A remarkable union is about to take place—the partnership between the AFL-CIO and Gamaliel, an interfaith national community organizing network. This partnership reunites two important pillars in American history—faith and working people in unions—and is crucial for the survival of this nation.
Over the past 30 years, we have witnessed a decrease in union membership in private-sector jobs that corresponds to an increase in the wage gap between the upper and middle classes. According to Ched Myers, in his book, The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics, since 1965 the average wage of workers has decreased 12 cents per hour from $7.52 to $7.39, while executive compensation has increased from $338 to $1,566 per hour. Companies have downsized, restructured and relocated manufacturing, reducing costs to maximize shareholder equity. Working people have been commodified, losing value to products and services. This is an assault on the dignity of America's working people.
In June 2015, the Gamaliel network launched its Long-Term Transformational Agenda, a blueprint for moving the nation as it currently is to the nation as it should be. It is a move to what we call God’s Commonwealth, which is based on the economics of equity and balance. God’s Commonwealth recognizes workers’ rights; therefore, in order to make this a reality, the faith community must uphold biblical principles, principles that denounce greed and ensure meeting the needs of those in want.
To this end, government must be restored into the hands of working people and not the social elite, and racism must be dismantled as excellence and equity are pursued. Clergy must not allow themselves to be muted and locked out of the political conversation, and those who do speak must speak without an evangelical bias. The holy scriptures do not forbid acquiring wealth, yet redistribution is encouraged. One way this redistribution can take place is through collective bargaining. To deny people the ability to negotiate together is to deny working people’s rights, which in the end leads to exploitation—and this exploitation is sinful.
The reunion of faith and labor is necessary for economic revival. Working people in unions must recognize that without faith their movement will suffocate. Clergy must realize that without the union, working parishioners will suffocate—responsible pastoral care requires participating in the resuscitation, resurrection and restoration of organizations that promote human dignity and helped build this country. The Gamaliel–AFL-CIO partnership is a necessary first step.