This past week, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, addressed the 150th Trades Union Conference in Manchester, England. As ACNS reported, Welby used the speech – which he framed with the Magnificat and the same text from Amos which Martin Luther King used for his “I Have a Dream” speech – as an opportunity to raise the issue of wage inequality, and to challenge his listeners to help end homelessness and hunger.
Unions must have a vision of a just and a righteous society. Power and influence are not zero-sum games – when we seek the common good all benefit. The world in which we live at the moment, in which for people at lower levels of income, real earnings are virtually the same as they were almost twenty years ago (rising by just 1.7%) and lower by 7% than at the crash (as was reported on the BBC this morning), is matched by the 11% increase in FTSE 100 chief executives’ remuneration over the last twelve months. We need genuine living wages that enable people to save more than ten pounds a month, if they’re lucky, and put an end to the days when replacing a fridge or a car tyre is a household crisis. Unions are crucial to achieving real living wages.
Five years ago, I said to the Chief Executive of Wonga that I wanted credit unions to compete him out of business. Well he’s gone! Today I dream that governments, now and in the future, put church-run food banks out of business. I dream of empty night shelters. I dream of debt advice charities without clients. When justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, the food banks close, the night shelters are empty, families and households are hopeful of better lives for themselves and their children, money is not a tyrant, and justice is seen.
Welby also criticized large, multinational corporations which bear significantly smaller tax burdens than their size suggests they ought:
Not paying taxes speaks of the absence of commitment to our shared humanity, to solidarity and justice. If you earn money from a community, you should pay your share of tax to that community. I was in business, and I know that, within limits, its right and proper for people to arrange their tax affairs, and for companies to do so. But when vast companies like Amazon, and other online traders, the new industries, can get away with paying almost nothing in tax, there is something wrong with the tax system. They don’t pay a real living wage, so the tax payer must support their workers with benefits. And having leached off the tax payer once they don’t pay for our defence, for security, for stability, for justice, for health, for equality, for education. Then they complain of an undertrained work force, from the education they have not paid for, and pay almost nothing for apprenticeships. Those are only a fraction of the costs of aggressive tax management.
But this not a vision for government alone. Governments of any party, all parties, will fail, act foolishly, be far away. Only partnership between governments, civil society – including unions and churches – business and community, can heal the sicknesses of society now and in the future.
The full text of the Archbishop’s speech is available here.
However, the it seems the speech was not received particularly well in the British press. Sky News, The Guardian, and The Telegraph all report that the Church of England offers jobs of the exact sort against Welby was speaking. From The Telegraph:
Individual cathedrals and dioceses organise their staffing independently of the Archbishop or the national church.
The Dean of Norwich, the Very Revd Jane Hedges, said: “At Norwich Cathedral zero-hour contracts are given to those of our staff who choose them because it suits their lifestyle like, for example, students and people who are retired and want a flexible part-time job.
“We take the welfare and wellbeing of our staff very seriously.”
A spokesman for the Diocese of London said: “…Our guidance to parishes… makes it clear that a zero hours contract may be appropriate when the work is ad-hoc or casual… Both parties should have the ability to reject work and that individuals should be able to work elsewhere.”
And from The Guardian:
However, it has now been revealed that at least two Church of England cathedrals are advertising jobs on zero-hours contracts, while the church has confirmed that the retailer Amazon is one of its 20 biggest investments worldwide.
… Reverend Neal Terry, from the parish of St Mary Magdalene in Longbenton, North Tyneside, said the archbishop did not “exert direct managerial authority” over cathedrals and churches.
“The simple fact is that the C of E is more of a collegiate structure of willing organisations… Justin Welby can advise and offer moral authority or the General Synod can approve policy or have provisions passed into law; but he can no more ‘order’ a cathedral what to do than could you or I.”
The Guardian’s article goes on to note that the Archbishop was fully aware of the possibility that taking a stand on a social issue would likely result in negative press:
Before taking to the stand the archbishop had signalled that his speech could be controversial. He tweeted a link to his blogpost titled: “Is mixing faith and politics worth the risk?” with the tweet: “I’m often told that archbishops should ‘stick to religious and spiritual matters’ and ‘stay out of politics’. I have a feeling today might be another one of those days, so I’m just going to leave this here.”