From the successful unionization of Starbucks baristas in Buffalo to striking actors and writers in Hollywood, support for labor unions is on the rise in a post-pandemic world. A Gallup poll from August reported 67% of Americans approve of unions and believe they help their members and the economy. In the UK, trade unions are entering a new “golden age” as union membership grows for the fourth year in a row.

Historically, the church has played a significant role in the establishment of unions on both sides of the Atlantic. Many of the 19th century union founders and presidents in the UK were Methodist ministers. They patterned their trade union meetings after Methodist church services, complete with hymns and prayers, and borrowed the denomination’s tiered structure as an organizational model.

“Historically, the church has played a significant role in the establishment of unions on both sides of the Atlantic.”

At the same time, U.S. Baptists supported America’s burgeoning labor movement. State Baptist newspapers argued workers had the right to organize as long as they did not harm property or jeopardize public welfare. The democratic nature of labor unions resonated with the Baptist belief in the equality of all members within the congregation.

In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. called for churches to “stop talking so much about religion and start doing something about it,” including fighting the evils of “monopoly-capitalism,” which he said churches had sanctioned far too long. King was participating in the Memphis sanitation worker strike when he was assassinated.

More than 50 years later, the prophetic spirit of his fight lives on. In 2008, a Smithfield pork processing plant voted to unionize thanks in part to the work of William Barber and other clergy. The AFL-CIO partners with clergy of all faiths to promote fair labor practices and the right to unionize.

But what about the clergy themselves? Could pastors and priests soon be walking a picket line?

Read the entire article to find out more at Baptist News Global.