Tag Archives: capitalism

The Importance of Labor and Labor Day

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is Labor Day and sadly many people don’t really understand its significance. For decades organized labor has been demonized by the descendants of people who died to secure decent working conditions, wages, and benefits for regular hard working people. The attacks on labor and workers have become much more pronounced under the Trump Administration than any prior administration since that of Herbert Hoover.

But most of the people lucky enough not to have to work on Labor Day really don’t know why it it matters, and whips in spite of those who despise labor and care not a whit about working people, who simply to use business terminology are simply human capital or resources. I actually despise those terms because they dehumanize people by turning them into impersonal economic units of measure.

So today I am digging into the vault to explore why Labor Day and what it represents matters to us now. This article is one that I have taken the time to edit and update.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Abraham Lincoln, who was perhaps our only President who was a real working man once said, “If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool.” 

It seems that nothing about humanity ever changes, even so it is hard to believe that at one time American workers had no rights and I am not talking about African American slaves who as slaves didn’t even count as human beings. No I’m talking about the people Mel Brooks called in Blazing Saddles: “the white God fearing citizens of Rock Ridge” and for that matter every place and every race in America.

It was not until the mid-1800s in the United States and Europe that workers began to organize and protest for the right to decent wages and working conditions. But this came at a cost; the loss of jobs, homes, property, prison, deportation, deportation, and death.

There were many instances when this cost workers and labor organizers their lives. Employers, often backed by heavily armed private security contractors like the Pinkerton Agency, used deadly force to break up peaceful strikes. In the days of the Robber Barons, when business ran the government at almost every level, employers frequently called in local and state law enforcement, as well as the National Guard, and occasionally Federal troops to break strikes. They played various ethnic and racial groups off of each in order to divide the labor movement. There are hundreds of instances of such violence being used against workers, in some strikes the dead numbered in the hundreds.

Troops Putting Down the Pullman Strike 

Some of these attacks on workers occurred in major cities, others at isolated work sites and factories. Some are famous, the Haymarket Massacre of May 4th 1886 in Chicago, the Pullman Strike Massacre of 1894, the Homestead Strike and Massacre of 1892, the Latimer Massacre of 1897, the Ludlow Massacre of 1914, and the Columbine Mine Massacre of 1927.

Others less so, but there was more. In the Bisbee Deportation of 1917 1300 striking miners and their families were deported from their homes in Bisbee Arizona by 2000 armed deputies, put in box cars and transported 200 miles to the New Mexico desert, where without food, water or money they were left. There was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire where managers locked the doors in order to ensure that the fleeing women workers did not put anything unauthorized in their purses. One hundred forty-four workers, mostly young women died, many jumping from the burning building to their death.

Police and other Onlookers Looking up at the burning Triangle Shirt Factory with the bodies of Women Workers who jumped from it at Their Feet

Early labor organizations such as the Knights of Labor led the effort to bring about better conditions. For doing so they were labeled subversive and even called communists. Their meetings were often attacked and the leaders jailed and some lynched.

Eugene Debs

The sacrifices of those early workers, and organizers are why we have Labor Day. One of the early American labor leaders was a man named Eugene Debs. Debs eventually became a Socialist, but he said something remarkable which still is as timely as when he uttered the words:

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”

I wish that wasn’t true but it is. The Social Darwinists who follow Ayn Rand as if she were the Prophet and who populate Wall Street boardrooms and every major school of business ensure that it is. The disparity between wage laborers and CEOs is higher than it has ever been. But I digress…

On September 5th 1882 the first Labor Day was observed when members of several Unions in New York City organized the first Labor Day parade. The police came armed and ready to intervene if the workers got out of hand, but the parade was peaceful. It ended and the marchers moved over to Wendell’s Elm Park where they had a party. Twenty-five thousand Union men and their families celebrated, with hundreds of kegs of lager beer.

Within a few years many states began to institute Labor days of their own. In 1894, just days after the violent end of the Pullman strike in which Federal troops and Marshalls killed 30 workers and wounded 57 more, Congress and President Grover Cleveland rushed through legislation to establish a Federal Labor Day.

My Great Aunt Goldie Dundas was a labor organizer for the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union in West Virginia in the 1920s – 1950s. I wish I had gotten to really know her, but she died when I was about 8 or 9 years old. Sadly the workers represented by that Union have had almost all of their jobs in the textile industry outsourced to China, India, Pakistan, the Caribbean, and Bangladesh where cheaply made garments are produced, and workers abused. The examples of mass deaths due to safety issues and fires in Bangladeshi factories are too numerous to list. But then who cares? The fact is you can drive through many parts of the South and see the poverty created by the exodus of these Union employers, the textile industry, which was part of the fabric of the South is gone. Empty factories and poverty stricken towns dot the countryside. I saw a lot of them living in Eastern North Carolina, towns that once thrived are ghost towns, riddled with crime, unemployment and no hope, unless Wal-Mart opens a store in town. Ironically it sells the clothing made overseas that used to be manufactured by the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of the people who live there today.

Adam Smith, the father of Capitalism understood it in a very different manner than those who claim to be Capitalists today. He wrote in his magnum opus, The Wealth of All Nations:

“In regards to the price of commodities, the rise of wages operates as simple interest does, the rise of profit operates like compound interest. Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”

The fact is that today, labor is under threat. Unions have been demonized by politicians and pundits and their power and influence much reduced. Some of this was due to their own success in improving conditions from workers, and not just Union workers. When my dad retired from the Navy in 1974, he went to work at one of the few non-Union warehouses of the John Deere Company in Stockton, California. While they were not union, the workers received every benefit won by the majority of the workers in the company who were members of the United Auto Workers Union. Due to that my dad had high wages, excellent working conditions and benefits. The company had a program for the children of workers, which allowed them to work in the summer in the warehouse and receive incredibly high pay and benefits while in college. I did that for two years, and it helped pay for much of my college. I was not a union member but I benefited because Union men and leaders did the hard work to make that job happen.

However, in many places, Unions and labor are under attack, sometimes not just by corporations, but also by state governments. Job security and stability for most American workers is a thing of the past. Federal and State agencies charged with protecting those rights, including safety in the workplace are being cut in the mad rush to reduce government power. Corporations are offshoring and outsourcing jobs without regard to American workers or the country itself. Part of that is due to globalization and I understand that, but these companies frequently relocate jobs to places where they can exploit workers, deny them benefits, pay them less, and suffer no penalty for ignoring safety procedures or harming the environment. It seems to me that we are returning to the days of the Robber Barons. I wonder when violence against workers and those who support them will be condoned or simply ignored.

Pope Leo XIII wrote in his encyclical Renum Novarum:

“The following duties . . . concern rich men and employers: Workers are not to be treated as slaves; justice demands that the dignity of human personality be respected in them, … gainful occupations are not a mark of shame to man, but rather of respect, as they provide him with an honorable means of supporting life. It is shameful and inhuman, however, to use men as things for gain and to put no more value on them than what they are worth in muscle and energy.”

He also wrote:

“Equity therefore commands that public authority show proper concern for the worker so that from what he contributes to the common good he may receive what will enable him, housed, clothed, and secure, to live his life without hardship. Whence, it follows that all those measures ought to be favored which seem in any way capable of benefiting the condition of workers. Such solicitude is so far from injuring anyone, that it is destined rather to benefit all, because it is of absolute interest to the State that those citizens should not be miserable in every respect from whom such necessary goods proceed.”

But sadly there are far too few church leaders of any denomination who will take the side of workers or the poor, and when they do they are either condemned by the disciples of Ayn Rand or politely thanked and ignored by politicians and corporate leaders.

So please, when you celebrate Labor Day, do not forget that it is important, and that we should not forget why we celebrate it. If we forget that, it will become a meaningless holiday and our children may have to make the same sacrifices of our ancestors.

Labor Day is a day to remember the men and women, some of them former soldiers, workers, labor organizers, and leaders; some of whom were killed by National Guard and Federal troops for their effort, who paved the way for workers today. We cannot forget that. So when you see a politician attacking Labor and seeking to diminish workers rights or benefits ask them what Abraham Lincoln or Adam Smith would think. If they can’t answer, turn your backs on them and start fighting for what is right.

WASHINGTON, : US civil rights leader Martin Luther King,Jr. (3rd from L) walks with supporters during the “March on Washington” 28 August, 1963 after which, King delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the LIncoln Memorial. 28 August, 2003 marks the 40th anniversary of the famous speech, which is credited with mobilizing supporters of desegregation and prompted the 1964 Civil Rights Act. King was assassinated on 04 April 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. James Earl Ray confessed to shooting King and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. AFP PHOTO/FILES (Photo credit should read AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who always stood for the rights of workers no-matter what their race, creed, or color, said:

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” 

Likewise, one cannot forget that Dr. King was assassinated when he went to Memphis to support the Memphis Sanitation Worker strike.

This my friends is why Labor and the protection of working people from those who abase them, mistreat them, and exploit them is so important.

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Filed under civil rights, ethics, faith, History, labor, laws and legislation, News and current events, Political Commentary

Thoughts on Labor Day

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was Labor Day and sadly many people don’t really understand its significance. For decades organized labor has been demonized by the descendants of people who died to secure decent working conditions, wages, and benefits for regular hard working people. But most of the people lucky enough not to have to work on Labor Day really don’t know why it it matters, and whips in spite of those who despise labor and care not a whit about working people, who simply to use business terminology are simply human capital or resources.

So today I am digging into the vault to explore why Labor Day and what it represents matters to us now. This article is one that I have taken the time to edit and update.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Abraham Lincoln, who was perhaps our only President who was a real working man once said, “If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool.” Likewise, Adam Smith wrote:

“In regards to the price of commodities, the rise of wages operates as simple interest does, the rise of profit operates like compound interest. Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”

It seems that nothing about humanity ever changes, even so it is hard to believe that at one time American workers had no rights and I am not talking about African American slaves who as slaves didn’t even count as human beings. No I’m talking about the people Mel Brooks called in Blazing Saddles: “the white God fearing citizens of Rock Ridge” and for that matter every place and every race in America.

It was not until the mid-1800s in the United States and Europe that workers began to organize and protest for the right to decent wages and working conditions. But this came at a cost; the loss of jobs, homes, property, prison, deportation, deportation, and death.

There were many instances when this cost workers and labor organizers their lives. Employers, often backed by heavily armed private security contractors like the Pinkerton Agency, used deadly force to break up peaceful strikes. In the days of the Robber Barons, when business ran the government at almost every level, employers frequently called in local and state law enforcement, as well as the National Guard, and occasionally Federal troops to break strikes. They played various ethnic and racial groups off of each in order to divide the labor movement. There are hundreds of instances of such violence being used against workers, in some strikes the dead numbered in the hundreds.

Some of these attacks on workers occurred in major cities, others at isolated work sites and factories. Some are famous, the Haymarket Massacre of May 4th 1886 in Chicago, the Pullman Strike Massacre of 1894, the Homestead Strike and Massacre of 1892, the Lattimer Massacre of 1897, the Ludlow Massacre of 1914, and the Columbine Mine Massacre of 1927.

Others less so, but there was more. In the Bisbee Deportation of 1917 1300 striking miners and their families were deported from their homes in Bisbee Arizona by 2000 armed deputies, put in box cars and transported 200 miles to the New Mexico desert, where without food, water or money they were left. There was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire where managers locked the doors in order to ensure that the fleeing women workers did not put anything unauthorized in their purses. One hundred forty-four workers, mostly young women died, many jumping from the burning building to their death.

Early labor organizations such as the Knights of Labor led the effort to bring about better conditions. For doing so they were labeled subversive and even called communists. Their meetings were often attacked and the leaders jailed and some lynched.

The sacrifices of those early workers, and organizers are why we have Labor Day. One of the early American labor leaders was a man named Eugene Debs. Debs eventually became a Socialist, but he said something remarkable which still is as timely as when he uttered the words:

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”

I wish that wasn’t true but it is. The Social Darwinists who follow Ayn Rand as if she were the Prophet and who populate Wall Street boardrooms and every major school of business ensure that it is. The disparity between wage laborers and CEOs is higher than it has ever been. But I digress…

On September 5th 1882 the first Labor Day was observed when members of several Unions in New York City organized the first Labor Day parade. The police came armed and ready to intervene if the workers got out of hand, but the parade was peaceful. It ended and the marchers moved over to Wendell’s Elm Park where they had a party. Twenty-five thousand Union men and their families celebrated, with hundreds of kegs of lager beer.

Within a few years many states began to institute Labor days of their own. In 1894, just days after the violent end of the Pullman strike in which Federal troops and Marshalls killed 30 workers and wounded 57 more, Congress and President Grover Cleveland rushed through legislation to establish a Federal Labor Day.

My Great Aunt Goldie Dundas was a labor organizer for the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union in West Virginia in the 1920s – 1950s. I wish I had gotten to really know her, but she died when I was about 8 or 9 years old. Sadly the workers represented by that Union have had almost all of their jobs in the textile industry outsourced to China, India, Pakistan, the Caribbean, and Bangladesh where cheaply made garments are produced, and workers abused. The examples of mass deaths due to safety issues and fires in Bangladeshi factories are too numerous to list. But then who cares? The fact is you can drive through many parts of the South and see the poverty created by the exodus of these Union employers, the textile industry, which was part of the fabric of the South is gone. Empty factories and poverty stricken towns dot the countryside. I saw a lot of them living in Eastern North Carolina, towns that once thrived are ghost towns, riddled with crime, unemployment and no hope, unless Wal-Mart opens a store in town. Ironically it sells the clothing made overseas that used to be manufactured by the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of the people who live there today.

Adam Smith, the father of Capitalism understood it in a very different manner than those who claim to be Capitalists today. He wrote in his magnum opus, The Wealth of All Nations:

“In regards to the price of commodities, the rise of wages operates as simple interest does, the rise of profit operates like compound interest. Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”

The fact is that today, labor is under threat. Unions have been demonized by politicians and pundits and their power and influence much reduced. Some of this was due to their own success in improving conditions from workers, and not just Union workers. When my dad retired from the Navy in 1974, he went to work at one of the few non-Union warehouses of the John Deere Company in Stockton, California. While they were not union, the workers received every benefit won by the majority of the workers in the company who were members of the United Auto Workers Union. Due to that my dad had high wages, excellent working conditions and benefits. The company had a program for the children of workers, which allowed them to work in the summer in the warehouse and receive incredibly high pay and benefits while in college. I did that for two years, and it helped pay for much of my college. I was not a union member but I benefited because Union men and leaders did the hard work to make that job happen.

However, in many places, Unions and labor are under attack, sometimes not just by corporations, but also by state governments. Job security and stability for most American workers is a thing of the past. Federal and State agencies charged with protecting those rights, including safety in the workplace are being cut in the mad rush to reduce government power. Corporations are offshoring and outsourcing jobs without regard to American workers or the country itself. Part of that is due to globalization and I understand that, but these companies frequently relocate jobs to places where they can exploit workers, deny them benefits, pay them less, and suffer no penalty for ignoring safety procedures or harming the environment. It seems to me that we are returning to the days of the Robber Barons. I wonder when violence against workers and those who support them will be condoned or simply ignored.

Pope Leo XIII wrote in his encyclical Renum Novarum:

“The following duties . . . concern rich men and employers: Workers are not to be treated as slaves; justice demands that the dignity of human personality be respected in them, … gainful occupations are not a mark of shame to man, but rather of respect, as they provide him with an honorable means of supporting life. It is shameful and inhuman, however, to use men as things for gain and to put no more value on them than what they are worth in muscle and energy.”

He also wrote:

“Equity therefore commands that public authority show proper concern for the worker so that from what he contributes to the common good he may receive what will enable him, housed, clothed, and secure, to live his life without hardship. Whence, it follows that all those measures ought to be favored which seem in any way capable of benefiting the condition of workers. Such solicitude is so far from injuring anyone, that it is destined rather to benefit all, because it is of absolute interest to the State that those citizens should not be miserable in every respect from whom such necessary goods proceed.”

But sadly there are far too few church leaders of any denomination who will take the side of workers or the poor, and when they do they are either condemned by the disciples of Ayn Rand or politely thanked and ignored by politicians and corporate leaders.

So please, when you celebrate Labor Day, do not forget that it is important, and that we should not forget why we celebrate it. If we forget that, it will become a meaningless holiday and our children may have to make the same sacrifices of our ancestors.

Labor Day is a day to remember the men and women, some of them former soldiers, workers, labor organizers, and leaders; some of whom were killed by National Guard and Federal troops for their effort, who paved the way for workers today. We cannot forget that. So when you see a politician attacking Labor and seeking to diminish workers rights or benefits ask them what Abraham Lincoln or Adam Smith would think. If they can’t answer, turn your backs on them and start fighting for what is right.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who always stood for the rights of workers no-matter what their race, creed, or color, said: “We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

This my friends is why Labor and the protection of working people from those who abase them, mistreat them, and exploit them is so important.

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Filed under ethics, faith, History, labor, laws and legislation, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Importance of the Worker: Labor Day 2016

First_United_States_Labor_Day_Parade,_September_5,_1882_in_New_York_City

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is Labor Day and so I am going back to the vault to remember what this day is all about. By the way, it has nothing to do with the troops, or nationalism, or the greatness of America. But it is really all about the people who labor, especially those who paid with their blood for basic human rights, rights that are under fire today and which will die if we as a people do not stand up for the very workers who make our country great.

Abraham Lincoln, who was perhaps our only President who was a real working man once said, “If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool.”

It is hard to believe that at one time workers had no rights. It was not until the mid-1800s in the United States and Europe that workers began to organize and protest for the right to decent wages and working conditions. There were many instances when this cost them their lives. Employers, often backed by heavily armed private security contractors like the Pinkerton Agency, used deadly force to break up peaceful strikes. In the days of the Robber Barons, when business ran the government at almost every level, employers frequently called in local and state law enforcement, as well as the National Guard, and occasionally Federal troops to break strikes. They played various ethnic and racial groups off of each in order to divide the labor movement. There are hundreds of instances of such violence being used against workers, in some strikes the dead numbered in the hundreds.

1912_Lawrence_Textile_Strike_1

Lawrence Massachusetts Textile Strike; the National Guard with Bayonets Fixed against unarmed strikers

Some of these attacks on workers occurred in major cities, others at isolated work sites and factories. Some are famous, the Haymarket Massacre of May 4th 1886 in Chicago, the Pullman Strike Massacre of 1894, the Homestead Strike and Massacre of 1892, the Lattimer Massacre of 1897, the Ludlow Massacre of 1914, and the Columbine Mine Massacre of 1927.

1024px-Ruins_of_Ludlow_restored

Aftermath of the Ludlow Massacre (above) and the Bisbee Deportation

Others less so, but there was more. In the Bisbee Deportation of 1917 1300 striking miners and their families were deported from their homes in Bisbee Arizona by 2000 armed deputies, put in box cars and transported 200 miles to the New Mexico desert, where without food, water or money they were left. There was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire where managers locked the doors in order to ensure that the fleeing women workers did not put anything unauthorized in their purses. One hundred forty-four workers, mostly young women died.

There are many other instances where workers were shot down in cold blood by private security forces, local police, the National Guard of Federal Troops for simply protesting or striking to gain better conditions of employment, safe working places, or a living wage.

Image_of_Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire_on_March_25_-_1911

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Early labor organizations such as the Knights of Labor led the effort to bring about better conditions. For doing so they were labeled subversive and even called communists. Their meetings were often attacked and the leaders jailed and some lynched.

The sacrifices of those early workers, and organizers are why we have Labor Day. One of the early American labor leaders was a man named Eugene Debs. He said something remarkable which still is as timely as when he uttered the words:

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”

On September 5th 1882 the first Labor Day was observed when members of several Unions in New York City organized the first Labor Day parade. The police came armed and ready to intervene if the workers got out of hand, but the parade was peaceful. It ended and the marchers moved over to Wendell’s Elm Park where they had a party. Twenty-five thousand Union men and their families celebrated, with hundreds of kegs of lager beer.

Within a few years many states began to institute Labor days of their own. In 1894, just days after the violent end of the Pullman strike in which Federal troops and Marshalls killed 30 workers and wounded 57 more, Congress and President Grover Cleveland rushed through legislation to establish a Federal Labor Day.

BisbeeDeportation

My Great Aunt Goldie Dundas was a labor organizer for the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union in West Virginia in the 1920s – 1950s. I wish I had gotten to really know her, but she died when I was about 8 or 9 years old. Sadly the workers represented by that Union have had almost all of their jobs in the textile industry outsourced to China, India, Pakistan, the Caribbean, and Bangladesh where cheaply made garments are produced, and workers abused. The examples of mass deaths due to safety issues and fires in Bangladeshi factories are too numerous to list. But then who cares? The fact is you can drive through many parts of the South and see the poverty created by the exodus of these Union employers, the textile industry, which was part of the fabric of the South is gone. Empty factories and poverty stricken towns dot the countryside. I saw a lot of them living in Eastern North Carolina, towns that once thrived are ghost towns, riddled with crime, unemployment and no hope, unless Wal-Mart opens a store in town. Ironically it sells the clothing made overseas that used to be manufactured by the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of the people who live there today.

International_Ladies_Garment_Workers_Union_logo

Adam Smith, the father of Capitalism understood it in a very different manner than those who claim to be Capitalists today. He wrote in his magnum opus, The Wealth of All Nations:

“In regards to the price of commodities, the rise of wages operates as simple interest does, the rise of profit operates like compound interest. Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”

The fact is that today, labor is under threat. Unions have been demonized by politicians and pundits and their power and influence much reduced. Some of this was due to their own success in improving conditions from workers, and not just Union workers. When my dad retired from the Navy in 1974, he went to work at one of the few non-Union warehouses of the John Deere Company in Stockton, California. While they were not union, the workers received every benefit won by the majority of the workers in the company who were members of the United Auto Workers Union. Due to that my dad had high wages, excellent working conditions and benefits. The company had a program for the children of workers, which allowed them to work in the summer in the warehouse and receive incredibly high pay and benefits while in college. I did that for two years, and it helped pay for much of my college. I was not a union member but I benefited.

However, in many places, Unions and labor are under attack, sometimes not just by corporations, but also by state governments. Job security and stability for most American workers is a thing of the past. Federal and State agencies charged with protecting those rights, including safety in the workplace are being cut in the mad rush to reduce government power. It seems to me that we are returning to the days of the Robber Barons. I wonder when violence against workers and those who support them will be condoned or simply ignored.

So please, when you celebrate Labor Day, do not forget that it is important, and that we should not forget why we celebrate it. If we forget that, it will become a meaningless holiday and our children may have to make the same sacrifices of our ancestors.

Oh, by the way…. If you see a meme on Facebook telling you to “thank the troops” for Labor Day, it is a bullshit meme. We troops have our days. Labor day is not ours. Labor Day is a day to remember those civilians, some of them who may have been former soldiers, but more often than not were civilian labor leaders, organizers and union members; some of whom were killed by National Guard and Federal troops for their efforts to secure the rights of working men and women; which paved the way for workers today.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, economics and financial policy, History

The Winner Takes it All: American Christian Greed

Do you remember that there was a time when Conservative Christian Politicians and preachers actually supported working people and the poor? There was a period where this was true, but with the economic affluence and the political influence that we have enjoyed since the end of the Second World War we have left those days far behind.

I mean really, there was a time when preachers were not just lobbying for tax cuts for the rich in the name of the “Prosperity Gospel” or and extolling the wealthy “job creators” over the people who actually produce or serve products. Late last night I had an interaction on Facebook that was discouraging, wealthy preachers defended the most opulent and extravagant excesses of mega-church pastors. It was disheartening, especially one attacked a man who I went to war with, and who since has endured more trying medical issues than most of us will experience in our lives when he challenged the Episcopal Priest. What I read broke my heart.

Big-church-620x412

My Church History professor at Southwestern Baptist seminary back in 1988 and 1989 Christian attitudes then that is even more appropriate today. He noted that a:

“reason that many Christians are not servants is more honest: it is that we just don’t want to be servants. We live today in a “winner” society. We value the winners, whether it be in sports, business, or wars….The American Dream is success, climbing to the top of the ladder, making it, winning…. In most metro areas, on most weekends, you can go to a conference in some church where a person (for a fee) will tell you how God wants you rich….This obsession with success, money, and power is the American dream carried to its logical conclusion. It is middle-class Americanism, pure and simple. It is more motivated by greed, selfishness, and pride than by Christ. And in the churches, we have bought it. We want to be “at the top”,” not “at the bottom.”…..We coat our Americanism with a thin veneer of Christianity in an attempt to make it more palatable, but God will not have it. Let’s call this version of the American Dream what it is: selfishness, self-righteousness, and sin.” (Young, Doyle L New Life for Your Church Baker Book House, Grand Rapids Michigan 1989 pp.55-56)

I heard Dr. Young speak about this in class. I was a young Army officer, who had just left active duty to go to seminary. We were in the process of a financial meltdown brought about by the Texas oil bust of the late 1980s and my wife’s illness. We were learning what it was like to be poor. We lost almost everything but ourselves and our dogs during that time. We went to churches where the opulence was over the top, where the pastor drove a Porsche, and not a bottom end or used one. We struggled through seminary and made it, with me working two jobs and being in the National Guard. Most of the time we wondered where the money to get the next meal, tank of gas, prescription medicine, tuition payment or books. When I called the TBN prayer line just for prayer during the darkest days I was told be a “prayer warrior” that “it was obvious that I was not in God’s will because otherwise God would be blessing me.” That angered me and hardened my resolve to get through seminary. There were a good number of people who helped us, some because they felt that god wanted them to help us, others just because they  were compassionate souls. This made me very sensitive to social justice and wary of those who get rich off of God’s people.

It wasn’t always this way.

William Jennings Bryan was one of the most influential politicians of his era. He served as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, he was a Senator and three time Presidential Candidate. He was also a very conservative Fundamentalist Christian perhaps most famous, or perhaps infamous now as one of the prosecuting attorneys at the Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925. In fact I can find that Bryan’s handling of that case played to the basest religious and social hatred of his day and though “defending” “Biblical” ideas ended up making Christians look but small minded, intolerant and hateful. The movie Inherit the Wind, though a fictional account of that trial show how decent Christians can become consumed with hatred in the name of righteousness, little different than other “sincere believers” that are willing to kill in the name of God.

Whether one agrees on certain points of religious doctrine regarding the creation of the earth or the manner of how God created the earth that he espoused one has to admit that of pre-Great Depression politicians he was quite amazing. This was especially true in how he saw through the Godlessness of unbridled Capitalism.  He saw how workers by were devalued by those who saw them as nothing more than a way to increase their wealth. As an American and a Christian look at the body of work and life of a man. Though I find much fault in Bryan and his supporters in the Scopes Trial, I do not throw out the good things that he did and got right.

I think the apex of Bryan’s political thought is encapsulated in his speech at the Democratic National Convention of 1896, what is now called the Cross of Gold Speech.

When one looks at it now it really is timeless. Bryan saw through the charade that was being played out by politicians and the big money Wall Street types that they represented with great verve. It was a speech that one might have heard come from a prophet in the Old Testament.

I am just going to quote a couple of pertinent sections from the speech to trigger your thoughts, for you will not hear this in the vast majority of conservative Christian churches of all denominations which have been infected with the so called “Prosperity Gospel.”  These churches have thrown their support behind ideas that are nothing more than unvarnished, crude materialism of the worst kind. In fact I believe that it is nothing more than the “baptism” of such thought by Christians are among the biggest reasons for the exodus of people from the churches and the rise of the “Nones,” or those with no religious preference.

Bryan said:

“We say to you that you have made the definition of a business man too limited in its application. The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer; the attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis; the merchant at the cross-roads store is as much a business man as the merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, who begins in spring and toils all summer, and who by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain; the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade are as much business men as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the money of the world. We come to speak of this broader class of business men.” 

His words are striking in their directness and honesty. They are not only Christian but they are deeply American. He called his Party, which had been as bad as the Republicans during the age of the unregulated Robber Barons who used the Gold Standard to manipulate the markets and eliminate silver as currency to their benefit to be different:

“Upon which side will the Democratic Party fight; upon the side of “the idle holders of idle capital” or upon the side of “the struggling masses”? That is the question which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic Party, as shown by the platform, are on the side of the struggling masses, who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic Party.”

He talked about two ideas of government and economics:

“There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.”

He concluded his speech with this statement.

“Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

When I hear the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers who extol the virtue of Capital over labor and the worship of wealth as the highest good I wish that there would be some that would remember that the people who actually make things, grow things, fix things and maintain things are not just human capital, but people.

That’s enough for today. Expect some more on this and similar topics soon.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Dehumanization of America: Tom Perkins, Peter Schiff, The Wall Street Journal and the Absence of Empathy

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“Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.” Adam Smith The Wealth of the Nations: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

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Let me start this essay by categorically that I do not oppose people making money, becoming rich through their genius, their hard work, and being successful. In fact I applaud people who can do that. Adam Smith who developed what we know as Capitalism understood this. Unfortunately what now is described as Capitalism bears little resemblance to the understanding of Smith, and thereby his name is often dragged through the mud by people who seeing the bastard seed of the “new capitalists” reject the truly remarkable aspects of what Smith wrote about.

These men, and the society that they desire were described by Smith:

“As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce.”

Smith understood the value of free markets, but he also understood that the value of a human being was greater than a means to a profitable end. He had a sense of social responsibility, something that those who profess to be his disciples today lack. Smith noted:

“The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities.” 

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In the past week we have been witnesses of the banal attitudes of some men and the institutions that they represent toward those who they make their riches from. Tom Perkins, a now retired venture capitalist wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal which complained that the rich were the targets of a new Kristallnacht against the rich. Later when defending his ideas, though lamenting his use of the term Kristallnacht, he boasted of his wealth including a James Bond like car which could “fly” underwater and a nearly 400,000 watch. It was a crass vulgar display or his wealth. It was almost as if Smith had wrote about Perkins in 1776:

“With the greater part of rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches, which in their eye is never so complete as when they appear to possess those decisive marks of opulence which nobody can possess but themselves.”

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Peter Schiff equated the value of a worker to what they are and not what they produce, especially in regard to the mentally retarded but an argument that can equally apply to those of lower education, those with physical disabilities or even mental illness. Of course the Wall Street Journal then had to rise to the defense of such sentiments.

I mention these men because they were crass enough to voice what so many like them actually think, thus the criticism is not of these two men, but of the lifestyle, culture and attitude that they represent, which pervades almost every part of modern American economic life. We live in a society which our news media, entertainment industry and often even religion exalt the wealthy and in which our political, social and economic elites see wealth as their divine right. Smith noted:

“This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and powerful, and to despise or, at least, neglect persons of poor and mean conditions, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.”

Smith makes a direct connection between the attitudes toward wealth and the near worship of the rich and powerful to the corruption of the moral sentiments of a society. One only needs to look at the great banking, savings and loan and real estate meltdowns of the past 20 or so years to see the effects of this unquestioned worship of the rich and powerful has on the society at large. Even so those who have brought our economy to near ruin on numerous occasions do not see the connection. They are so insulated by their riches and success that they feel nothing of the suffering of others.

Theirs is a condition of intense narcissism and insecurity. They boldly assert their superiority over the majority of humanity, but are so insecure that they need to ensure that the government safeguards their position in society. Smith wrote:

“Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”

Men like Perkins and Schiff and the shills at the Wall Street Journal have a profound lack of empathy, something that is common in narcissistic personalities. In fact the criteria listed for the psychiatric condition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder are present in many highly successful and powerful people, in politics, business, government, entertainment and even religion. Thus the  criteria serve well to illuminate the attitudes of such people, even if they themselves do not match enough of the criteria meet the clinical diagnosis.

*Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

*Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

*Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

*Requires excessive admiration

*Has a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

*Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

*Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

*Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

*Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Now it is possible for people to demonstrate some of these symptoms without being diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, in fact at least five have to be present for a clinical diagnosis. That being said, the words and actions Perkins, Schiff and others demonstrate some characteristics of a a narcissistic personality, especially the lack or absence of empathy, which I think is the most dangerous narcissistic trait of all.

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When men no longer can empathize with other human beings, and only see others, especially the weak, the poor, those different than them and the disabled as a means to their own riches, power or success; the stage is set for great human tragedy. It does not matter in what type of political or economic system that it takes place, it can be Capitalist, Fascist, Communist, Nationalist, Tribal or even Theocratic; the issue is not the system, but the underlying lack of empathy for others in those who rise to power in it.

The terrible result of such a lack of empathy is the dehumanization of a society.

Gustave Gilbert, who served as a U. S. Army Psychologist at Nuremberg noted something about them men that he observed and worked with during the Nuremberg Trials. The men included bankers, industrialists, propagandists, technocrats, police, party and military personnel who served the Nazi regime. Gilbert wrote:

“In my work with the defendants I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” 

Now before someone jumps the shark and says that I am calling either Perkins or Schiff “Nazis” or Nazi sympathizers, be aware I am not. I just feel that Gilbert’s assessment of the definition of evil, is a lack of empathy is a universal statement. Though Gilbert worked among Nazi War Criminals, I believe that the statement is true in any society where a minority of the people live in such a manner that they control the society and are incapable of having empathy for others.

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There is an antidote to this, and it is not in trying to protect one’s position, but rather to be generous to others regardless of our estate and to avoid vanity. Smith wrote that “Bounty and hospitality very seldom lead to extravagance; though vanity almost always does.”  Likewise he noted something that all of us should take note of before in our attempt to climb to the top crush all beneath us:  “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”

So though my criticism falls on Perkins, Schiff and the Wall Street Journal it is something that all of us have to be aware of and guard against, regardless of our political, ideological, religious or economic philosophy of life; lest we sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Faith and Doubt

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Those who believe that they believe in God, but without passion in their hearts, without anguish in mind, without uncertainty, without an element of despair even in thie consolation, believe only in the God idea, not God himself.” Miguel de Unanumo

The idea of God, any God is a wonderful idea. In fact when I read about the numbers of people in the United States who when polled say they they “believe in God,” or “believe the Bible” or claim to be Christian when answering poll questions I am always amazed. I say this because I am beginning to believe that what is being affirmed is not a belief in God, which presupposes all of the problems inherent in any real relationship.

If we truly believe in a personal God, or to use the Evangelical terminology to have a “personal relationship with Jesus,” such relationship cannot be reduced to mere intellectual assent or even fervent belief in impersonal dogma or fanatical orthodoxy.

Relationships are inherently messy. They involve risk and vulnerability and they evolve over time. That includes the relationship of the believer to God. The Christian and Jewish scriptures are full of the accounts of people, reckoned according to the various authors of scripture to be been found faithful or righteous by God. Doubts, faith, disappointment and anguish are shown to go both ways in the relationship of God to his people, individually and collectively. The Bible is actually quite an earthy book when it comes to these relationships. Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Jeremiah, Job, David, Peter, Paul and so many others and even God himself according to Scripture are shown to deal with disappointment, doubt and anguish in their relationships with one another.

Likewise there are numerous instances in the Old Testament of God’s stated disappointment and anger with his people, and even regret for delivering them from Egypt and other oppressors. The fact that Moses more than once has to talk God out of destroying the Israelites in the wilderness is evidence enough. But add to this the various times of national apostasy where God is claimed to have given Israel over to her enemies as punishment for rejecting him. Then consider the story of the prophet Hosea who is told to marry a harlot as a symbol of how God feels about his people and you get the point. If we as Christians believe our own Scriptures it is apparent that they record an often volatile relationship between God and his people. They record the story of a God who doubts and often regrets his own choices. I don’t think that I have heard anyone preach on that lately. Maybe God is admitting in this that he too makes mistakes and has doubts but in the end his love and grace prevail over his anger and wrath. I think that should give us some hope and consolation.

Some of the great Christian writers and thinkers echo this. Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote “It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.” Paul Tillich correctly noted that “doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” I think that it is a pity that so many Christians as well as other religious people regard doubt as a sin, weakness or failing, when in fact the entire narrative of God’s people found in the Bible testifies that it is both normal and quite often an element of faith’s triumph.

This has been the case in my own life. I can safely say in my life that when I was a younger Priest and more cocksure about things I would write often fiery polemics mostly condemning the errors of others. I had studied scripture, the Church Fathers, knew the Creeds and Councils, historical and systematic theology, philosophy and was well schooled in history, including Church History. I was even published in a very conservative Roman Catholic journal, the New Oxford Review. I wrote with a bombastic certitude and since the church that I had been ordained in was going through its own theological conflicts, conflicts which eventually tore that church apart, I was willing to turn my guns on others in the church in defense of the institution.

When I eventually went through my own crisis of faith resulting from my time in Iraq and struggle with PTSD I found that the certitude with which I could enunciate my faith was not enough. As I went through that valley of dark despair in which I could safely say that I wasn’t even sure of the existence of God for nearly two years, years where working as a critical care chaplain in ICUs and dealt with death every day I had to re-discover faith. In my sea of doubt I had to be present with other people, all walking through their own “valley of the shadow of death.”

It was in that time that faith returned and when it did it was not the bombastic faith of one who fervently believed the dogmas of the faith but as one who had experienced the grace of God in that dark valley. Looking back I can see the wisdom of God to allow me this experience. I believe that my previous faith, the faith of a man consumed with such certainty that I felt compelled to attack or counterattack those that did not believe correctly was a compensation for my own doubts. I think that Reinhold Niebuhr made an accurate assessment of that kind of faith when he wrote that frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but doubt.”

I have come to believe that faith is incomplete unless there is a corresponding doubt, because absolute faith is not really faith at all because it can only be faith in an idea, not in a relationship. In fact the late American Existential Psychologist Rollo May noted that the “relationship between commitment and doubt is by no means an antagonistic one. Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt, but in spite of doubt. Relationships be they with people or the Divine are dynamic or they are dead. There is a give an take in any relationship. The accounts in the Christian and Jewish scriptures attest to this time after time.

As I wrote in my previous essay Belief and Unbeliefthat some people substitute an absolute belief in an ‘orthodoxy’ of some movement…and cling to it with unbridled fanaticism,” as a substitute for their lack of belief in either themselves or the God that they cannot see. While this is seen most often among religious people non-believers as well can become fanatical in their commitment to other “orthodoxies” especially political and economic theories that they believe will usher in a new order. Communism, Fascism, Socialism and Capitalism are examples of such ideologies which when embraced with the fervor and certitude of a religious movement rapidly become intolerant of dissent and persecute those who disagree.

Doubt and faith. Belief and unbelief. Eric Hoffer wrote that it is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible.” I think that is equally amazing how much doubt is necessary to make real faith possible.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Rejecting the “God” of Black Friday

Yes my friends it is that most holy of occasions in American life, the annual celebration of Black Friday where others sane an rational people allow themselves to unleash their animal passions on the floors of our greatest retailers and on the internet.  We have observed the high holy day of Black Friday where Americans of all races and religious persuasions observe a day of sacrifice to the God of consumerism often spending days in preparation carefully hoarding their treasures in hopes of scoring the best deals at the nation’s leading retailers.

Today I can say that I have not even spent a penny on this Black Friday, not even online. I just can’t get into the whole mass psychology marketed by the retailers.  The thought of waiting hours just beat other people to buy some gadget made by salve laborers in China or some other despotic country is frightening. When one realizes that the retailers that cater to our greed not only profit off of slave labor, but also pay their workers low wages, offer few if any benefits for working obscene and often unpredictable hours to maximize their profits one has to wonder about the morality of it all.

In the good news of the day, our local news reports that no one has yet been shot, knifed or trampled to death in any of our local retailers. However I can imagine that customer number 201 in line for the 200 available the $199 HDTVs Wal-Mart or other retailers with a limited numbers of Black Friday “door buster” specials is feeling homicidal or suicidal or possibly both about now.

But I hear that in some places the holiday has been celebrated with much more aplomb than our sleepy city.  I have read about shootings inside and outside of different retailers, incidents where shoppers had to be tasered by police, pepper sprayed by store security officers or even better pepper strayed each other. In one location a lady ran someone down in a mall parking lot, distracted driving appears to be the case. I guess she got a text from another retailer with an unannounced special across town. There is a case where a man kept people in line by pulling out a gun, at least someone is keeping order. I can only image how fun that was for them as they wrestled for all of those really “hot” deals.

I do think that this celebration says something about us now, while many people around the world would be willing to die for a decent meal or freedom of speech we are willing to harm our neighbors because they might be the fist to get the latest gadget for a few dollars less than us.  It seems perverted don’t you think? I can’t imagine Jesus or Thomas Jefferson approving such behavior but it is part and parcel of the culture that we are very much a part of and participate in and that means Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street types and everyone in between because whether we like to admit it we like our stuff and we want it for the best possible price, not that there is anything wrong with that…especially if you are a follower of Ayn Rand’s banal philosophy.

But when we let the urges for stuff overcome our common sense and any sense of decency, decorum or love of our neighbor then maybe we have lost our way.

I guess the fact that after Iraq I am claustrophobic and get panicky in big crowds in enclosed areas now makes me less inclined even to try to go to a major retailer today.  Maybe that makes it easy for me to say these things with relative impunity since the thought of going out in such crowds petrifies me. I certainly am not trying to be judgmental but when I see people doing harm to each other to obtain things that are more than luxuries for most of the world I think that we need to just step back and look at ourselves.

I mean really….We have massive long term unemployment, our country is financially and politically broken, we are facing a “Fiscal Cliff,”  we have troops at war in Afghanistan while the rest of the Middle East is about to go up in flames and bring us even more heartache. So with all that going on we have people fighting each other and some people actually doing physical harm to others for gadgets made in China or Third World countries by what amounts to slave labor.

Even worse we have people in all levels of corporate America that promote this culture and make their living off of the people that are committing crimes to get a deal.  I think that says something about us and that troubles me.  But then I guess I don’t have enough faith in the God of Black Friday.

But why should I have faith in that God? The “God” of Black Friday caters to the darkest nature of self-centered greed and mocks the God who on the real Black Friday, offered himself for the life of the world. The “God” of this Black Friday is the no-God of Ayn Rand and her disciples who despise the crucified God in thought, word and deed.

I wonder what Jesus would do if he stumbled into a Christian book store on Black Friday and found people fighting over a special on WWJD junk or the latest greatest “study Bible” featuring the notes of some prosperity preacher. I don’t think that he would be very happy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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