"But my primary point, the raison d'etre for this post, is that there is plenty of room for disagreement and need for debate on this issue- I don't want it declared a basic tenent of our religion until such debate has taken place. I don't want Boston taking a position on my behalf without such a debate. I don't want clergy out there declaring that support for the unions in Wisconsin is an extension of our faith, an inseperable part of our principles, until we have had that debate."I think this is a good point, and worth examining. My initial response was to agree.
I myself had more trepidation posting on this subject than others because my individual church has taken no stand on the issue, and I had not researched our denomination's history on the subject. I see my blog as a place to voice my particular argument (just as Monka also posts his argument), not as a voice for our denomination as a whole. While I don't often disagree with our denomination's positions (one reason I am so happy to be a UU), if and when I do I feel free to write about it. I think a clergy person making an argument for why something is an extension of our faith is part of the process. Assume every blog post here begins with "IMO," in other words. Similarly, Dan Harper's post, which Monka also cites, was making an argument for labor rights in what Harper was assuming was opposition to the larger UU culture. And I would say to do this sort of thing, to draw attention to where our association needs to catch up and pay attention to, is very much in keeping with the role of the clergy.
But that aside, surely a call from our UUA Congregational Witness and Advocacy office with our UUA President leading the charge indicates a stance our denomination has taken. Monka writes, "I don't want Boston taking a position on my behalf without such a debate." "Boston," of course, is understood here as UU-shorthand for "the Unitarian Universalist Association." Have President Peter Morales and the UUA office jumped the gun and taken this stance without the support or direction of the congregations? And, if so, is that okay?
For the first part, I would say that our president can easily take a stand on any issue that the General Assembly has taken a strong and established stand on. That seems pretty clear. What is our history on labor rights? Well, it's not too clear. "Economic Justice" as a broad category is something we've addressed often. We've often made broad statements like this one from 1985: "That this Assembly endorses the principle that every person has an inherent and moral right to work at a meaningful wage, food, clothing and shelter." Finding more specific statements is a little harder. The 1997 General Resolution "Working for a Just Economic Community" urged us to work for "Reform of labor legislation and employment standards to provide greater protection for workers, including the right to organize and bargain collectively, protection from unsafe working conditions, and protection from unjust dismissal." Most other statements we've made about collective bargaining were more specific to certain boycotts. In the 2003 Statement of Conscience "Economic Globalization," we also said, "Countries are responsible for requiring foreign and domestic companies to pay fair taxes, ensure their workers a locally defined living wage, provide a healthy and safe work environment, and respect the right of their workers to bargain collectively in independent labor unions and to engage in strikes and other job actions when necessary. The standards of the International Labour Organization of the United Nations should be incorporated in all trade agreements." Of course, we were talking about other countries.
I think the strongest argument for a statement on collective bargaining and unions for our denomination would rest on the fact that we've long used the UN's "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" as support for our arguments for what stands we do and do not take. We've had specific declarations on supporting the United Nations, establishing the UU-UNO office, urging congregations to celebrate a UN Sunday, and so forth. And the UN's "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" states in 23.4, "Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests."
I think it's arguable that the debate in Unitarian Universalism over collective bargaining has been had, and that unless we reverse some statements, the UUA President does have so free rein to make statements on this issue on behalf of our denomination. It seems a reasonable interpretation, not just extension, of statements we have made to call for the support of workers to bargain collectively in unions.
But if it were not the case that we have some established precedent here, then what of the UUA president's actions? For better or worse, I think we have given our UUA president some pretty free rein to take social justice stances on behalf of the denomination. It's an open question, I suppose, whether this is good or bad and whether or not we should tie his hands more. After thought and examination, however, I have to conclude that I think UUA President Peter Morales is acting appropriately and in conjunction with established precedent.
And, luckily, I also happen to agree with him.