May 1/Immigrants

In honor of May 1, Benedict XVI graciously thanking workers who refurbished the papal apartments. (HT: Whispers in the Loggia) Sidenote: the elegance of these off-the-cuff pieces by the pope is astonishing.

Watching and reading coverage of yesterday's rallies by and in support of illegal immigrants was interesting. For Catholic intellectuals of a generation ago the "labor" question remained framed in the classic terms of nineteenth century Catholic social thought: i.e. support of trade unions, the ideal of a family wage (and the presumption that the father provided the entire wage for the family), a presumption that workers were citizens and a corporatist vision of society that included unions and worker groups as important constituent groups.

We now live in a much more inegalitarian society than in the 1960s. See Charles Morris's superb piece in the current Commonweal
(A tiny pool of fifteen thousand taxpayers now collect 3% of *all* personal income. Remember this next time you see an editorial inveighing against the "death tax.") The percentage of workers in unions is declining, certainly outside the government and teacher's unions. And roughly 12 million workers, a higher number than at any time in U.S. history, are illegal aliens. How should Catholics think about labor and work now?

John T. McGreevy is the I.A. O'Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.

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