As collective bargaining has been rolled back, efforts to suppress voting have returned, inequality has grown, and unregulated big money again dominates politics. In many ways, we now confront a world not so different from that of the late nineteenth century, which gave birth both to Catholic social teaching on labor and to U.S. workers’ long, bitter struggle to win collective-bargaining rights.
Like our forebears in the era of Rerum novarum, we now face the challenge of articulating principles and devising practical mechanisms that can build a more humane and democratic world. Our urgent task is to revitalize what they bequeathed us—both our moral tradition and the tool of collective bargaining that this tradition did so much to legitimize. It is difficult to imagine how we can tame the most destructive features of today’s capitalism and preserve a robust democracy without reviving workers’ ability to bargain collectively.