July 1972 · Vol. 1 No. 3 · pp. 104–5 

Book Review

Labour Problems in Christian Perspective

ed. John Redekop. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972. 364 pages.

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

Edited by John Redekop, former Pacific College faculty member and presently Associate Professor of Political Science at Waterloo Lutheran University, Labour Problems consists of 26 articles addressed to themes ranging from “The Place of Unions,” Ethics in Bargaining” and “The Public Interest” to “Where’s the Church?” 18 of the contributors come from Canada, 6 are associated with The Guide or organizations which stand at the forefront of Christian thinking in connection with the Christian and labour.

While all the contributors speak from a basic theistic stance, not all reflect agreement on the role of unions, or on the analysis of problems. Some are political leaders (Sen. Len Jordan of Idaho, NDP leader T.C. Douglas, MP Leonard Reilly); some are academics (Stewart Crysdale in Sociology, John Redekop in Political Science, Gerard Dion in Industrial Relations); some are union leaders (Ben Baerg, Joseph Beirne, Marcel Pepin); some are newspapermen (Harry Flannery, George Schuyler); some are churchmen (William Fitch, Joel Nederhood, Leslie Tarr). The lone spokesman for management (W. Maxey Jarman) makes little contribution, citing Matthew 20, 21 and 25 as indicative of scriptural teaching that employers “had the right to determine the wages they paid to individuals.” (p. 42) (The parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt. 20) was also used by liberal theologians in the ’30’s to demonstrate the necessity for guaranteed annual wages! Surely management should be able to provide more competent spokesmen than Jarman!) None of the contributors is a woman, indicating that those areas of employment in which women are normally found are not unionized, and that women working in organized labour do not generally achieve leadership positions.

The insights of the articles vary in perceptivity. The majority take as their presupposition the legitimacy of the adversary system in which union and management see each other as enemies where the most that can be achieved is a temporary compromise; that this has led to violence in America’s past is laid solely at the door of management (Joseph Beirne), but the deeper implication of hatred engendered by the strike and lockout are not probed, with the exception of the spirited attack on “the status quo” of “strikes and strife,” contributed by Gerald Vandezande. Vandezande calls for a new (i.e. biblical) evaluation of the meaning of work and for the rejection of the adversary system as the model on which labour-management negotiate agreements. That such a model exists constitutes the burden of Richard Forbes’ concluding article; however, it would have been more helpful had Forbes, rather than giving theoretical frameworks, itemized the actual instances where his model (the Christian Labour Association of Canada) has been certified as bargaining agent.

An attempt at a definition of work is Joel Nederhood’s “Work in {105} Biblical Perspective,” where some preliminary comments relate to the cultural mandate (Genesis 3 and Colossians 3); the article is disappointingly brief. This is unfortunate because an understanding of “work” constitutes the starting point for understanding our society. Another gap in the book relates to the place of “labour” in a leisure-oriented society where through machines man’s usefulness is relegated to being a consumer rather than a producer. What this will effect in future labour-management relations, particularly in their interplay with the political scene, is of acute importance; it would have been helpful to have had a psychologist speak to that issue.

Labour Problems bring together a wide spectrum of contributors, most of whom appear to be long on analysis and short on solutions. That in itself may be symptomatic of all too many “Christian” perspectives!

Vern Ratzlaff
MBBC, Winnipeg