Voice of Labor

Fr. Peter Daly

Parish Diary

December 17, 2008


Fr. Peter Daly thinks the Catholic press should get in touch with its roots and speak up for labor rights.


            Where is George Higgins when you need him?

            For more than 60 years Msgr. George Higgins was the conscience of the Catholic community in the U. S. on labor.

            His “Yard Stick” column in Catholic papers spoke up for laboring men and women. He also spoke to labor, reminding it of its social responsibilities and its solidarity with the poor every where. The Lord called Msgr. Higgins home in 2002, but we sure could use him here now.

            George would be outraged the double standard in our national media regarding our current crisis. He would also be outraged by the silence of the Catholic press on these economic and moral issues.

            Msgr. Higgins would be in high dudgeon about the “bailout” controversy regarding the auto industry while bright boys of Wall Street who brought us to this crisis get a free pass.

            George would want to know why there is a double standard in the media.

            Why do guys who carry lunch boxes to work get media scrutiny while guys who carry lap tops get sympathy?

            Why do banks get gargantuan amounts of public money without so much as a public hearing while blue collar workers are put under the microscope?

            Don’t get me wrong. I think the auto industry has screwed up. They ought to be put under the microscope. But so should the banks. There is a bias which is both geographical and cultural in the media elites.

            The people in the media live in the north east, the Amtrak corridor. They are white collar, college educated rich folks. They know people who work for Citibank but they don’t know anyone who works on an assembly line or lives in Michigan or Ohio.

            So when Citibank gets $300 billion in loan guarantees and outright gifts of Federal tax dollars, they think that is reasonable. After all, they know people at Citibank. There were no public hearings. Nobody in management lost their job. No Board members resigned. That seems to be ok with opinion makers.

            But when the whole auto industry asks for one tenth of the amount that Citibank alone received, not as a gift but a loan, there is an outcry. The auto industry is blue collar. It is in the “rust belt” Nobody at CNBC knows anybody who works on an assembly line.

            Republicans senators start channeling their inner Herbert Hoover. The senator from Nissan, Robert Corker, (R-TN), demands that labor make concessions before help. But he asks nothing of management, stockholders, creditors, dealers, or suppliers. Corker wants UAW workers to be on parity with Toyota’s U.S. workers. Good. That would mean a pay raise for a lot of UAW workers. But does Corker want GM management on parity with Toyota management? That would mean a huge pay cut for American management.

            Southern senators didn’t object when their states gave huge gifts of free land, tax breaks and plant construction to attract foreign car makers to their states. I guess socialism for the rich is ok.        

            All Americans owe the UAW a dept of gratitude. It made health care and pension benefits part of our national pay package. The UAW has taken huge reductions in benefits and membership in the past 10 years. Meanwhile the President of GM has been paid more than $8 million a year according to Forbes magazine.

            Who speaks for labor?

            Maybe the Catholic press should get in touch with its roots. Maybe it should speak out for working men and women who don’t have a voice in the elite media.

            Where is George Higgins when we need him?