a means tested program.

        * Those socialist, Kenyan anti-British Imperalist, tree hugging, braless liberals did force on an amendment some years ago in a spending binge allowing UI benefits for women who quit after being sexually abused by their boss. Another endless liberal giveaway! 🙂

  • ben

    Maybe we should consider cutting off govenment assistance to companies if their workers go on strike? No more govenrment contracts, no tax breaks, no enterprise zones, no police or fire protection?

    I think if we are considering cutting off public benefits to striking workers, then it is only fair that we should likewise consider cutting off public benefits to corporations whose employees feel the need to strike. Maybe a good first step would be to end the legal fiction of their corporate personhood and eliminate the limited liability of their shareholders?

    What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

    • Ben writes, “What is good for the goose is good for the gander.”

      Except what you propose is not parallel. When employees go on strike it hurts both sides: The employer loses money because he loses productivity, and the workers lose money because they lose wages. Which is as it should be: Each side is trying to force the other to give in by causing him pain.

      Eliminating or lessening the pain resulting from the strike, on one side but not the other, gives that side an advantage.

      The thing is, a strike is a voluntary thing: the workers can choose to do it or not. Yes, it may be argued that there are instances when working conditions are so intolerable that workers have virtually no choice but to strike. But considering the other side of the coin: It seems to me that if you remove the pain from striking, workers are enabled to strike even when conditions are not intolerable, but merely for the purpose of extracting more money or benefits from the employer.

      A strike is a calculated risk: You figure that if you give up X number of weeks of salary, you may gain enough from negotiations to reimburse you for what you lost while on strike. The employer likewise has to calculate how much he will lose from an ongoing strike, versus how much he will have to pay in order to end it.

      A true parallel would be, that when workers go on strike, either (a) both workers and employers get reimbursed by the taxpayer for some of the money they lose due to the strike; or (b) neither workers nor employers get reimbursed by the taxpayer for the money they lose due to the strike. Giving one side taxpayer benefits but not the other, gives that side an advantage.

      In my opinion a strike against a private employer is a private affair, and the taxpayers should not have to foot the bill on either side. In the case of a public employer, the taxpayer is the employer and therefore should not have to pay money to those who are striking against him.

  • Kurt

    It seems to me that if you remove the pain from striking,

    SNAP benefit hardly removes the pain of workers striking.

    In my opinion a strike against a private employer is a private affair, and the taxpayers should not have to foot the bill on either side.

    And by extension, don’t you think the Catholic Church is misguided and wasteful of your tithes by extending her charity to hungry strikers?

    • Kurt writes, “SNAP benefit hardly removes the pain of workers striking.”

      They obviously remove some of the pain, or people wouldn’t be raising this hubbub over the issue.

      Kurt writes, “[quoting me] ‘In my opinion a strike against a private employer is a private affair, and the taxpayers should not have to foot the bill on either side.’ And by extension, don’t you think the Catholic Church is misguided and wasteful of your tithes by extending her charity to hungry strikers?”

      It’s entirely different. The Church is a private organization and may do as she pleases, favoring whichever side she thinks is in the right, or helping whomever she wants. Whereas the government has no business taking sides in a private dispute.

      As stated previously, providing aid to one side in a strike and not the other, gives an advantage to that side. If it were beyond question that strikers are always in the right, then I might well favor giving them unconditional government assistance any time they chose to strike. For me, that is the premise that one would have to hold (that strikers are always in the right), in order to argue the position you argue. If you believe that premise, you are welcome to it, as is your right in a democracy. But it’s not one that I can assent to.

      • Kurt

        It’s entirely different. The Church is a private organization and may do as she pleases, favoring whichever side she thinks is in the right, or helping whomever she wants.

        And you are a private individual and may do as you please. So, unless you withhold your tithes, how do you justify the Church feeding hungry strikers?

        Public or Christian charity, its not a hard call for me. Christ commanded us to feed the hungry. There is no asterik in the Bible saying unless they are on strike.

  • Paul writes, “They arguement seems to state that we as a society do not prosper as much when we tax the rich more.”

    I think that is a major oversimplification. Of course different people argue differently, but as I understand it, the argument is that the more you tax people in general — not just the rich — the less you have available to invest in the economy. The argument most often focuses on the rich, but that’s because the rich are the ones that people most often want to raise taxes on.

    There is no magic line drawn where if you tax people this much the economy is helped, and if you tax people that much it’s harmed. It’s more of a general principle, that it helps the economy more when more money is in private hands.

    Saying that anyone who believes that, is being dishonest, is about as persuasive as saying anyone who doesn’t favor food stamps for striking workers is evil.

  • David Anglin
  • Kurt writes, “… unless you withhold your tithes, how do you justify the Church feeding hungry strikers?”

    I see no need to justify it. As I said, the Church may do as she pleases. I have no reason to object to a private party taking sides in a private dispute.

    Kurt writes, “Christ commanded us to feed the hungry. There is no asterik in the Bible saying unless they are on strike.”

    But there is a statement that those who are not willing to work should not eat (2 Thes. 3:10). I am *not* saying that this applies to all strikers. I am saying that there is no universal commandment to feed those who have chosen not to work, regardless of reason or justification. There may be a valid reason for not feeding those who have chosen not to work, depending on the facts of an individual situation.

    You are arguing that there should be a *law* that the government must provide food stamps to striking workers, regardless whether or not the strike is needed or justified under the individual circumstances. As I said before, this only makes sense if you adopt the premise that strikers are always in the right; which is not a premise that I am able to adopt.

  • Kurt

    is about as persuasive as saying anyone who doesn’t favor food stamps for striking workers is evil.

    Though, of course, no one is saying that. What has been said is that it is evil to support a means tested food stamps program that singularly denies SNAP benefits for striking workers but allows them for every other job quitter including a white collar individual not working while he is re-negotiating a contract.