While researching for another article I was disappointed to find that a group identifying as Catholic professionals list that on February 9, 2012 a Charles Baird will be presenting a class on “Why Government-Sector Unions are Illegitimate.” This is so disappointing because this person is obviously unqualified to give the Judeo-Christian perspective on labor unions.
We do not have to look far in Torah to find public sector unions, or at least a group of men working as a public sector union. Exodus 4 relates how Moses went from Jethro, his Father-in-Law returned to Pharaoh. His first stop was not to Pharaoh, but to the Elders of the people.
וַיֵּלֶךְ מֹשֶׁה, וְאַהֲרֹן; וַיַּאַסְפוּ, אֶת-כָּל-זִקְנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
“Went Moses and Aaron, and gathered all the elders of the sons of Israel.” Exodus 4:29
With the elders of the sons of Israel, they then go to the sons of Israel and related the words of the Personal Name about their coming salvation. Exodus 5:1 next tells us that they go to the political head of state and act as a collective bargaining group, negotiating for religious time off. Being a bad faith negotiator, like we recently saw in Wisconsin with the idolatrous governor there, Pharaoh refused to negotiate. What follows is an extreme example of a strike, led, not by the people, but by God, with very negative consequences for Pharaoh.
The people gathered, in fancy Latin, they formed a union to negotiate with Pharaoh, representing the government sector. God not only allows this government sector union, he commands it. This is at the heart of our Judeo-Christian faith. This leads to Passover and the escape from Egypt. Passover is the forerunner of our Eucharist. This is central to our faith and includes government sector labor unions. We do not get far in Torah before we find that government sector labor unions are very extremely legitimate and commanded.
These elders are found in II Samuel 17:15-16 which states, “Hushai told the priests Zadok and Abiathar: “This is the counsel Ahithophel gave Absalom and the elders of Israel. This is what I counseled. Send a warning to David immediately: ‘Do not spend the night at the fords near the wilderness, but cross over without fail. Otherwise the king and all the people with him will be destroyed.”
Not only are the elders present, but they are present as representatives of the sons of Israel to leader of the government sector. These elders are present at the time of Ezra and the men of the Great Assembly, Ezra 5:5, “The eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, they were not delayed during the time a report went to Darius. A written order returned concerning the matter.”
Presumably, it was the elders of the people giving the report, again to the leader of the government sector. In New Testament times, the elders were still present, however co-opted by the political leadership. Luke 9:22 states, “Jesus said, “The Ben Adam must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the grammarians, be killed and on the third day be raised.”
The complaint is that these elders were co-opted, not dismissed from their positions. Matthew 23:1-3 states, “Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, “The grammarians and the Separate Ones have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Do and guard all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.”
It should also be pointed out that when Jesus argues before the Pharisees and the Sadducees, that he is acting in the role of a union chief before the government authorities. To deny legitimacy to unions and their chiefs is to deny legitimacy to Jesus and all the prophets before him who argued for people’s rights to the government representatives.
Although not explicitly mentioned, it is safe to assume that Jesus also had them in mind when referring to this authority. They still have authority and it continues to come from Moses. The issue then and now revolves around the Judeo-Christian understanding of human nature, and what a Pharisee was and is.