The right to organize and bargain collectively is not only a human and legal right but a moral imperative supported by virtually all major religions.
Most people of faith immediately recognize the natural connection between religious creeds and the mission of organized labor. Both religion and labor celebrate the dignity and worth of the individual and are committed to the concept of economic and social justice. Historically, religious writings have defended the right of workers to form unions that work to improve their lives and their communities.
The National Council of Churches policy states its conviction “that not only has labor a right to organize, but also that it is socially desirable that is do so because of the need for collective action in the maintenance of standards of living.”
The Catholic Church, both in its encyclicals on labor and other statements of doctrine, has clearly defined policy on the issue. The Church’s position: “Labor can have no effective voice as long as it is unorganized. To protect its rights it must be free to bargain collectively through its own chosen representatives.”
Economic Justice for All: A Pastoral Letter of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1986 states, “…The Church fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions. This is a specific application of the more general right to associate….No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself. Therefore, we firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably seen in this country, to break existing unions or prevent workers from organizing.”
A comprehensive document on Catholic social teaching, including major sections on work and labor can be found in Pope John Paul II’s Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine and Pope Francis’ recent Evangelii Gaudium.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis write, “Workers have the same inalienable right to organize according to their own plan for their common good and to bargain collectively with their employers through such honorable means as they may choose.”
A Methodist Church document states, “Collective bargaining, in its mature phase, is democracy applied to industrial relations. It is representative government and reasoned compromise taking the place of authoritarian rule by force in the economic sphere. In its highest form, it is the Christian ideal of brotherhood translated into the machinery of daily life.”
In 1996, national religious leaders passionate about justice for workers, founded Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) and called for core religious tenets and traditions in support of worker rights. Today, IWJ includes a national network of more than 70 local interfaith groups, workers centers and student groups working to strengthen the religious community involvement in issues of workplace justice. IWJ has a number of excellent free downloadable resources on a variety of social and worker justice issues.
Historical Highlights of the Religion-Labor Movement provides background on specific people and events.
Other resources on on the topic can be found on the American Labor Studies Center’s web site.
At a time when the labor movement in the United States, it is important to recognize that those who are attacking unions are also attacking a fundamental human, labor and religious principles.