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Strangers In A Foreign Land






By Mike Westfall

2 / 1 / 2007


Fr. George E. Schultze, SJ, is the author of the new book, titled Strangers in a Foreign Land, which deals with Latinos and the organizing of Catholic Latinos in the United States. It is an important book filled with interesting facts that all Americans should read.

Fr. Schultze is professor and Spiritual Director at St. Patrick’s Seminary and University in Menlo Park, California.

Fr. Schultze studied Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, completed an MBA at the University of California, Berkeley, and received his doctorate in Social Ethics at the University of Southern California. Prior to entering the Society of Jesus, he worked for the National Labor Relations Board.

Fr. Schultze is an expert and well versed on Latino issues. He challenges us to look closely at these major issues, and I have invited him to participate in this interview to discuss his views and his new book.



MICHAEL WESTFALL: I would like to welcome you and thank you for your participation in this interview.

Using some of the very interesting statistics from your book, Hispanics now make up the largest minority group in the United States and at over 37.4 million; they now make up more than 13.3 percent of our total population. Catholics have always been involved in immigrant issues. Could you give our readers an insight as to why you became personally interested and what inspired you to write a book about dealing with Latino labor issues?


Fr. GEORGE E. SCHULTZE, SJ: I became personally interested in Latino labor issues because my mother is a Latina. Her maiden name was Grijalva and she was born in Mimbres, New Mexico. Her family moved to California in 1930 when they lost their land during the Depression. They worked in the orchards and canneries of Santa Clara Valley. My father's family had an orchard, and he also worked in the canneries. Before and after they married they belonged to a number of different unions: Cannery Workers, ILWU, IAM, and the Operating Engineers. In the late 1950s, the U.S. labor movement reached the apex of its organizing success when roughly 1 out 3 U.S. workers belonged to a union. Growing up in California, I followed the organizing of Philippino, Indian, and Mexican farm workers in the UFW. I learned from my parents' experience and the farm worker organizing in the 1960s and 1970s that a union could secure a living wage, benefits, and good working conditions. The social question, which is basically a matter of having meaningful work and some economic security, requires us to organize for the common good. Catholic social teaching supports such organizing and my parents, my father was a convert, were faith-filled people. Knowing that today’s Latino population is predominately Catholic, and that its numbers will continue to increase, I have been interested in their efforts at organizing to improve their lives. Catholic social teaching speaks of our need to see every man and woman as a son or daughter of God no matter his or her religion, ethnicity, or race. The book ultimately points to the need to work together to answer the social question for all our families.


MW: In Chapter 1, Aliens No More, you use the term Hispanic and Latino interchangeably to make it clear that you are not talking about a monolithic population. Why is this important?


GS: In my book I use Hispanic and Latino interchangeably because you find many people who by habit or preference favor one or the other term. You also find reasonable arguments supporting both terms. Broadly defined Hispanics are people who at one time lived under Spanish rule and have adapted the Spanish language and culture to some readily apparent degree. Yet Brazilians lived under Portuguese rule and one might argue that "Latino" better identifies them. In fact, the generic terms are not often used since people normally refer to their nationality: Mexican, Nicaraguan, Brazilian, Salvadoran and so on. To complicate matters, some Americans can trace their ancestry back to the period of Spanish exploration and settlement of the Southwest and see themselves as descendents of Hispanos. You have clearly understood my point. This is not a monolithic group of people. They differ by race, ethnicity, education, income and culture to greater and lesser degrees. In terms of our government statistics, roughly sixty percent of the "Hispanics/Latinos" in the U.S are native born. Of those who are foreign born, sixty-six percent are from Mexico. This points to the significance of U.S.-Mexican border and the importance of the socioeconomic relations between the two countries.


MW: Knowing the union issues and history as you do, what is different today relative to Latino issues compared to the 1950’s? What are the changes you see in unions and their positions over this same time frame?

What do you see as the future role of the Catholic Church in regards to Latino unionized workers?


GS: Through the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, one found union members of various faiths, races, and ethnicities. On the one hand, prejudices were present. On the other hand, workers overcame those prejudices to organize, among others, the automobile, steel, coal, and construction industries. Economic needs, the political climate, and the nature of work itself resulted in union growth. Catholics were active in the organizing because Catholic social doctrine encouraged worker associations that promoted families and, therefore, the wider society.

Today we find the labor movement severely weakened in the United States by globalization, legal impediments to organizing, and the lack of communal solidarity. Union members and church people are less evident in the middle or mediating zone that they have traditionally occupied between the public and private sectors. In addition, the sexual revolution, no fault divorce, and abortion have taken a heavy toll on our culture because they do not promote commitment. When we are not responsible and committed people, we lack meaning and direction as a society. Latinos, particularly Latino immigrants, tend to hold more traditional and conservative values even though they are susceptible to the same temptations as every other person. The Latinos, like Italians, Poles, and Irish from an earlier era, will organize because of family ties and social networks. Labor leaders, however, need to meet them where they are at in their world outlook and not where some leaders and their intellectual advisors would like them to be. If unions are directly or indirectly supporting NOW and its abortion position, or, say, same-sex marriage, then Latinos will feel uncomfortable with the union movement. These culture war issues are divisive in our nation and in our unions. As I explain in my book, the Catholic Church continues to support the right of all workers to organize, and bishops, priests and religious have taken active roles in supporting this fundamental human right. I believe that you will find Catholic leaders becoming more vocal in their rejection of organizations that directly or indirectly promote views inimical to Church teaching. They will support unionists who promote Judeo-Christian values in the union hall and at the election polls but will become more outspoken against the use of union members and funds that promote immoral positions. As you know, many unionists are religious people. Somewhere between sixty to seventy percent of the Latinos in the United States are Catholic and the remainder belong to other Christian denominations. The Catholic Church, while maintaining a position of mercy and compassion, will make clear to Latino Catholics the importance of voicing sound Christian morality in the public square.


MW: Do workers care about Biblical values today? Are religion and faith issues, whether Catholic or Protestant, as important to American workers and the unions that represent them as they once were?


GS: Yes, I find that many workers have biblical values because the United States citizenry maintains its Judeo-Christian roots given the significant number of Americans who practice their faith. For example, the Ten Commandments, despite attempts at ending their public display, are essential to millions of people. Our parents, like their parents, imprinted biblical values in the hearts and minds of many of us. I have helped with organizing drives and because I am a priest I never fail to hear the importance of religion in the lives of working people. As you know many people are leery of organized labor and the sometimes-conflictive nature of organizing, and this is not without reason, so workers will ask themselves and others if they are following Christ along this path. Organizers need much more sensitivity around this frequently voiced concern. In fact, workers will often recognize as their leaders co-workers who hold and live biblical values. This is true of organizers too. Weren’t Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez holders of biblical values?


MW: I spent my working years working in labor and found chapter 6, A Swing To The Cultural Left, especially interesting. This chapter discusses the Catholic unease with labor as beginning in the 1960’s. It talks about George Meany, a Catholic Democrat who was the builder of the modern AFL-CIO, as being appalled at the development of cultural radicalism in the Democratic Party. In this intriguing chapter you go into the issues of abortion, same-sex marriage and how those who choose to practice homosexuality impact our culture. How do all of these issues inter-relate, and what do they have to do with unions, society and the Catholic Church?


GS: These issues are important to the direction of labor because millions of American working people continue to believe in a respect for life from conception to death and the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. These are moral positions that faith and reason will always maintain. Labor leaders are making a huge mistake by accepting and at times supporting the abortion or so-called same-sex marriage positions of special interest groups who have bored from within. Some might profile Mr. Meany as an anachronistic curmudgeon but large numbers of good-willed people still embrace his understanding of work as being the answer to the social question. Good jobs lead to secure families and communities for children, women and others who may be vulnerable in any society. With regard to homosexuality, your question is well put. Homosexual men and women, according to Catholic teaching, should not suffer discrimination or any form of abuse. Homosexual activity, however, is a sin against God and nature. I can reasonably argue that practicing homosexuality is bad for individuals and our society. I also argue with reason that adultery and stealing are wrong. Should we show compassion and mercy to those who have sinned? Yes. But we should not attempt to turn any wrong into a right.


MW: Unions have such a huge presence and influence in our nation. Chapter seven of your book, A Need For Change, asks the question, Can the AFL-CIO revitalize itself? It talks of the Catholic Church as being an institutional ally in the organizing of Latinos and all other peoples in need, and that labor unions will recognize greater success if they recognize the Catholic concerns for the family. In what ways can labor benefit? Do you see any indication that today’s labor union officials are swinging back to more conservative positions, or do you see that they are entrenched and continuing down the slippery slope pursuing moral issues that the Catholic Church cannot tolerate? Why aren’t more union people speaking out on values and moral issues, or are there other labor voices speaking out? If so, who are they?


GS: The Catholic Church and the U.S. labor movement remain allies with regard to many work related issues; for example, just wages, adequate benefits, good working conditions, and the right to collective bargaining. As labor leaders and their staff people move further to the left on culture war issues, I predict this relationship will become further strained. I often don’t feel comfortable at academic meetings that discuss labor in the United States because I hear views that are radically different from many union members and my own. The Catholic Church sees a consistent ethic of life that includes our individual decisions e.g., sexual morality and our communal decisions e.g., just war. In other words, our personal moral decisions are seamless with our social moral decisions. I believe that many leaders do not personally believe in cultural radicalism but accept these positions due to labor’s traditional tie to the Democratic Party, which has swung to the cultural left. A slippery slope exists in labor’s wrongheaded acceptance of attempts to redefine marriage and the failure to understand the importance of respecting human life. If we continue to disregard the unborn, we will find greater acceptance of euthanasia. This has already happened in Europe. Not only will health care workers (who are often union members) benefit from a culture that respects life; it is the right thing to do. Unionists aren’t speaking out because they kowtow to those who in recent generations have set the cultural agenda, normally the media and academics. Union leaders also find political correctness politically expedient. Isn’t this how Satan works? Unions are the most democratic institutions in the United States and they are susceptible to the pressure of special interest groups who want to leverage the power of the labor movement. Union members need to express their opposition to cultural radicalism through all the internal union channels available to them. During the early 1990s, the international president of the plumber’s union wrote an article in a national Catholic magazine that explained his opposition to abortion and why he could not vote for candidate Bill Clinton. I have not heard nor read of any other union leader since then making such a clear statement.


MW: In Chapter seven you made an excellent statement that the labor movement, like so much of our wider society, has entered into an irreligious secular way of proceeding. What about the wider society? What are your thoughts relative to the new societal developments, such as the burgeoning atheistic Web sites run by those that deny Biblical creation itself as they fight for the exclusive teaching of evolution and other such issues?


GS: Yes, I think the labor movement has fallen into the traps of relativism and subjectivism, where basically the ends justify the means. I now read of nationally known labor leaders receiving awards from NOW for supporting abortion. The Catholic Church and other people of faith have traditionally supported labor unions because they can improve the lives of men and women. As you know, the labor movement is full of good, hardworking people. They remind me of my own parents. But organizing is always reorganizing. We need to raise up women and men who possess the cultural insight and the moral standing to sacrifice for the common good and lead us. We need to support labor leaders and workers who are already making holy sacrifices to do the right thing by workers, employers, and the people they serve.


MW: Being that you see issues that impact the whole country, where do you see our nation ending up if we continue in the direction we are now going? Do you have any more books that you are working on?


GS: I have hope and my hope implies faith. God is watching and directing us in love. We only need to respond in love. In Corinthians, St. Paul writes, Love does not rejoice in what is wrong but rejoices with the truth. There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure. You recall that the Cold War years ended dramatically with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Communism and its atheism could not hold. I believe that faith and reason will continue to promote an awareness of God and that ultimately we will witness some similar dramatic event that will end this present Culture War. Remember that culture implies worship, cult. Live your faith and God will see you through this time in the desert. As for the next book, I am considering a short work that discusses the meaning of work and the role of solidarity in promoting work life and the commonweal.

Thank you for this interview. I believe that any good-willed unionists would gain something from my book. While I focus on Catholic Latinos, I discuss a broader understanding of the role of faith in work and organizing. It is a short and clear read, and I believe your Local staff would benefit from it. God bless.


MW: In conclusion, I want to thank you for your participation in this interview. I highly recommend Strangers in a Foreign Land to our readers.

You have stepped into the public eye and written a very important and interesting book about a critically significant segment of our population. It has taken a lot of hard work and dedication. I commend you for your concern, honesty and thoughtfulness. Are there any other final points or issues that you would like to address?


GS: I think we have covered some good points through your interview, but I want to thank you for creating your website and working to keep the labor movement on track. Democratic freedom is protected with a vibrant and responsible labor movement.


MW: Lexington Books has published this book. Would you please let our readers know how to obtain a copy, and furnish any addresses or e-mails you may have for people to contact you relative to your work?


GS: My book was just released by Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group through its Lexington Press subsidiary. You can order it at the Rowman and Littlefield website or other online book sale sites.


Rev. George E. Schultze, SJ

St. Patrick's Seminary

320 Middlefield Rd. Menlo Park, CA 94025

(650) 325-5621 Ext. 114