Wisconsin Protests: God's Advocacy and Concern For Laborers

In the Bible, it is the responsibility of those in power to make sure that all workers (indeed all people) are treated fairly.
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My name is Curt Anderson. I am the Senior Minister at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Madison, Wisconsin; and I am on the Board of the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin.

There is one theme that is constant throughout the Bible. In Deuteronomy, we read: "You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether your own people or aliens who reside in your land."

In Jeremiah: "Woe to him who makes his neighbors work and does not give them their wages."

And in the book of James: "The wages of the laborers, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries ... reached the ears of the Lord of hosts."

This is a common theme throughout Jewish and Christian scriptures: God's advocacy and concern for laborers and workers. In the Bible, it is the responsibility of those in power to make sure that all workers (indeed all people) are treated fairly. And today, a logical extension of that concern is that it is the right and responsibility of workers to organize and advocate for fair rights and living wages.

There is nothing fair about the governor of Wisconsin's proposal to virtually eliminate collective bargaining for public workers and unilaterally force public employees to start paying for health insurance and contributing to their pensions. This has been proposed without consultation, without bargaining, without even any concept of shared sacrifice.

There are no provisions to close tax loopholes that benefit corporations. There are no proposals to consider even minor tax increases for the wealthiest members of our state. There are no proposals to restructure Wisconsin's income tax system, where the wealthiest sometimes pay a lower percentage of their income in taxes than middle-class working families.

The governor is not doing this to fix our state budget deficit. This is no more about a budget deficit than the invasion of Iraq was about those imaginary weapons of mass destruction.

The governor is doing this to destroy unions and intimidate state workers, and to reward his rich friends who helped him get elected. Those rich friends and corporations are not being asked to sacrifice at all. Only those who will struggle financially are being asked (told!) to sacrifice. I would remind everyone that Jesus said of the rich: "It will be harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle." Jesus understood the dangers of riches; and that is why, in his time, he always took the side of the oppressed and marginalized.

In 1997, the United Church of Christ took a position that is in line with God's compassion for workers and with Jesus' care for the marginalized and oppressed. The UCC General Synod affirmed: just, democratic, participatory and inclusive economic policies in both public and private sectors, including... the responsibility of workers to organize for collective bargaining with employers regarding wages, benefits and working conditions, and the responsibility of employers to respect not only worker rights but also workers' dignity, and to create and maintain a climate conducive to the workers' autonomous decision to organize... (and) the responsibility of governments at all levels to foster a more democratic system by seeking balance among the rights and interests of citizens, workers, and corporations.

The governor of Wisconsin's proposal, which he calls the Budget Repair Bill, fails just about every criterion I have mentioned. And it certainly fails this last one, which Jesus told us we are all to follow: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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