Jubilee on the Job
Jubilee on the Job

Jubilee on the Job

March 1 st 2003

To my surprise I found out that to celebrate a jubilee can be dangerous as well as exciting, if you take it seriously. For Queen Elizabeth II to reign for 50 years and go on tour in Canada, and for CBC Television to tout up 50 years of programming and hold an anniversary gala to congratulate itself on its accomplishments, doesn't quite have the biblical bite I understand CLAC intends for its jubilee. According to the Bible the year of jubilee is not chronological—"49 and out!"—so much as God-almighty doxological!

Jubilee according to the Bible. Jubilee goes back to the special gift the LORD gave God's people in the wilderness: a day off from foraging for food, a "sabbath" from collecting daily God-provided manna (Exodus 16). Nobody else in the world had a regular day off from work except God's people: so you will know I have free time for you, says God, so you can taste a bit the jubilant fulfillment and peace I knew after creating the myriad kinds of amazing creatures in this world (Exodus 20:8-11; 31:12-17).

Sabbaths led the covenantal LORD God at Mount Sinai to initiate "sabbaticals" for later in the promised land: in the sixth year of your vineyards, olive orchards, and fields of grain I will provide you with an overabundant harvest, said God, so that every seventh year you may rest from your labours and let the poor among your people feast from whatever grows, and after the poor have eaten their fill, let my wild animals enjoy the leftovers (Exodus 23:10-11, Leviticus 25:1-7). Also, every sabbatical, directed God, let debts be canceled, with a smile! and any Hebrew man or woman who because of adversity and bankruptcy had to sell themselves into virtual slavery to you, set them free with enough capital to start a new livelihood (Deuteronomy 15:1-18). This is in the Bible!

"Jubilee" is a supersabbatical, a sabbatical raised to the seventh power, you might say. God told Moses—Leviticus 25—to trumpet the supersabbatical jubilee after 50 years on Yom Kippur, that special one day in the year when the sins of the nation are to be forgiven! So jubilee means: after experiencing surplus blessings from the forgiving LORD God of the universe for more than a generation, we well-to-do humans who count ourselves to be obedient people of God: in a spirit of festive joy, as a witness to the unbelievers all around about the kind of incredible merciful Lord we serve (Deuteronomy 4:5-8), we rich people happily forgive our debtors completely, and we even restore the land and property we have acquired extra over 50 years to the original trustees of those goods whose descendants are now in need (Leviticus 25:8-12,18-24).

Leviticus gives specific regulations to preclude people from making tricky business deals to take advantage of this regular 50-year restoration of capital by creditors (Leviticus 25:13-17, 25-55). But the point is that prosperity, real estate property, capital, and wealth are all not something anybody possesses in perpetuity, but are gifts and an inheritance entrusted by the LORD to us humans to work with for a while, for sharing with others. And jubilee is the-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to actually show the grace of God in operation to those who are not expecting it.

A jubilee is not automatic. Jubilee is not a law somebody has to enforce. Nehemiah, says the Bible, talked and shamed bankers into canceling the impossible debt load of the returned exiles, and into abolishing interest on loans they needed for building up a new Jerusalem (Nehemiah 5:1-13). Isaiah called jubilee "the year of the LORD's favour" (goodwill), the time when imprisoned, addicted people shall be released from their captivities, and the broken-hearted shall be given a healing hope (Isaiah 61:1-4).

That jubilee is precisely what Jesus said, in his hometown sermon, that he was now fulfilling in history (Luke 4:16-21)! And jubilee is indeed what the early post-Pentecost body of Christ, the church of Acts 2 and 4 was practising (Acts 2:43-47, 4:32-35): not the communist misreading of having spouses and children in common and everybody's holding the same, equal amount of stuff; but everybody among those early Christians had enough sustenance, including the widows, the single mothers, the homeless, and the foreigner Greeks—that's when they began a diaconate (Acts 6:1-7). And among those jubilee-celebrating Christians, says the Bible, with an odd expression, "there was a lot of grace, the joy of surplus grace!" (Acts 4:33)

I believe CLAC knows how to celebrate a biblical jubilee, not only after 49 years, but also on the job. Not in "the sweet hereafter," as revolutionary Marxists once promised. Not after you are given "the golden million-dollar handshake" certain CEOs take to their off-shore Caribbean islands. But jubilee ON the job!

What would that mean concretely? The National Board of CLAC will announce that next October all CLAC secretaries and office support staff will have six months leave with pay, leisurely to upgrade their talents? And the Board, the Council of representatives, trust God enough to believe that the necessary work for six months will still somehow get done?

Is jubilee really possible today?

Status quo of CLAC (third generation) and the Canadian workplace (leaner and meaner). Let me first sketch briefly where I think CLAC is at historically, and sound a note about what time it is in the workplaces of Canada, before I mention a couple of problems and a few invigorating challenges we face as a Christian labour (trade union) association of Canada which is driven by the faith conviction to have the good news of jubilee grace permeate our very work guts and deeds at large.

A first generation of visionary leaders fresh off the postwar boat from Holland started this labour association on Canadian soil whose constitution (article 2) committed its members to base "its program and activities on the Christian principles of social justice and love as taught in the Bible." This first wave of charismatic leaders (1950-1972) sacrificed a lot of normality and braved wicked opposition from established secular unions, the provincial governments, and even churchmen. But God blessed CLAC originators with the 1963 McRuer Supreme Court of Ontario decision that set the Ontario Labour Relations Board straight on the nondiscriminatory legitimacy of a trade union simply wanting to be biblically just, and gave CLAC a foothold throughout Canada.

A second generation of CLAC leaders, who came up through the ranks, street savvy, have given a lifetime to building up a trade union of committed Christians that witnesses to integrity, compassionate fairness, and reliable work in the public arena of labour relations (1972-2000). The second generation has been busy to articulate and organizationally embody a confessional alternative to the tyrannical, closed-shop monopolistic way of doing commerce in North America. And God has blessed the institutional development of this biblical visionary labour movement, despite continual opposition, with good fruit.

And now a third generation (2000 ad-) is poised to assume responsibilities for a going concern whose membership, numbering 27,000, is multi-faith but decide for a Christian union, and whose leadership comes from a variety of Christian faith traditions—including Mennonite, Pentecostal, Baptist—who have been stirred by the biblical Reformational dynamic to submit all creaturely activity to the reconciling Rule of Jesus Christ (Psalm 24:1-2, II Corinthians 5:17-19), and who rejoice in the fact that communion of the saints is not just a Sunday phenomenon.

This third generation of CLAC leaders faces the incredibly difficult task that comes with the complexities of organized size and age: how to differentiate specialist representatives with delegated authority but keep everyone integrated for communal decisions by the trusting élan of the original committed vision to wash each other's feet and to love the neighbours who wish to walk humbly with God (Mark 14:1-11, Micah 6:8, I Peter 4:7-11).

Once upon a time generations ago workers minded more the rhythms of day and night and seasons of the year: when the sun finally went down, labourers stopped for a meal and took time to sleep; winters were for repairing things and mending nets. But artificial light bulbs, factories manned by machines tended by women and children, unsafe mines, unsanitary hovels jammed with men who were treated like cogs in a never-stopping (unless sabotaged) moving line of trays spewing out products: such urban industrialization murdered the meaning of human work.

Antonides, Griffioen, Groenewold, and Vanderkloet in CLAC publications have documented how this mechanicalist curse on employment spurred on the formation of labour unions: see Edward Vanderkloet, "Why Work Anyway?" and Sander Griffioen, "The Future of Labour," in Labour of Love: Essays on Work (1980); Harry Antonides, Renewal in the Workplace: A Critical Look at Collective Bargaining (1982); Harry Groenewold, "The Church and Organized Labour in Canada: The Early Years," and Harry Antonides, "Canadian Trade Unionism on Trial," in Us and Them: Building a Just Workplace Community (1999).

People needed to protect themselves from exploitation by wealthy mercenaries whose god was Mammon, MORE MONEY, at the expense of one's neighbours. The benign $5-a-day evil of Henry Ford's famed assembly line which stripped workers of most initiative, simplified, economized, standardized, and monotonized your soul: I know an auto worker years ago who tried, unsuccessfully, to counteract the tedium by humming syncopated Genevan psalm tunes to himself as his hands moved tirelessly with the relentless line.

The assembly line and much clerical work had come under the spell of the American Frederick Taylor's (1856-1915) "scientific" stop-watch controlling, planning design—"Time is Money," had said Benjamin Franklin. Even Lenin was promoting this American time-clock efficiency in Pravda in 1918! And this ubiquitous plague of mechanical time and hot-house hurry to produce cars, armaments, or plastic bottles still brutalizes workers today, not only in Western sweatshops planted in Eastern low-cost-labour countries, but also in Canada, where collective bargaining often focuses down on higher pay for shorter work hours.

Still worse, I think, is the hardening-of-the-heart-arteries shift taking place in labour affairs precisely as the third generation of CLAC leaders comes onto the scene: computer-chip technology is fundamentally altering much human work and most industrial employment in a way that isolates workers with the illusion of increased autonomy and also has a neutronic fall-out that is intrinsically cruel to unskilled persons. There is a sea change from manual labour-intensive work to the so-called "service economy," where it takes skilled information-training on which buttons to push when on the flight panel of the airplane, in the cabin which slides the huge construction cranes over half-built high-rise buildings in our cities, or to change the angle of your liquid-filled bladder showing up on the TV monitor, to get a better picture of your enlarged prostate gland. A PC computer converts personal you into a technician, and technicians are valued strictly as means of production rather than as able-bodied humans who have a rich life when they are not nerved to be producing results on their contracted computerized work.

I am not Jacques Ellul or a Luddite castigating technics which lessens drudgery. But I am noting that self-serve gas stations, bank machines, and "Help Wanted only if you have computer skills" telltale a deep change toward gainful employment that is impacting labour unions and outmoding old-fashioned settlements with employers. Companies geared to cut-throat, competitive growth in the global marketplace who believe they must economize or die will automate what they can, hire part-timers as much as possible—more courier drivers are needed during morning and evening pickup/delivery rush hours, but not a whole eight-hour day; Starbucks pays more workers during busy hours and fewer during slow times—business flexibility. Or companies will engage manpower temporary agencies to avoid problems of worker benefits, tenure, and grievance procedures in firing "for just cause."

Meanwhile, people serve at McDonalds, Tim Horton's Drive-Thru, as No Frills stock boys and checkout cashiers, Mall security guards, or telemarketers at minimum wages maybe good for after-school, teenager first job experience, but hardly adequate for feeding a family. Our society today is leaner and meaner, I dare say, than when CLAC began in 1952 to bring God's grace to bear on the workplace in Canada. How can there be jubilee when there is so little natural rhythm and time to mature in our labours today, and so much internetworked frenzy of constantly changing helter-skelter rush to move it, do it, file it, or grin and bear it?

As I did research to make these jubilee remarks, I interviewed Harry Antonides, Gerald Vandezande, Gideon Strauss, and five stalwart representatives from the Grimsby CLAC office, read quite a number of reports, official minutes, submissions, and materials all the way up to the CLAC action plan adopted in September 2002. When I see the elderly faces of General Worker Local members who have supported this Christian labour association through thick and thin for more than a generation—some were active here well before I spoke "Christian Workers, Unite!" 38 years ago—and when I also see the fresh young blood eager to carry on the task, I can't help but be overcome by a sense of sweet thankfulness to have been historically touched by this improbable fellowship, warts and all, God has raised up on the face of the earth.

And I want to testify to the old-timers—Jim Joosse and Hank Kuntz, original and early National Board presidents, but to all those who have prayed for and sent in money to CLAC—the old-timers who know Psalm 128, which promises the coveted blessing of seeing not only your children but even your grandchildren living out of faith in the LORD (Psalm 128:6): so far as I can tell, CLAC third generation—the grandchildren of the founding fathers, so to speak—is preparing for the rigours of organizing the workplace in Canada so that the biblical witness to Jesus Christ's lordship over labour and commerce be obeyed. You veterans and founders may read Psalm 128 and exclaim: the LORD God is indeed faithful! (If I were younger I almost think I might apply for a CLAC job.)

Problems for CLAC: (1) secularization, (2) dichotomization and fundamentalization. A problem that will creep up like fog on cat feet to test CLAC faithfulness in the coming generation is this: being tempted to let go of being a skandalon, a stumbling block following Christ, on the organized labour scene in Canada. Not that anyone would knowingly secularize and reduce the collective bargaining process to be simply lining up and balancing out company profits, adequate wages, calculating the rate of inflation—just a straightforward matter of crunching numbers. But if you have a $6,000,000 budget as a trade union, there will be subtle pressures to conduct business as usual, to expedite solutions for specific localities within the existing parameters so that our members, too, can be part of the contented, if a little disgruntled now and then, majority of people in the land. A human organization becomes complacent when it no longer takes time to view the big picture, to question the status quo, but settles for getting the best deal currently available.

That our normal culture is abnormal to God needs to percolate in our labour organizing consciousness. Western civilization has exchanged the Constantine birthright of the Sunday for a mess of potage called "a weekend," which has a very savoury taste. And job satisfaction for me is much more important than whether the collective agreement is good for my Mexican neighbour, whom I have never seen! Does one ever wince when you walk into a dollar store, and faintly remember Psalm 8 that says we humans are made almost like gods! crowned with glory! outfitted to rule over the works of God's hands, awash in trinkets? If your job is structured along the line of getting commissions on sales of big-ticket items, say, at Future Shop, so jubilee on the job is practically precluded, should we not at least promote vacations of escape off the job? Who does not admire the entrepreneurial mentality of Robinson Crusoe, so long as you yourself do not end up as the "Friday" man who does the dirty work? And is our credit economy not a good normal practice? If you use a credit card you are rich! (Anyone with debts is rich, living off the resources of someone else.) But riches, according to the Bible, are a most precarious blessing unless you wisely give them away (Deuteronomy 8:17-20, I Timothy 6:17-19, James 4:13-5:6). . . .

Going deeper: all of us bodily inhabit a market economy. From a Christian viewpoint, a market can be the public place where providers of resources bring goods that merchants stewardly supply for needs of other people who thriftily recompense the goods and services; and the exchanges happen in a spirit of good measure, reliability, and caring liberality (Deuteronomy 25:13-16, II Corinthians 9:6-15). The laissez-faire market economy which dominates corporate world commerce and our daily lives today, however, breathes, as I experience it, an unbridled spirit of self-interest, often aimed at profit from luxuries customers can be induced to buy in the expectation of becoming happier. And the laissez-faire economic system in force worldwide cannot be trusted to do justice for the weak, because it is geared to the rights of the stronger, has a built-in ethic of "the fittest survive." This market system is free in Canada to build low-cost housing the poor could afford, as Habitat for Humanity does, but is apparently not willing and able to do it: the bottom line of profitability a business enterprise rightly needs is wrenched out of context and blown up to be the top, guiding line for commercial ventures, and is frequently driven by the principality of Growth, greed for MORE.

If our society is largely in the grip of MONEY, quietly fuelled by an established laissez-faire market economy system, concealing aggression and plumping for Success, and this setup is taken to be normal by management and labour and consumers, then the workplace will be disfigured into a bloody marketplace where "pure economics" dictates what comes and goes, and people—whether saleswomen, repair mechanics, or CEOs—come to function as cost factors, disposable merchandise, overworked "slaves" judged only on whether their work performance pays its way. Because a Pragmatistic Materialism is the very economic air we all breathe, it would be easy for CLAC to let itself be secularized and run with the madding crowd, give in to the tendency to put our own trade union members' interests first. However, if God remains first in our labour organizing consciousness, instead of being slipped off to the margins, and if CLAC prickles with awareness of the interconnected wholeness of human lives, then CLAC leadership will not "wobble" its declared rationale for existence of redirecting society to establish just-doing and shalom in the sphere of labour and industry, so help you God, and will never settle for the sop of getting a couple extra bucks into a paycheck.

Steffe Bak writes: "I am convinced that the Christian trade union movement can and must fill a crucial role in this whole process. It is ours to struggle with the spirit of the times, in the hope and certainty that it can be defeated. The Christian trade union movement must not in the first place keep itself busy with the question whether one more ounce of liverwurst is needed. Rather, it is about the turning-around of society." (Translated from "Vechten voor een werkelijke samenleving," in Meer dan Ooit: Inspiratie, Motivatie, Presentatie, 100 Jaar Jong CNV, p 121.)

There is one other problem I want just to mention briefly, before I give content to the norm of expecting jubilee on the job. Beside the virus of secularization, a Christian organization which has outlived its first generations will likely face the insidious termites of dichotomization and fundamentalization. This is what I mean:

Once it becomes evident that forming a distinctively "Christian" labour union does not automatically solve all the misery, and the protean demonic principality of greedy Power, it seems, can worm itself also into Christians and "good people," and the millennium is not about to happen next month, then a later generation who inherited the glorious vision of revamping the crooked labour scene in Canada may dispiritedly lose their nerve of faith and decide, temporarily, to go for what you as an organization can manage: premium, professional nuts and bolts labour bargaining and grievance settlements on the shop floor, and strong "Christian talk" laced with Bible verses at conferences and solemn assemblies. Then you can also grow the union in numbers, because workers looking for a friendly, uncorrupted defender of their labour rights will be—and are!—attracted to CLAC even if they don't exactly believe the biblical inspiration of our praxis. This is a persistent historical difficulty when leadership of any organization changes. And if you go into the split maintenance mode of dichotomize (retrench to skills) plus fundamentalize (the old rhetoric), you tend to stagnate as an organization and lose your internal historical identity.

The current overlapping generations of CLAC leadership have wisely given funded priority to internal education, for example, to corral the 50+ Canada-wide CLAC representatives to mull over books together, like Paul Marshall's Heaven Is Not My Home (1998) and Chuck Colson's How Now Shall We Live? (1999), so the representatives can mature and keep fresh the committed vision that has consistently animated the association as a Bible-oriented movement which knows that economics is embedded in more than economics, and concerns like spouses and children, neighbourhoods and transportation, schools, government regulations and worship, patterns of leisure, all impinge on the workplace and deserve to be honoured.

There is also Ed Bosveld's Toolbox #1 training course for CLAC stewards, which introduces in no-nonsense prose whoever is elected to the post of steward in a collective agreement somewhere what sets CLAC stewards apart from other unions, the non-adversarial but non-apologetic stance with management in arbitrating conditions for the workplace that allow a labourer to exercise his or her vocation in one's occupation.

Precision on terminology here is good. "Our vocation is not in the first place to do a particular task, but to be Christian in all our relationships in God's creation" (Paul Marshall in Labour of Love, 1980, p 16). "Strictly speaking, what we choose are occupations, where our vocations can be fulfilled" (Lee Hardy, The Fabric of this World, 1990, p 81).

This fine Toolbox, which quotes cartoons instead of proof texts, fumigates the termite pests of sanctimonious accommodation, because the text matter of factly carries a congenial spirit not of "a company union," but of a Christian union that intends to live up to a bill of responsibilities as well as a bill of rights. This is worth celebrating!

But CLAC is not a church! That matter is critical to its genius, and is a point both the mighty secular Canadian Labour Congress and many Bible-confessing church communions do not understand because they have churchified the Christian faith. CLAC representatives are not lay evangelists. CLAC stewards are not chaplains. Beds Are Not Enough is not a tract, but is a recommendation for action to the Ontario government by a CLAC taskforce on "the hidden crisis in Ontario's long-term care facilities." Just because you translate biblical truths like "men and women do not live by bread alone" (Deuteronomy 8:1-10, Luke 4:1-4) into a Christian policy for health care workers that "beds are not enough" does not make you a worker priest: you are a priestly worker! It is a stunted, unbiblical conception to think that if you do just deeds which follow Christ's injunctions, then suddenly you are clergy or become "churchy." The historic Heidelberg Catechism (1563) answers question #32 "Why are you called a Christian?" without mentioning church: "I am called a Christian because by faith I am a member of Christ and so I share in his anointing. I am anointed to confess his name, to present myself to him as a living sacrifice of thanks, to strive with a good conscience against sin and the devil in this life, and afterward to reign with Christ over all creation for all eternity."

We need clergy—ministers, pastors, bishops—to pray from their pulpits that "the kingdom vision of Christ's Rule on earth" move more lay people to become General Worker Local members of CLAC, to swell the ranks of those who would support just-doing in the workplace in non-theological language and without the sanctity of a cowl, because it is precisely Christ-following obedience in daily life the Canadian populace, whatever its make-up, is aching to experience: jubilee on the job.

Prompting jubilee on the job. Jubilee according to the Bible, you remember, is not like winning the lottery: you have been a long-distance operator at Bell Canada for 13 years and suddenly you have $5,000,000; so you throw a blow-out of a party. Jubilee according to the Bible is also not something you achieve: you can't earn it, order it and the contentment comes. The special quality of a biblical sabbatical and jubilee is that it is a gift, a Godsend, and has the surprising character of a fulfillment you hardly knew you were anticipating but now that it has come you bask in this experience of relief, of being somehow restored, set free, forgiven, at peace with the living God present, and it's all right now.

If, as the biblical book of Ecclesiastes says, only God can give jubilee on the job (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, 5:18-20, 8:15), how do we as CLAC prompt such a blessing?

Jeremiah 29:7 gives a clue. Its instruction God has Jeremiah write in a letter to God's people who were exiled in heathen Babylon but expecting their displaced woes to blow over fairly soon so they could get back home. God's startling message is: Work hard for the shalom of the city to which I have banned you people; pray fervently to the LORD God on behalf of Babylon's inhabitants, because shalom for you is inextricably tied in with the shalom of the city [where you find yourselves].

That Word of God means for us in our Babylon cities of Toronto, Hamilton, Montreal, Vancouver, or wherever, that with our own house in order as an organization—our biblical principles operational rather than as clichés—our orientation must be to propagate and practise our saintly wisdom for the good of Babylon! the inhabitants of the Babylon of Revelation 18 headed for destruction too. That is the way for God's people to experience jubilee on the job, crazy as it may sound (Matthew 7:12).

I'll mention just two tough matters: (1) love your enemies. God asks Christian workers to love your enemies (Matthew 5:43-48), whether it be an authoritarian Christian employer, an AFL-CIO union trying illegally to prohibit CLAC plumbers from working on sites in the Town of Vaughan (1980s), or the IMF.

Yes, the International Monetary Fund has become an enemy of working people throughout the world, I dare say. Although it was originally formed (Breton Woods, 1944) to tide over mortgaged nations by supplying World Bank capital (formed 1947, Washington, D.C.), the IMF has drastically overreached its limits, imposed megaprojects on countries, and demanded cheap exports of natural resources as collateral for debt, so that the indebted governments have no capital to spend on in-land schools and hospitals. A result is that now, arm-twisted by the IMF to contract their economies to the vagaries of unregulated market forces on interest rates set by financial speculators with their "hot money," many countries in the world, not even counting the attendant corruption of officials, are hopelessly mired in terrible destitution.

On a lesser scale perhaps, but still acting as an enemy, is any CLC union that thinks its monopoly over employment in a special craft in Canada and its monopoly on subcontracting work at a site in Canada is fine in a democracy, because monopoly works for majority-plus-one vote them, even if it squeezes out the livelihood of others who don't play by the same hard-ball rules. And even confessing Christian employers who believe they know best what is good for the workers or teachers they hire—"Why do you need a raise or health insurance? This is the Lord's work we are doing!"—can be enemy-like, antithetical to the compassionate way God wants things done.

When Jesus Christ told the crowds, "Love your enemies," it was so radical a commandment maybe the Christ had a twinkle in his eye when he said it and meant it. To "love your enemies," biblically speaking, does not mean you lie down and let the enemies of God's way walk over your back. You love your enemies, as a trade union too, by giving good food and drink, showing hospitality to the enemy, overcoming the evil by doing good, says the Bible (Proverbs 25:21-22, Romans 12:9-21).

For example, when Bob Goudzwaard providentially had access to a World Bank executive and by extended conversations could patiently explain how "free trade" combined with "high tariffs" against agricultural products of poor countries was debilitating "aid," until the director finally admitted that maybe World Bank policies were part of the problem rather than part of the solution, the angels in heaven could take a half hour sabbatical; and CLAC cleaners at Holland Christian Homes in Brampton, Ontario, if they were told about it, and knew that somebody was speaking up for the wretched of the earth on matters that affected their shrinking pension plan too, because even the Canadian government cannot independently set interest rates since workers and managers everywhere are caught up in a supra-multi-national world Juggernaut where good and evil battle furiously not only for your purse but for our very lives: if ordinary workers could catch a glimpse of what we little people are globally embroiled in, they could have a taste of jubilee as they continue to mop the floors.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien's brief speech to the United Nations General Assembly (New York, September 16, 2002) on the occasion of plenary debate on "New Partnership for Africa's Development" (NEPAD) included this point: "Agricultural subsidies in rich nations remain a fundamental obstacle to African development. . . . These huge supports put a strain on treasuries, depress prices and effectively shut out producers from developing countries. Canada calls on developed nations to make the elimination of such subsidies a top priority."

To take the time to know and understand an antagonist is an act of love which God might use somehow, because such love takes seriously that behind the raucous rhetoric and often brutal tactical moves may lie a leader with a secular social conscience in thrall to an ideology that runs away with his humanity. CLAC's battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities of this world which waste human flesh and blood! (Ephesians 6:10-12).

And when CLAC representatives must try to explain to paternalistic Christian employers who feel their God-given authority is wrongfully challenged when a co-determinative policy is put forward as the mature way for the redeemed to act, it may be, as Proverbs puts it, like "raking together live coals of fire on their heads" (Proverbs 25:22). But even in occasional failure, if as a Christian labour association you have loved the enemies by speaking the truth for employed workers to be done restorative justice in God's world (Ephesians 4:15-16), you may count on receiving a hint of the Lord's "Well done, faithful rep, for your unrewarded efforts; receive my quiet anointing of grace for continuing on the job of eliciting jubilee" (Matthew 25:14-30).

(2) Witness to the government to do what is just. In directing followers of Christ to pursue the shalom of the secular city, beside learning to love one's enemies, God asks a Christian labour association to call the governing state to administer the commonweal for working citizens, and especially for the poor, those women, children, and men who cannot manage to bring together food and shelter, clothing, and employment that affords true self respect in which they can exercise their God-created responsibilities.

Most people intuitively recognize that a church, synagogue, Muslim, and Sikh fellowship is by nature a different kind of institution than the nation state, and have different limited tasks. People also usually realize that a business enterprise with labour and management components is a different kind of institution than a government with legislative, judicial, and executive officials elected with power to enforce laws. The trouble comes in how to define the tasks of the different institutions and to decide how they are respectively interrelated.

One reason our society at large is seething with tensions and absence of peace is that the specific tasks of various institutions are ill determined, confused, wrongly subjugated one to the other, or are thought to be not interrelated. It is historically incorrect to mistake Abraham Kuyper's concept of "sphere sovereignty" for the Conservatist claim that church and state and business and school are "separated" and should have nothing to do with one another, as if the state should not audit the charity accounts of the church, and bishops have no place in calling upon the government to take part in housing the homeless.

Kuyper's correlative notion of "sphere universality" entails that each distinctive institution properly serves every other societal institution with its particular task, but limits its service from intruding upon the other institution's zone of authority and competence. So the state should set standards of literacy for schools, but schools decide curricularly how to generate literacy citizens need to have; businesses may request workers wear clothing fitting for a certain job, but cross the line if they demand you support a certain political party.

It is all much more complicated, but one point I want to make is that the God-given task of a governing state, as I understand it, is to do public corrective and enabling justice for everyone regardless of your faith fellowship and whether you have the money to pay for a lawyer. And when the federal, provincial, or municipal government makes a bad law, for example, a bad labour law, then faith fellowships need to pray out loud about it, and a labour union has to go to court to reform and get the law rewritten.

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeals recently upheld (May 2002) the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia which upheld the Nova Scotia Labour Relations Board interpretation of the provincial statute concerning the construction industry in that province which declares that only the "fourteen international skilled trade or craft unions all with headquarters in Washington, D.C." have jurisdiction in the Nova Scotia "construction industry"; so there is "no room for CLAC," since technically CLAC Local 154 is by definition of the act not a "trade union" in Nova Scotia construction because it is not one of the fourteen. (Ruling N.S.J. No. 259, 2000 NSCA 73, Docket: CA 177004, by Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Case: Construction and Allied Union (CLAC) Local 154 v. Nova Scotia.)

Talk about totalitarian closed shop exclusion of fibre optic cable labourers of a bona fide Canadian trade union everywhere else in Canada! This signal injustice done by the Nova Scotia Labour Relations Board and the original provincial legislation needs to be overturned, just as Chief Justice J. C. McRuer overturned the Ontario Labour Relations Board decision denying CLAC accreditation within Ontario in 1963.

Can you imagine the jubilee excitement ahead in fighting this arduous, very expensive battle for the justice of allowing in Canada, including Nova Scotia, a plurality of labour unions—no monopoly headquartered in Washington, D.C.—so that deeply different, faith-different conceptions and practices toward work may be exercised in the Canadian workplace! Citizens for Public Justice, Institute for Christian Studies, Christian Courier, Christian Farmers Federation, Christian Business Federation, Christian colleges, churches, and other faith groupings concerned about just-doing should be rallied—each in their particular universes of discourse—to stand up for this fundamental freedom of association and responsible labour to work, to face not the fist of high-priced, coerced silence, but to be given the peace of sharing good work with skilled neighbours.

Jubilee will attend this difficult endeavour because the struggle is not for CLAC "to get its rights," but for CLAC to protect and do justice for the weak who simply are prepared to be worthy of their hire (Philippians 2:4, Colossians 3:23-24). This goes to the core of what makes CLAC tick: we do not run "hiring halls" which make workers beholden to the controlling union rather than to the employer, but CLAC will help unemployed meet prospective hiring employers; CLAC puts "binding arbitration" for unresolved disputes before a strike threat, since you don't go to war to make a genuine peace; and CLAC wants room for a more European approach to labour relations where labour leaders, management CEOs, and relevant government officials sit down together to plan an industry-wide sector for the next five years, which allows a Christian labour union and a socialist labour union to work side by side on the same job, rather than have to buy into the American power play of winner-take-all.

Standard rules in Canada (derived from AFL-CIO practices in the United States) allow only one union per trade to represent workers at a given enterprise, and often include control of subcontracting work. Jurisdictional disputes occur as to which craft union controls which phase of the work (Does the plumbers' union or the pipe-fitters' union lay the connections from the apartment building to the main outside line?).

CLAC organizes all workers in a given workplace instead of only electricians or only welders or only carpenters. Such "wall-to-wall" organization of the work force in a given enterprise avoids jurisdictional arguments, and assures the employer of no work-stoppage because of dispute with one single trade.

In Europe normally the labour unions with different faith orientations show a more conciliatory (still competitive) attitude toward one another because they form a united labour front in arriving at a three-way joint agreement with representatives of management and the government for a large industrial sector. Strikes are less frequent in Europe because of this three-way, planned periodic arrangement.

The Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) in October 2000 challenged the CLC rule that workers are locked into one certain trade union permanently, and declared that workers should be able to leave one union and join another! The CAW is now presently angling for a sort of "wall-to-wall" organizing setup in Nova Scotia that would have their auto workers union include construction workers—precisely where CLAC has been excluded!

It is so that you cannot legislate "morality"; but you can make what is wrong legal. And that is certainly an occasion when Caesar needs to be given what belongs to Caesar (Matthew 22:15-22)! Christ did not mean: pay your taxes on time and keep your mouth shut. The Bible means: go after the unjust judges with the persistence of the wronged widow in the parable, and ask for vindication to work freely in this country; and the Lord shall hear that passionate request (Luke 18:1-8).

I know CLAC cannot singlehandedly effect just-doing over-all in Canada. But the Lord has done wonderful things in 50 short years with you men and women. I know too there is difference of opinion among us on the regulating role the state should take toward a country's economic life, especially now when international corporate financial transactions and fluctuating prices of oil and gasoline frequently override national competencies to control them. I personally think provincial governments abdicate their office of standing on guard for citizens when they fail to keep public utilities, public transit and transportation, a public postal system: fail to keep them public not-for-profit services (not-for-loss either), but "privatize" such matters and convert them into "for-profit" enterprises—which willy-nilly turns us citizens who need these essential services into customers, who then vote them out of office after the bills go up, and the assets are stripped from the commonweal. Meanwhile, the unemployed citizens sit in the cold without gas heat, they walk, and don't write letters. . . .

Serving the poor. I close with a note about the poor I mentioned.

CLAC is a labour union, not a political party. Everyone of us as citizens still has to face the returning Lord at Judgment Day on whether we heard the cries of the poor for public justice. As CLAC we especially need to hear the cries of the poor in Babylon for bread, for employment. It is a marvellous opening to participate in jubilee on the job.

I don't mean only simple acts of redemptive generous kindness like a masseuse tithing time to massage indigent paraplegics so their cramped, knotted muscled bodies can relax momentarily and pulsate wholesomely; like a designer of cafeteria kitchens who takes extra time to plan the crucial sequential flow from refrigerators to ovens to serving bins to basins, to save steps and facilitate flawless rhythm for the servers; like an artist who makes a TV ad for Easter Seals with unsentimental imaginativity, asking support for those "who read with their fingers"; like an apprentice chaplain in a nursing home who softly plays an ancient German hymn tune on a native wood flute for an old woman who has maintained a catatonic silence for months, and her lips suddenly break into a thin smile as she begins to hum along: there can be jubilee, the mysterious presence of God's grace, showing up on all kinds of jobs when God's people give away peace to the neighbour.

I don't take the politicized line that Christ prioritizes the poor for special treatment, but I do hear the Bible say the poor represent Christ! (Matthew 25:31-46) And poverty in Babylon (or Laodicea) is not just about money, but is a matter of the least important, the little ones in society being incapacitated, stymied, ignored, or robbed from acting humanly. We need to find ways to employ the unemployed, the underemployed, or at least give them hope of being extricated from the historical pit where they are in Canadian cities and around the world. Labour unions, governments, churches, schools, media: all need to lend a hand—there is work to be done.

So I am proud CLAC is active in the World Confederation of Labour speaking up to the IMF about social justice in foreign places, and assisting independent trade unions struggling for a place to provide normative work in Eastern Europe, South and Latin America, and elsewhere in the Babylons of today. I am excited that CLAC has brokered Northern Hire Agreements at the Ekati mine and throughout sites in the Northwest Territories which includes a sizeable Metis, Inuit and aboriginal membership, since until some kind of remedial justice and partnering work goes on between us kabluna and aboriginal Canadians there will be stigmata of curse upon the land.

I thank God that CLAC has had the sensitivity and strength for organizing nurses and health care workers, those who are often considered less important, let's say, than surgeons; and I hope you go out of your way to unite those neglected workers who really need protection, like security guards, part-time assistants, shift workers. I deeply respect the effort CLAC stewards and representatives make on an on-going basis for the basics of safety, health, environment protection, computer literacy at CLAC Training Centres in Edmonton, Chatham, and elsewhere, and in the slow, step-by-step forming of new workers strange to the mind of Christ as together you formulate workplace agreements where what is "Christian" may seem nebulous to those who are "poor," especially if they make $30 an hour in heavy construction. But the "Christian" spirit is proved in the pudding of coming through for God's presence in these daily basics.

CLAC Representative Andrew Regnerus told me of trying to convince a worker to put the prospective raise in the agreement package into the labourer's pension plan rather than into his take-home paycheck.

"But the extra money means a case of beer a month I wouldn't have!"

"Money in your pension plan does not figure into the 1.4% of gross pay that goes to union dues. Believe me, it's better for you to put the raise into the pension plan so you will be able to have a can of beer when you no longer can work."

"You're telling me to do something which is less good for you Christian representatives?" Quizzical. "Okay."

To me that is Christian labour organizing in the rough—a genuine touch of educational jubilee on the job.

God alone knows what is in store for CLAC. Tonight is a veritable taste of jubilee, surplus grace.

If the Bible in your constitution remains a live, Spirit-filling directive for you third generation of labour leaders, and you work heartily for the shalom of the inhabitants of Babylon as obedient servants of the Lord, despite whatever persecution and tears come your way, nothing will be able to separate your generation and those who follow you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, who shall continue to bless you with a peace that surpasses figuring it out (John 14:27, Ephesians 3:14-19): jubilee on the job (Romans 8:14-17, I Corinthians 15:58).

Calvin Seerveld
Calvin Seerveld

Calvin G. Seerveld is Professor Emeritus in Philosophical Aesthetics at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, and the author of several influential books, including Rainbows for the Fallen World.


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