Concerning the C.L.A.

Dear Mr. Editor,

My attention was called to an article appearing in the Standard Bearer of June 15 in which the C.L.A. is criticized rather severely. Will you please allow me, as secretary of the organization, to reply to it? I shall greatly appreciate that.

There is much in the article of brother C. H. with which I fully agree. His stand in regard to membership of Christian workers in unchristian organizations I endorse. All the more reason why I regret that he has considered it necessary to attack the C.L.A., the one organization in which Christian workers, regardless of their doctrinal differences, should and can work together.

It is my conviction that the criticism of the brother is not well founded. He gives as a reason for the fact that the growth of the C.L.A. has not been phenomenal that it has not been distinctive enough. That is rather surprising. Up to this time we have always been told that the C.L.A. is too distinctive, places too much emphasis upon the demands of the Word of God and insists too strongly upon the application of Christian principles. Now I do not think that the C.L.A. can ever too strongly emphasize those things, but, I do believe that its distinctiveness is the reason why most workers, even among those called Christians, are not interested in it, as they ought to be. I am very much afraid that it is true that it is first of all because of the spiritual degradation of our day that Christians have not rallied to our cause as they should have.

But, what about that so-called lack of distinctiveness as charged by the brother? He has quoted a few sentences from a C.L.A. propaganda booklet, for which the organization assumes full responsibility. Allow me to quote the complete article on Basis and Aim. It reads as follows:

“The C.L.A. believes that all efforts for the improvement of Labor and industrial conditions must be prompted and guided by Christian principles. These principles being grounded in the Bible, the revealed will of God, the C.L.A. recognizes that as its basis.

 

The aim of the C.L.A. is, on that basis to promote the material and moral interests of its members, and to further the establishing of justice, righteousness and good will in the sphere of labor and industry, through the practical application of the aforesaid Christian principles.”

Is there really any ground for the charge of lack of distinctiveness when that whole article is quoted? Why did the brother omit to state that the C.L.A. in its promotion of the material and moral welfare of its members does so on the basis of the Word of God? And did not the brother take note of other distinctively

Christian expressions in that same booklet in regard to authority, Sunday observance, class conflict, conduct, etc.? Those things are very important. It is really not doing justice to the C.L.A. to take a few expressions here and there, out of their setting, and to judge the organization on them, interpreting them at will.

The main burden of the brother’s contention is that the C. L. A. is materialistic . That is a very convenient term, used rather freely by many people to condemn something when another term cannot readily be applied. The C.L.A., so it is charged, is materialistic. And why? Because it has stated that it seeks improvement in labor conditions, promotes material interests on the basis of the Word of God; to be guided and prompted by Christian principles in so doing. And what did brother C. H. write in the third paragraph of his article ? This: “Even if they organize with a view to problems confronting the workingman in the sphere of labor and industry, there can be no real objection raised as long as they actually do so as Christians”. That is just fine! Since in the field of labor and industry the problems confronting the workers are largely in connection with material and moral interests, as brother C. H. well knows, he admits that organizing for the purpose of meeting those problems in a Christian way is not wrong. Why then try to condemn it in the C. L. A., which has done just that, and which has indeed done all those things which the brother has summarized as being characteristic of a Christian labor organization?

Just a little more about this materialism. One cannot escape the impression that brother C. H., in spite of the quotation given above, wants to drive home the point that to be interested in material things, to seek the advancement of one’s material interests, is sinful. In a sense that is true, of course. But, let us remember that it is sinful only when such advancement, such interests, are first in life, when material things become the god of the individual. That is condemned by the Scriptures. And to be so concerned about food and drink and raiment that it crowds out concern about the soul’s welfare, about spiritual things, that also is sinful.

Let us, however, be careful to preserve a proper balance. Let’s remember this too: that God has so created this universe, and has so ordered it, that control of a certain amount of material things is necessary for men, also for the Christian. Also the proper development of man created in the image of God, the bringing into fruition of the talents God has entrusted to him, requires control of a certain amount of material things. We may go even further than that and say that, humanly speaking, the extension and advancement of the Kingdom of God is dependent to a large extent upon the material possessions of God’s people! I do not want to be misunderstood. I know that God stands above all, that He is sovereign and that all depends on His blessing. Nevertheless that statement can stand. God works through means. And He has so ordained it, that material possessions are necessary for the establishing and maintenance of churches and schools, the doing of mission work, etc. The money for those causes must be contributed by God’s people. Therefore also those people are entitled to wages that will enable them to take proper care of their families and to meet those needs. And they have the right to demand that they be treated at all times as human beings created after the image of God! That is why the Christian may seek advancement of material interests and protection of his rights as a laborer. And that is why we have Christian labor organizations, unitedly to do that which the individual can not accomplish.

Finally there is the brother’s objection to the C.L.A. stand in regard to the strike. He expresses surprise because a statement on it is found in the C.L.A. Constitution when it is not found in the Constitutions of many other labor unions. Actually the brother himself has supplied the answer. Just because other unions take the use of the strike-weapon, in all kinds of evil forms, for granted, the C.L.A. considered it necessary to have a clear statement on it, not in its Constitution but in its Program of Action and propaganda literature. The C.L.A. wants its distinctive stand on that question to be known.

The brother makes the charge that there is a glaring contradiction in the C.L.A. statement because it, in the’ first part, condemns all violence in labor disputes, destruction of property, seizure of property, etc., and in the last part justifies the strike as a last resort after all other means of settlement have failed and there is apparently no other way to remove a grave injustice. I see no contradiction whatever. The trouble lies here: brother C. H. takes for granted that the C. L. A. when it justifies the strike as a last resort, also justifies violence and other evils usually associated with the strike. And that is all wrong. The C.L.A. would never justify the use of violence, seizure or destruction of property, molesting of other workers, etc. Of course not. What then do we mean by a strike as a last resort ? Allow me to explain.

We are all agreed, undoubtedly, that a worker who is laboring under unjust conditions has the right to take it up with his employer, lo get the conditions changed. And, if he cannot prevail upon his employer to remove the injustice he has the right to refuse to continue to labor under such a condition. He has the right to tell the employer that he is willing to return to work when the employer is willing to meet his just demands. He has the right also to tell others, truthfully, why he has refused to continue to work and under what conditions he will return. There is nothing unchristian in that, nor does it violate the civil laws.

Now apply that to a large number of workers, in an organization. They also have grievances, and present them. But, after continuous attempts, through conferences, mediation and even arbitration, rejected by the employer, they have failed to get justice. Then those workers have the right to refuse to continue to work under the unjust conditions. It is called the strike, but technically those workers are quitting their jobs, with the understanding that they are willing to return to their jobs if their just demands are met. They have the right to give the public notice to that effect. They have no right to seize the employer’s property, or to destroy it, or to attack those who want to continue to work. Surely such a “strike” cannot be called violent. In so far as it can be called the use of force, which is almost inconceivable, it is that to no greater degree than that of the individual who refuses to work under unjust conditions.

This point also must be remembered: if a large number of workers refuse to continue to work under unjust conditions, but express willingness to return when the injustices have been removed, they are still manifesting a spirit of loyalty to the employer. What if they absolutely refused to return under any conditions? A trained crew of workers could thus ruin an employer’s business. It might take a manufacturer years to train new workers. All those angles must be remembered when such a subject is discussed.

It ought to be clear that the C.L.A. stand on the strike is not radical in any sense. And, its use would be very unlikely at any time. In all C.L.A. agreements provision is made for settlement of grievances through mediation or arbitration. So we are really arguing about a dead issue. Yes, brother C. H., the C.L.A. is willing to leave the final verdict to God. But, that does not mean, does it, that we may not in this life fight for the protection of our rights? Even Matthew 18 does not teach that. And did not Paul appeal to Caesar? And have not even churches been known to take certain matters to the courts? Is it fair than to condemn the C.L.A. because of its stand in regard to the strike question, after having presented it in an unfavorable light?

Brother C. H. finally asks the question: what must be done? That is a serious question. The unchristian unions are developing ever more power. The C.L.A.’s strength is insignificant compared to theirs. Its numbers are not anywhere near as large as the brother suggests. It will still be small even if all the workers of Reformed persuasion join it. That is not to discourage us, however. A small organization can do great things with the help of God. The way is still open for us to do much. The laws of our land are not entirely unfavorable to a Christian labor movement. Therefore the answer to the brother’s question is: JOIN US. Exert your influence in our organization, and through it upon the world around us! We welcome you.

Joseph Gritter,

Secretary, Christian Labor Association