*10/20/2014 Update: I will say now through interactions with them that the Knights of Columbus are, in some cases, a Catholic influence on trade unions in America!
The rise of trade unions in Poland took on a very different identity than those in America. “Solidarity”, the movement of manual laborers in Poland, all drew their strength and inspiration from Catholicism. It was no coincidence that the Pope at the time was the first Slav to be in the chair of St. Peter, Karol Wojtyla. On the ground in Poland, simultaneous to his pontificate, were numerous Polish priests and Bishops who encouraged the solidarity movement. Among them was Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko, an invalid with a particular calling to preach and minister to the laborers forming “solidarity”. But again, what differentiated this movement from that in America? It seems to me that the main difference was communism in Poland vs. greedy tycoons in the USA. Communism proved to be a much greater threat worldwide and Poland rallied around the Church for help. Though numerous American immigrants attempted to do the same, the threat of greed from individuals had less of an enduring effect on the origins of unions. So, in America, unions have fallen into the hands of lobbyists and masons. In Poland, especially with the martyrdom of Fr. Jerzy at the hands of secret police, “solidarity” remains connected to the Church.
Ignatius Press made an excellent film on the life of Fr. Jerzy, called “Popieluszko”. Old footage of Wojtyla is shown throughout the film, corresponding with St. John Paul II’s visits to his country in 1979-80s, the heart of the years in which Fr. Jerzy ministered until his martyrdom in 1984. A few speeches that are shown to the characters of the movie on television are:
To Poland the Church brought Christ, the key to understanding that great and fundamental reality that is man. For man cannot be fully understood without Christ. Or rather, man is incapable of understanding himself fully without Christ. He cannot understand who he is, nor what his true dignity is, nor what his vocation is, nor what his final end is. He cannot understand any of this without Christ.
And again at Mass the following day:
Is it not Christ's will, is it not what the Holy Spirit disposes, that this Pope, in whose heart is deeply engraved the history of his own nation from its very beginning and also the history of the brother peoples and the neighbouring peoples, should in a special way manifest and confirm in our age the presence of these peoples in the Church and their specific contribution to the history of Christianity?..Is it not the design of Providence that he should reveal the developments that have taken place here in this part of Europe in the rich architecture of the temple of the Holy Spirit?..Is it not Christ's will, is it not what the Holy Spirit disposes, that this Polish Pope, this Slav Pope, should at this precise moment manifest the spiritual unity of Christian Europe?
Alongside Wojtyla, many priests and bishops of Poland knew that God’s will was intent on breaking the communist will, but through peace, work, and insistence on human dignity and conscience. Fr. Jerzy preaches homily after homily on the conscience of man in the face of oppressive government, imprisonment, martial law, etc. He informs leaders of the “solidarity” movement, including one scene in a Church with Lech Walesa, of their rights before false accusations of the government.
Some men in my family have worked for trade unions for their entire careers. Compared with Polish laborers, they have little to no understanding of their dignity in Christ, their identity as rooted in baptism (non-Catholics), or the fact that their unions are run by powers that have learned little to nothing from “solidarity”. They do not see the radical turn that their historically immigrant-based political party has taken toward socialism, as though trade unions were somehow always headed toward that end. On the contrary, in Poland they grew up in opposition to that conclusion: Trade unions are the polar opposite of socialism! Sadly, unions in America are strictly secular entities. In Poland, they engage the common man in a deep legacy of holiness, martyrdom and sainthood. Fr. Jerzy is a witness to such an identity, and may his beatification process continue with ever greater miracles in our day!