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December 18, 2012

More on Michigan, unions, and egg nog: A response to Winters

Over at Distinctly Catholic, Michael Sean Winters kindly links to this post of mine, about unions-and-such.  For starters, he says I "take[] issue with the support for unions voiced by, among other, Morning's Minion at Vox Nova, Lew Daly, and [him]."  Maybe.  That is, I thought I made it pretty clear in my post, first, that I agree entirely that all persons enjoy the freedom of association and (therefore) workers enjoy the right to unionize.  I also said:

Civil society matters; the human person is relational and situated; work is a participation in the creative activity of God; all human persons, because they are persons, possess a dignity; workers have a right to associate, organize, and advocate (consistent with public order and the common good) for their interests; and profit-maximization is not a moral-trump.  Labor unions helped bring about many good things; opponents of labor unions have often done bad things.  It would be wrong for a political community to prohibit or unreasonably burden the freedom of association that workers (like the rest of us) enjoy.  In other words, much of what left-leaning Catholics like Michael Sean Winters and Morning's Minion and Lew Daly have been saying about labor-related matters is true.

This doesn't strike me, really, as "taking issue" with "support for unions", and it certainly seems unfair to brush aside all this -- merely because it is accompanied by some doubts and reservations about the practices of and policies preferred by (especially public-sector) unions in America today -- as conservative "Kool Aid."  (Michael Sean closes his post with the always welcome advice to "switch to egg nog", but I can assure him that advice was anticipatorily embraced.)  Here, it seems to me, is the core of our disagreement.  Michael Sean writes:

The fact that a union here or there may engage in bad practices does not vitiate the right to unionize anymore than the fact that some bishops covered up the crime of sex abuse vitiates the apostolic succession or Nixon's crimes vitiated the importance and value of democracy.

The "right to unionize" is not, of course, "vitiated" by unions' bad practices.  But, (1) those "bad practices" are not rendered not-bad, or immune from push-back, merely because they are unions' bad practices; (2) it is not true that the "right to unionize" is violated by policies that protect non-members' rights to (for example) opt out of paying for unions' partisan political activities; and (3) public-sector unions have to be distinguished from private-sector unions (not, as I said in my post, because public employees don't have a right to associate, but because the employer-employee / "labor v. capital" dynamic is meaningfully and morally different in the two contexts).

Posted by Rick Garnett on December 18, 2012 at 12:39 PM in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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