Class Struggle Continued

In his splendid article in the May 2 edition of the Lakewood Observer Chris Perry makes a very credible case in arguing that class struggle continues to be an element of our society. I can't disagree with his description of how our present economic system is tilted to benefit the rich and powerful. I am troubled by framing it as class warfare. In the long run we all benefit from a just society and are harmed by the fact that so many of our fellow Americans live in poverty. We all depend on the commonweal and need to contribute to it. Enmity and hatred will not get us to where we want to go.

In 1986 the National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter entitled "Economic Justice For All." It is as much, even more, relevant today as it was then. The guiding principle states "All people have a right to life, food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, education and employment. Government doesn't have the exclusive responsibility for ensuring these rights, but in a democracy it is a means by which we can promote our common values." It goes on to insist that creation is a gift to all men and women. Appropriation of the world's resources by a minority of the world's population for their own benefit is fundamentally unjust. The right to private property is not without limits. The concentration of privilege that exists today results far more from institutional relationships that distribute power and wealth inequitably than from differences in talent or how hard one works. In our largest corporations the top management earns 300 times as much as the ordinary worker. No man or woman is that much more valuable than any other.

The taxation system should be based on assessment of the ability to pay so that social obligations can be met, and should be evaluated in terms of its impact on the poor. This is certainly not the case in our present system. An option for the poor does not mean pitting one group against another but rather strengthening the whole community by assisting the marginalized to become productive citizens.

In our free market economy the individual worker has little power to negotiate a labor contract compared with his employer. He has a choice between an inadequate wage or no wage at all. Workers have a right to form unions to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions. Collective bargaining is necessary for workers to maintain their dignity.

Democracy is a work in progress. Until a few decades ago we were progressing, but then we started to lose ground. As moneyed interests have gained more control, the gap between them and the rest of us has grown to proportions that endanger our democracy. I'm afraid that the inequality that exists in our country today is largely a result of apathy. For democracy to work, the citizenry must be attentive, take time to be informed and to participate in its functioning. Most Americans pay more attention to how their sport teams are doing than to what their legislators are doing. Maybe the present assault on the right to collective bargaining will wake us all up. I hope so.

Helen Brinich

Helen Brinich, resident of Lakewood for many years.

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Volume 7, Issue 12, Posted 8:19 AM, 06.15.2011