STATEMENT OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE N.C.W.C. CONCERNING THE CHRISTIAN ATTITUDE ON SOCIAL PROBLEMS, November 28, 1937
This is the complete statement issued by the archbishops and bishops of the N.C.W.C. Administrative Board on November 28, 1937. The bishops, while defending the rights of labor, warn labor against coercion and injustice and urge the collaboration of employers and employees in seeking a just solution of social problems.
For generations the social purpose of property has been too much disregarded and self-interest has increasingly dominated social and economic life. Selfish interests or private profit rather than social well-being has succeeded in large measure in controlling the policies of governments, in directing finance and industry, and in subjecting labor policies to its own ends. Although an essentially disorganizing principle, it has unwarrantedly claimed to be the sole organizing force in society, the guarantor of social order, and the cure for social ills. But the half-truths and half-solutions which this extreme individualism has begotten in the social order are now discredited in the minds of thoughtful men.
Nearly fifty years ago the voice of Pope Leo XIII pleaded with governments, with capital, and industry to abolish economic injustice and to establish in industry working conditions befitting the dignity of man, as well as sufficiency of income for family life and old age.
Since the close of the World War, economic evils have increased. Social injustice, oblivious to the need of providing self-respecting employment to millions, has embittered the jobless and the poor throughout the world. In many it has aroused the spirit of defiance and revolt.
It is to be deplored that the unrest caused by evils already grave and disturbing should be further increased by designing agitators or by cunning propagandists whose immediate interest is to create turmoil, bitterness, class conflict, and thus hasten a “revolutionary situation.” Calmness, accuracy of statement, and prudent restraint are highly desirable qualities in every discussion of grievances and remedies.
Irresponsible doctrinaires have seized upon worldwide discontent and capitalized it. Adroitly, they have presented some fundamental truths of the Gospel of Christ as if they were the first to expound them. They condemn abuses which Christ condemned and which the Catholic Church has been condemning for nineteen hundred years. The false promises of Communism inspire a crusading spirit, a contagious hysteria. It appeals to personal sacrifice and captures the adventurous spirit of youth. It masquerades as the champion of the downtrodden, as the archenemy of capitalistic abuses, and as the redeemer of the poor and working classes.
In our country Communist leaders see three things in their favor: first, a sizable army of propagandists among left wing professors, teachers, and intellectuals; second, the very real dangers to our financial and economic structure; third, the growing articulate discontent among the masses of the people. Unhampered by any fixed moral principles, Communists would hasten the collapse of the structure of our government, calculating that they will be the beneficiaries as the leaders of the new order. If for the moment they are keeping their activities largely undercover, it is because they are biding their time, awaiting the hoped-for collapse. Meanwhile by arraying class against class, and by tactics of boring from within other organized groups they seek to further the destructive ends of Communism. Traditional and constitutional America means nothing to them. They use the liberty guaranteed by the Constitution to erect a new system of government which will deny that liberty which they now misuse. They are willing to use any means to attain their end. Their present restraint is expediency. Their delay is strategy.
Many of the promoters of organizations calling themselves peace and youth movements, sponsors of stage and screen entertainment, and so-called crusaders for “democracy,” especially those upholding the Communism of Spain and refusing to condemn the Bolshevism of Russia are, consciously or unconsciously, propagandists and agents of Communism. They constitute part of the “United or Popular Front.” The trickery of Communists, as Pius XI points out, knows no bounds. They try perfidiously “to worm their way even into professedly Catholic and religious organizations.”
Pope Pius XI has challenged the attention of all groups who have had any part in this injustice and calls for a reconstruction of the social order. He advocates no dictatorship either of the right or of the left. He seeks no governmental bureaucracy. He desires to see the guild system re-established in a manner adapted to modern problems and conditions. Neither unrestrained competition nor monopoly nor class conflict nor ubiquitous government control provides a sound remedy. Social well-being can be attained best by vocational groups ordering their own economic life under the guidance and encouragement of government. An unjust economic system, he has demonstrated, has had much to do with the rapid spread of the world’s social cancer—Atheistic Communism. His voice is for peace as against war between capital and labor. For labor, he has fearlessly demanded recognition of its right to organize, just wages, healthy and humane working conditions, and security for sickness and old age. The truest friend of the poor and the laboring man in the world today is Pope Pius XI.
Labor has the right and should be accorded recognition of the right to establish its own organizations, to bargain collectively, to choose freely its own representatives. It has its just claims to a reasonable living wage, to healthful working conditions, to security of employment without unfair discrimination. It may enforce its just demands by effective means, but these must always be consonant with the rights of others, the dictates of conscience and God’s laws.
Labor should not incur the charge of countenancing coercion and injustice. It is not only unwise, but immoral and reprehensible to use physical violence either against fellow employees or against property. It is both dishonest and destructive of genuine progress for labor to violate contracts freely and honorably negotiated and accepted.
Not only should labor reject the philosophy as well as the political and economic system of Communism but it should energetically repudiate such tendencies amongst those who undertake to be organizers of labor, thus eliminating any danger of Communist leadership or domination.
There are many honorable employers whose motives and purposes are dictated by justice and charity. They should be commended. What is needed is a more widespread and profound study of the social problems, with mutual collaboration by both employers and employees in the solution thereof.
Pius XI calls attention to the tremendous economic power exercised by those who hold and control money and are able therefore to govern credit and determine its allotment. This control, moreover, is exercised by those who are not the real owners of wealth but merely the trustees and administrators of invested funds. Responsibility is thus divorced from ownership. Nevertheless, they hold in their hands the very soul of production since they supply its lifeblood and no one can breathe against their will.
The increasing ratio of debt to total wealth has also had its influence in lessening the responsibility and advantage, which should attach to the ownership of property. It makes for insecurity. Its relationship moreover to the cost of living or a reasonable price level needs careful inquiry. Further study should be given, likewise, to the whole intricate problem of money and credit so that such evils as exist in the present system may be brought to light and suitable remedies introduced.
Another method of destroying the liberty of the people, although it begins by lauding democracy and proclaiming freedom, is to establish the dictatorship of an absolutist State. Referring to this totalitarian State, Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno asserts: “It is feared that the new syndical and corporative institution possesses an excessively bureaucratic and political character, and that, notwithstanding the general advantages referred to above, it risks serving particular political aims rather than contributing to the initiation of a better social order”.1 This kind of State is contrary to the letter and spirit of the American Constitution.
It first gives to the people many services; and then it assumes a multiplicity of functions which no normal civil government should attempt to discharge. Gradually the totalitarian State assumes the responsibility and function of the capitalist, the industrialist, the agriculturist, the merchant, and the employer. All this inevitably leads, not to a free State, but to a slave State. The tendency of our time is to make more and more demands on government. Citizens and groups should not ask the government to do for them what they can do for themselves. Sound social policy requires government to encourage citizens to assume as much personal responsibility as possible.
The poor and the laboring classes should resist the tendency to set up the omnipotent State. Their chief economic defense is organization. The traditional and ideal Christian society is not an individualistic but an organic society in which the individual, through the instrumentality of his group, works for himself, his group, and the entire social body.
It is deplorable that in our country an internecine conflict has broken out between two large organized bodies of workers. Continuance of the struggle can only mean increased suffering and hardship for workers themselves. It is gratifying that conferences looking for conciliation have been initiated; and for the well-being of workers, employers, and the entire people it is earnestly to be desired that these conferences will continue in a spirit of give and take, thereby providing the basis for harmony and lasting peace.
It is essential that labor unions be governed by the principles of Christian brotherhood, justice, and fair play. They should embrace all groups of workers. While seeking to promote their own interests they should be guided by sound judgment, have regard for the common economic good, respect property rights prove themselves worthy of the confidence of every community and thus perform their rightful function in protecting the legitimate interests of their members and in giving strength and stability to the nation.