The State of the Union & Labor: Setting the Stage

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 12:06 pm

(part 1 of 4)

Methodists stand with hospital laborers, 1974

In 1908, when the Methodist Episcopal Church passed the Methodist Federation for Social Service’s (MFSS is now known as the Methodist Federation for Social Action) proposed legislation to adopt its first Social Creed, labor was the big issue of the day.  Child labor abuses, long hours, poor pay, non-existent safety standards, company stores, and a lack of time for family and community involvement were just some of the struggles facing workers.  This dynamic created a lack of opportunity and mobility, access and time for education, financial advancement and expendable resources, all leading to class divisions and a way of life in the United States of America that was very volatile and becoming increasingly unbearable.  Also realize that in 1908, no one on the state and federal levels was even paying attention to how much more difficult the situation was for non-whites and immigrant communities. 

While indentured servitude was no longer the open practice of business owners in the US, the circumstances and labor laws of the day created a system that mirrored indentured servitude ─ much like Jim Crow laws were set in place to maintain African American servitude in the days after the Emancipation Proclamation. As the exclusive language we used in the creed will bear out, 1908 was an era when there was also little to no attention being shown toward gender equality and protections in the work place.

It was in this atmosphere that MFSS brought forward the following Social Creed (links are to current United Methodist Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions positions on these same issues)…

The Methodist Episcopal Church stands:

For equal rights and complete justice for all men in all stations of life.
For the principles of conciliation and arbitration in industrial dissensions (today, known as collective
bargaining).
For the protection of the worker from dangerous machinery, occupational diseases, injuries and mortality.
For the abolition of child labor.
For such regulation of the conditions of labor for women as shall safeguard the physical and moral health of the community.

For the suppression of the "sweating system."
For the gradual and reasonable reduction of the hours of labor to the lowest practical point, with work for all; and for that degree of leisure for all which is the condition of the highest human life.

For a release for [from] employment one day in seven.
For a living wage in every industry.

For the highest wage that each industry can afford, and for the most equitable division of the products of
industry that can ultimately be devised.
For the recognition of the Golden Rule and the mind of Christ as the supreme law of society and the sure remedy for all social ills.

To the toilers of America and to those who by organized effort are seeking to lift the crushing burdens of the poor, and to reduce the hardships and uphold the dignity of labor, this Council sends the greeting of human brotherhood and the pledge of sympathy and of help in a cause which belongs to all who follow Christ.


So with 105 years of commitment behind us, how are we United Methodists doing at impacting and influencing the social holiness around issues labor in the United States of America?

Let's begin by confessing that business and economics are impacted by world-wide issues, are very complex (multi-facetted), and are nationally interdependent.  However, as one of the wealthiest, most productive and economically influential nations in the world, let’s suffice it to say that this is an area upon which we United Methodists should be having some impact.  Also, let’s be clear that this first Social Creed was an endorsement of the early beginnings of the labor movement and the formation of labor unions “who by organized effort are seeking to lift the crushing burdens of the poor, and to reduce the hardships and uphold the dignity of labor.

This series of articles is an attempt to take a comprehensive look at labor issues that are being faced in the United States of America and the intersectionality of those issues with other pressing issues around us.  Finally, if we still truly stand for “the recognition of the Golden Rule and the mind of Christ as the supreme law of society and the sure remedy for all social ills” – then what we hope for ourselves in terms of labor, will be the ideals and hopes we have for our sisters and brothers around the world!

 

Let’s start by looking at Labor, Race and Gender (part 2 of 4).

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Rev. Steve Clunn serves as the Coalition Coordinator for the Methodist Federation for Social Action. Clergy in the Upper New York Annual Conference, Steve's work at MFSA focuses on coordinating United Methodist caucus groups in their support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in the life of the Church.

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One Response to “The State of the Union & Labor: Setting the Stage”

  1. MFSA » Blog Archive » The State of the Union & Labor: Race and Gender Says:

    [...] The State of the Union & Labor: Setting the Stage [...]

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