A New Economy

In this time of economic change, what does the Christian church have to contribute to the discussion of a new economy; one that has different principles than the current model?

The following “blogpost” was released by the Rev. Michael Kooiman on March 1, 2012. His blog can be accessed on the United Church of Canada website, WonderCafe, at: http://www.wondercafe.ca/blogs/sermonboy

You Can’t Be Left Unless You’re Pro-Labour

Posted on: 03/01/2012 11:20

“First of all, it is our belief that the application of the principles of Jesus Christ to economic conditions would mean the end of the capitalist system.” 

This quote comes from the 1930 meeting of the Toronto Conference of the United Church of Canada.  They were not Bolsheviks: they were moral theologians who understood that business operates for private gain and not the common good.

Jumping ahead 82 years, we witness a perfect illustration of their concern.  In a year of record sales, and $5 billion in profits, Caterpillar made an offer that only the devil could enjoy: accept a fifty percent reduction in wages, or you lose your job.  Never mind that the London plant was “productiveprofitable and reliable, with a stellar safety record.”  That view comes from The Globe and Mail, hardly an arm of the CAW.  No, the chief sin of the London plant was location, and the company’s desire to maximize profits beyond the $5 billion for 2011.

Now, my centre and centre-right friends will say “yes, but that’s just business.”  And on one level that is true.  Caterpillar can close a plant and move production wherever they like, but it doesn’t negate the fact that they are working against the common good.  They had a productive and harmonious workplace, they had a role in the success of a community and region that is otherwise struggling, and they had loyal workers, workers who were keeping up their end of the deal: producing locomotives and helping the company make money.  Caterpillar thus broke two contacts, one a collective bargain and the other, a moral contract.  Even with the assumption that business operates without reference to the common good, there remains a deal between business and workers: work hard and we will do everything we can to employ you.

Now, on to my provocative title: You can’t be left unless you’re pro-labour.  The right of working people to organize and advocate for their own interests is the original “cause.”  And despite decades of gain—a living wage, job security, reasonable hours—the plight of working people remains uncertain.  Older workers forced out in favour of younger (and cheaper) workers, an ongoing reduction in wages as it relates to the cost of living, and the social contract violations as described above.  And this doesn’t even begin to look at working conditions in the ever expanding service sector and the “part-timization” of work in all areas of the economy.  The right to organize, the right to bargain collectively, and the right to demand an actual job seems to hang in the balance when even progressives refuse to argue for unions.

At this stage, nearly everyone begins to make the argument “we can’t afford it.”  But look at the reality on the ground: Banks make record profits, economists give a collective cheer, and then the banks lay off more workers.  Why?  To maintain the cheers of the economists and safeguard the billions in annual profits.  But when did it become so difficult to employ people and make money?  The moment shareholders began calling the shots and demanding increased profits at the expense of working people.

I choose to stand with the members of Toronto Conference, circa 1930.  The pure capitalist system, the one that holds increasing sway over us, must be tempered with regulation and the belief that you can serve people and profits.  I also stand with our forebears in the faith to speak on behalf of organized labour.  Since you can’t be left without being pro-labour, what choice do I have?

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