… they saw first-hand the struggles of those who toil
Catholic teaching is very clear on many issues. One is that people should love another and should work together as a community.
Richard Trumka and Jack O’Malley learned that lesson in their formative years, growing up as children of working class parents.
Richard Trumka started a staff attorney with the United Mine Workers and then became a member of their executive board after graduating from a Catholic law school, Villanova University. Father Jack O’Malley became a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh who was an activist for the workers of Pennsylvania.
At that time when Trumka graduated from Villanova in the 1970s, Americans could make a decent wage and raise a family by working just one job. They could send their children to attend college without going horribly into debt.
They only had to work five days a week, eight hours a day, had a paid vacation and a retirement account.
They had health insurance that covered all of the people in their families.
But Trumka knew that his father and grandfather and those who toiled in the mines had to fight for those rights.
Then, in 1981, they saw it crashing to earth as a fallen-away, divorced former Catholic sided with the corporations.
When it all changed
On August 5, 1981, Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers, a union that had mistakenly endorsed him for president,
Beginning on this date, 30 years ago, Big Business and the Right Wing decided to "go for it" -- to see if they could actually destroy the middle class so that they could become richer themselves.
And they've succeeded.
On August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired every member of the air traffic controllers union (PATCO) who'd defied his order to return to work and declared their union illegal. They had been on strike for just two days.
It was a bold and brash move. No one had ever tried it. What made it even bolder was that PATCO was one of only two unions that had endorsed Reagan for president! It sent a shock wave through workers across the country. If he would do this to the people who were with him, what would he do to us?
Reagan had been backed by Wall Street in his run for the White House and they, along with right-wing Christians, wanted to restructure America and turn back the tide that President Franklin D. Roosevelt started -- a tide that was intended to make life better for the average working person.
Michael Moore, “30 Years Ago: The Day the Middle Class
Died,” Common Dreams, August 6, 1981
Both Trumka and O’Malley knew that Reagan was reflecting an evangelical view that despised unions. It was not reflecting Catholic teaching.
Trumka understood Catholic social teaching
Rich Trumka grew up in the coal communities of Southwest Pennsylvania back when they were solidly Democratic because they gave the workers some rights and some dignity. It was ingrained in him from his early days in the Catholic Church.
When he later became the president of the largest union in the U.S., the AFL-CIO, he told a Catholic journalist how the church’s teachings had given him that sense of justice, in Jesus’ words, Love thy neighbor as thyself,
"The teachings of the church taught me about fairness, about workers' rights and about human rights -- and about protecting those human rights and those workers' rights," Trumka said in a March 11 interview with Catholic News Service.
"It taught me about the family and the family unit, and about sticking together," he added. "It also taught me about the importance of perseverance. Just because you don't succeed at first doesn't mean that you should quit or allow yourself to think that it's all over. It teaches you to keep coming and to keep working hard and to persevere."
Trumka said, "It also taught me that we have to help others." Here's how he sees that in the context of his role as AFL-CIO president: "In this position I have more of an opportunity to help people get ahead and get a fair shake, to get a job, to get fair treatment, than I would have anywhere else. And that's exciting."
Mark Pattison, “Catholic upbringing gave AFL-CIO leader sense
of fairness, justice,” Catholic News Service, 2009
Jack O’Malley was always seeking justice
When Jack O’Malley was at St. Francis College in Loretto, Pa. in the 1950s, he arrived there because he was an outstanding basketball players, but not good enough to get a scholarship from Duquesne, the premier Catholic university in Pittsburgh.
However, he had some core values that reflected what he was taught from his parents and in Catholics schools during his youth.
And he learned that blacks and whites should co-exist.
Therefore, he fought for his black teammates.
This is a story told to me by Jack’s teammate,
After winning the prestigious Carousel Classic in Charlotte, N.C., in 1958, Wilbur Trosch, a 6-foot-9 center during the late 1950s, confronted an ugly reality of the South during those years.
“We were leaving Charlotte on New Year’s Eve, and our airplane got ice on the wings, so we were forced to land at Winston-Salem airport,” Trosch said. “The state trooper at the airport told our coach that they had a problem. They could put up the white guys in a hotel, but the blacks would have to go back and stay in a hospital – if they had beds. (My teammate) Jack O’Malley said that we should stay in the airport. So, they had a big round bench, and we sort of bunked out that night until the wings were de-iced.”
Hugh Conrad, “St. Francis players say no to racism,” Tribune-Democrat,
February 11, 2011
Jack O’Malley knew what Jesus Christ said and he knew what the church stood for, and it propelled him to a lifetime of standing up for the working man.
The labor movement lost two giants in their own right over the past year, but the fortunate thing is that public unions are still alive and well.
Now, the labor movement is seeing an uptick with the most members in the past five years. However, they have a long way to go, and it would be a tribute to see those numbers climb over the next decade.