By Peter Nolan
Many Catholic school children will leave school with a better understanding of social and industrial problems if a special course designed by Fr. Rodger Charles, S.J.; proves successful.
Fr. Charles, an Industrial Sociologist, said over 50 schools had already expressed interest in the course, which outlines the principles of social, political and economic justice in their origins, development and application. The social teaching is drawn from scripture, Papal Encyclicals and Vatican Council documents.
Fr. Charles runs the Institute of Social Ethics in Farm Street, London, and worked on building sites before entering the Jesuits at the age of 25. He impressed me as someone who had a very practical grasp of the problems of industrial relations.
"I remember when 1 was young in Leeds walking along streets where one could actually smell the poverty, the people packed into small terraced houses," he said.
A Socialist, he does not condemn capitalism but believes the community must be the judge of what is socially responsible.
"The Church does not condemn private ownership or the wage system. Capitalism is positively a good thing when the unions are given the right to operate freely," he said.
He is opposed to the Industrial Relations Act because it ignores the traditions of the labour movement. He believes it has increased the influence of left-wing unionists to such a point that moderates dare not raise their voice.
He agrees a thoroughgoing overhaul of industrial relations is needed, but the existing system should be respected. "One should not destroy the car because engine parts need replacing," he said. "Any improvement must come through cooperation with the trade unions."
Fr. Charles said he had made a study of industrial relations for the past 20 years, the last three of which had been the most difficult.
He did not think political parties could provide a solution. "Parties tend to look for immediate shortterm answers, rather than root causes," he said. The Labour Party's original proposal for an Industrial Relations Act followed two major strikes.
A close follower of the negotiations leading to the present act, he saw a huge gulf in comprehension visible between employers and unions. "What I see in industrial relations is total myopia," he said.
Fr. Charles' frequent references to Vatican documents quickly dispel any suspicion he is a way out "left".
He declared himself a firm believer in dogma and regretted attempts by individual priests to water down Papal pronouncements, as also the instant attention commanded by anyone ready to criticise the institutional Church.
He believes Catholic social teaching could provide guidelines acceptable to both unions and employers between whom "a basis for agreement is fast diminishing."