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Workers and the Church
Former IYCW president, Romeo Maione, delivered this talk in Nairobi, Kenya in 1985.
As the village breaks down, it rebuilds. As the seed dies so will it bear bruit. In death there is life. As the village dies, so does the city find life. The city is the village reborn. The village does not die in the village rather the village moves to the city to die and gives the city new life.
As the village dies in a city, it gives birth to a universal citizen who is neither Greek or Roman, Italian or French etc. He becomes a citizen of the city. The village in the city becomes the mechanism to change the person from a member of village into a citizen of the world. The essential part of this process happens in the work place.
While the workers may live in their separate villages in the city, they all work together in the workplace of the city. It is in the factory that the villager is called for the first time to work side by side with workers coming from various languages, cultures and faiths. It is in the workplace that a new solidarity is built up far and away from the frontiers once that held them together.
The first step towards universal solidarity is the worker movement. This movement was not planned rather it came out of the urge of justice. This forced the workers to organize so as to protect their jobs and wages and conditions of work. This was the first step from barbarism where the strong loads it over the weak and impose their will on uneducated workers. The village community cannot protect them in the factory. So a new type of organization starts to develop along with the living community.
Although the Church in America encouraged the organization of unions for the good of workers, the basic organization of the Church was still the geographical parish, even today, the Church has still to discover the various new communities that have no geographical, racial, cultural or even religious boundaries. When once the village was the only organization, now a whole new set of organizations was starting to develop yet the sap of life according to the experience of the Church was to circulate in only the dying villages in the city.
It was in this new community that social justice was the real glue of a new community. It is interesting to see how the village culture played a role in this new community. My dad told me the story of how he joined a union. He was a member of a “minority tribe” in an Italian village. As there was an incredible pull to help your own, the minority was always in danger of being replaced by another worker.
The majority tribe knew how to grease the hand of the foreman who was in charge of hiring. So my father always felt the danger of being let go to make room for one of the majority tribe. So my father joined a union to protect him from the majority. It was fear that led him in joining the union.
This new type of organization did not drop out of heaven rather it was founded on the fears and secondly the hopes of workers to better working conditions. This new worker movement in time replaced the dying villages. The drive of these new communities were to become “the historic class of making history”.
The distance between the worker movement and the Church is the measure of the distance of the Church from the modern world. Industrial power can only be civilized and made human by social power. This thinking even with the social teachings is far away from the essential thinking and praying of the Church. We camouflage our betrayal by insisting that power is not our mission.
Love is our mission, we say but never even think that love may be the greatest power to humanize and civilize the beast that lies in every person and culture. Love is the only power that can ever hope to exorcise the power and the power that absolutely corrupts. Love is the power of god that must struggle with the power of Satan. The latter is close to victory when love becomes detached from justice.
It is the masses that make history contrary to much Church thinking that it is the elites who construct societies and culture. New cultures must be built on the foundation of the masses. Those who do not know the history of the masses, of the villager becoming a worker are forever doomed to build castles in the sky.
Culture grows from the roots of the masses. Its first growth is as barbaric as an infant who must learn how to walk before it can run. The worker movement is an irreplaceable part of the building up of a new culture out of the membership of various village cultures coming together in the industrial plants.
It was the communist intellectuals that preached the workers were the historic class but who used their power to build up a society dominated by intellectuals. And we all know the results of this effort of using the masses for them to gain power over the masses.
The Church thinks that it does not have to dirty her hands in the cave of history. We will wait till sometime in the future to meet the workers..TOO Late|.