The Writers Guild of America is on strike, which for us means, first of all, no new episodes of The Colbert Report. The late night talk shows are the first to be affected by the strike. Stephen is a writer and a member of the guild himself, and he has always been quick to credit and support the staff of writers who work so hard every day to bring humor and creative vision to the show. At his book signings, he always credits the talented staff who worked on I Am America with him, even though his name alone is on the cover.
The main issue in the contract negotiations has been the question of fair payments to the writers for products such as dvd’s and especially the new media, including downloads on sites such as iTunes and ad revenue for online clips (including all those wonderful clips we’ve enjoyed here, courtesy of Comedy Central and its parent company Viacom).
The Catholic Church has a long tradition of supporting the rights of workers, and we here at Catholic Colbert would like to express our solidarity with the Writers Guild. In the interests of their economic well-being and our own enjoyment of the entertainment they provide, we hope and pray for a just and speedy resolution of the conflict.
In the meantime, here are some thoughts from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical On Human Work, written on the 90th anniversary of Rerum Novarum, Leo XIII’s groundbreaking document on the rights of workers:
All these rights, together with the need for the workers themselves to secure them, give rise to yet another right: the right of association, that is to form associations for the purpose of defending the vital interests of those employed in the various professions. These associations are called labour or trade unions. The vital interests of the workers are to a certain extent common for all of them; at the same time however each type of work, each profession, has its own specific character which should find a particular reflection in these organizations.
In a sense, unions go back to the mediaeval guilds of artisans, insofar as those organizations brought together people belonging to the same craft and thus on the basis of their work. However, unions differ from the guilds on this essential point: the modern unions grew up from the struggle of the workers-workers in general but especially the industrial workers-to protect their just rights vis-a-vis the entrepreneurs and the owners of the means of production. Their task is to defend the existential interests of workers in all sectors in which their rights are concerned.
Catholic social taeching does not hold that unions are no more than a reflection of the “class” structure of society and that they are a mouthpiece for a class struggle which inevitably governs social life. They are indeed a mouthpiece for the struggle for social justice, for the just rights of working people in accordance with their individual professions. However, this struggle should be seen as a normal endeavour “for” the just good: in the present case, for the good which corresponds to the needs and merits of working people associated by profession; but it is not a struggle “against” others. Even if in controversial questions the struggle takes on a character of opposition towards others, this is because it aims at the good of social justice, not for the sake of “struggle” or in order to eliminate the opponent. It is characteristic of work that it first and foremost unites people. In this consists its social power: the power to build a community. In the final analysis, both those who work and those who manage the means of production or who own them must in some way be united in this community. In the light of this fundamental structure of all work-in the light of the fact that, in the final analysis, labour and capital are indispensable components of the process of production in any social system-it is clear that, even if it is because of their work needs that people unite to secure their rights, their union remains a constructive factor of social order and solidarity, and it is impossible to ignore it.
One method used by unions in pursuing the just rights of their members is the strike or work stoppage, as a kind of ultimatum to the competent bodies, especially the employers. This method is recognized by Catholic social teaching as legitimate in the proper conditions and within just limits. In this connection workers should be assured the right to strike, without being subjected to personal penal sanctions for taking part in a strike. While admitting that it is a legitimate means, we must at the same time emphasize that a strike remains, in a sense, an extreme means. It must not be abused; it must not be abused especially for “political” purposes.
Much more on Catholic social teaching and labor issues here.
And, as we’ve come to expect, No Fact Zone is doing their usual excellent and professional job of covering the news of the strike as it affects The Colbert Report and The Daily Show.