Secularism and the decline of labor unions in Canada and U.S.

In his analysis of a discussion paper released by two leading labor unions in Canada, Brian Dijkema cites Lew Daly, a writer with solid left-wing bona fides, concerning the role of secularism in the Decline of Unions, in North America. Here’s a snippet.

Daly’s argument is two-fold. First, that trade unions and religious institutions used to find common ground in the “struggle for rights of association and a legitimate, protected place in public law.” Think, for instance, of the struggles faced by both the church and trade unions in Nazi Germany. Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor who opposed Nazi Germany, even went so far as to include trade unionists in his famous “First they came . . . ” statement. Think also of Lech Walesa, Solidarity and the Catholic Church in Poland or, closer to home, of the struggle shared by trade unionists and the church in Cuba today. The failure of the union movement to defend the institutional rights of religious institutions undermines the same ground that supports a robust union movement.

Second, and this is where he’s most persuasive, Daly argues that trade unions are at their strongest not when they use the coercive powers of the strike or litigation, but when they leverage moral force, or what Thomas Aquinas would call directive power. Unions were at their most powerful when their “religious ideas helped to expose, more than resolve, profound tensions in American liberalism around labor issues generally and the place of unions in particular.” When they turned their back on the church and its social teaching, unions’ great strength was lost.