Rev. Robert Sirico quotes John Paul II in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
“Unions do not have the character of political parties struggling for power; they should not be subjected to the decision of political parties or have too close links with them.”
Contrast that with what the Wisconsin bishops’ lobbyist said about what the bishops think about teachers’ and other public unions:
The bishops are merely reminding everybody of the teaching of the Church [about] the dignity of work and the appropriate place for unions without giving them carte blanche to have everything they want. [italics mine]
The dignity of work is not the point here.
Generally speaking, the long history of unions has been bound up with the right of free association. So far as I can tell, the current practice of public-sector union organizing has little or nothing to do with this principle, so it is right and proper that Catholic social teaching should also recognize this.
Free association, a human right. “But the driving force behind the budgetary move has nothing to do with human rights, unless one considers the rights of Wisconsin taxpayers,” says Sirico. “It is nearly impossible for anyone to work for the public sector without being a member” and paying dues.
Some do not like that idea.
But freedom of association has worked against unionization. Unions could not bribe employers, but they could pay into campaign funds and get similar results from legislators and governors and presidents. Unions became office-seekers’ and -holders’ financiers. These politicos in turn had jobs to offer — public service jobs, where membership was not the point, dues were.
The bias toward unions in Catholic social teaching is rooted in a perception that unions fulfill certain moral conditions. When they fail to do so, the application of moral teaching can change. There is no a priori reason to back every union demand and no reason for Catholics to feel under any doctrinal obligation to do so.
As he said earlier in the column,
Just because something is called a union does not make it automatically good and moral. Essential considerations of justice and freedom must be in place.
Once in a Newspaper Guild meeting, I said we should support the delivery truck drivers if they had a good case and was accused of being a Jesuit. Worst thing my union brother could think of at the moment, I guess.
His point: this was no time to bring up rightness of demands. Solidarity was at issue. Fr. Sirico is making that point. Just because you support freedom of association does not mean you are with the public unions at a time of dreadful financial crisis.