The Intolerance of Neutrality

The National Board of Christian Labour Association of Canada welcomes the opportunity to use the pages of this publication to acquaint its readers with some of the recent developments in our organization. We believe that it is a matter of the utmost importance that we face the question of the task and place of the Christian in an increasingly man-centered society.

The C.L.A.C. was established with the conviction that we must work in God’s creation as his servants, in humble submission to his Word. It takes part in the concrete affairs of labour and industry and establishes local organizationwhich function as active trade unions wherever workers desire to be organized in a Christian organization.

The C.L.A.C. has a short but eventful history. Especially since our full-time agent began his work, we have noticed much progress in the numerical growth of our organization. the work of publicizing its aims, and, foremost, the growth of a spirit of unity and dedication among us. These are indeed heartening signs for which we arc grateful, but we are well aware of the fact that we still face many challenges and duties. We live in serious times, but they are also times of glorious opportunities in God’s service. Amidst the purposelessness, shallowness, and even despair of our times we may ring out the call: Life is worth living and work is worth doing for him who is the Creator and Redeemer of life.

In this article we wish to present our reaction to the Ontario Labour Relations Board’s last decision to refuse our request for certification. In 1954 and in 1958 the C.L.A.C. was refused certification on the grounds that its Christian character served to impose restrictions on eligibility for membership and was therefore discriminatory. In the fall of 1960, the C.L.A.C., after making some changes in its constitution and by-laws, again applied for certification on behalf of an affiliated trade local. After wailing more than a year, we received another negative reply. This reply is a lengthy document in which the Board reviews the past decisions and gives its reasons for again deciding in the negative. The length and contents of this document warrant careful study and reflection on our part, for they clearly demonstrate the importance of the issues at stake.

The first part of the Board’s decision consists of a rehearsal of the two earlier applications and their consequent dismissals. The Board makes much of the fact that on those occasions conflicting testimony was given by the C.L.A.C. spokesmen. At the time of the first hearing it was asked whether a Mohammedan would be accepted as a member of the C.L.A.C. The answer was in the negative. During the second hearing, in 1957, the same question was asked, and then the reply was that anyone would be accepted as member. The C.L.A.C. also introduced evidence at that time in the form of a resolution of the National Executive Committee that the C.L.A.C. did not require prospective members to profess adherence to a religiOUS doctrine as a condition of membership. However, the Board stated in its negative decision that the conflict between the two statements “raised in their minds grave doubts as to which statement represented the true view of the Christian Labour Association of Canada.”

We cannot help but wonder whether the Board was not a bit prejudiced in refusing to accept the last statement. We wish to emphasize to the readers that the policy of the C.L.A.C. is indeed, as stated in the constitution and bylaws, that every applicant for membership is welcome to join our organization. It should be understood that the C.L.A.C., like every other organization, asks each member to pledge to uphold the constitution and by-laws and to faithfully fulfill the membership obligations. We leave the decision of joining or not joining to the individual worker.

The third application for certification took place in 1960. Before this application was submitted the C.L.A.C. had undergone a complete reorganization and had introduced several changes into its constitution and bylaws. The explicit statement: “No applicant for membership shall be refused by reason of colour, creed, race, or national origin” was incorporated in article 6 of the constitution. During: the hearings, the GL.A.C. explained in detail the changes that had taken place within the organization, and that the reference to the Biblical principles did not involve an ecclesiastical or theological creed or dogma. The C.L.A.C. representatives also testified that no discrimination had actually taken place.


In describing the essential characteristic of a trade union, the Labour Relations Board points out that “the collective bargaining of relations between employers and employees” is the essential mark of a union. In this connection the Board emphasizes the fact that since trade unions have exclusive bargaining rights it is evident that unions must be nondiscriminating in their membership requirements. The opportunity of membership must be made “equally available to all employees in the unit upon compliance with such rules as may be reasonably appropriate to the stability and usefulness of the organization’s function as a collective bargaining agent.”

It is evident from the general tenor of the entire document that the Board is committed to a particular view of a trade union. According to that view a trade union‘s activity is strictly limited to the regulation of the technical, factual details, such as wages and other working conditions, with which every reasonable person must be in agreement. It is the famous concept of neutrality that plays a dominant role in this viewpoint. It is thought that on the basis of this religious neutrality all men can equally participate in the affairs of a union.

As Christians we can never agree to such a concept of neutrality, for it means in effect that the authority of God and his laws are declared invalid for the practical affairs of labour unions. The Bible teaches that men roust be subservient in all things to him who is the Lord of life, and that in the way of obedience to him we may expect the necessities of life. We are convinced that the denial of this truth is responsible for so much disruption and disintegration in our society. By systematically denying the authority of God over human conduct and replacing this authority with a completely human authority (the majority) man has tried to turn things upside down.


We would now like to consider another aspect of this problem of the role of basic beliefs in the affairs of the labour unions. Everyone who is not content with superficial arguments will inevitably come to the conclusion that men are never merely busy with neutral facts and technical details. They are always in the process of selecting and interpreting facts, and this is not the least the case when they are dealing with the problems of righteousness and justice in human relations with the problem of the organization of our society. Man‘s objectives and standards are always determined by a set of beliefs about himself and the world, by some fundamental view of the whole.

It is not difficult to find ample proof that also the presentday labour unions have certain views and beliefs which playa predominant role in their affairs. They definitely have a philosophy of their own and they always act in accordance with such a fundamental philosophy. The fact that a large segment of the Canadian labour unions has identified itself with the aims of socialism and openly merged with the socialistic New Democratic Party is in disputable proof of the presence of a basic political, philosophical outlook and starting point. It should not be too difficult to perceive that the far·reaching principles and aims of socialism involve a definite way of looking at life and the world. The merger of the New Democratic Party and the Canadian Labour Congress should make it abundantly evident—if such evidence were still needed—that joining a union involves more than merely financial matters.

Since there are such far-reaching and basic issues at stake, there should be the possibility of disagreement with· out anyone’s being branded as a narrow.minded individual or being treated as an outcast. We for our part refuse to accept the man-centered ideas of the modern unions and refuse to support their socialistic, humanistic faith and objectives. To be sure, we do not dispute the right of existence of socialistic labour unions and parties, but we resent the efforts of those bodies to gain their ends by dictatorial  measures, for example, compulsory union membership. What makes it all the more distasteful to us is their claim of neutrality. We would appeal to all union men to be honest and to admit that fundamental beliefs and ideas playa role in their organizations -as well as in the C.L.A.C.—and, consequently, to respect the objections of those who honestly disagree. We consider it evidence of an intolerant attitude when unions claim impartiality and neutrality for themselves, and put the stamp of sectarianism on the Christian organization.

We present these views about this important issue because we believe that the Labour Board did not manage to extricate itself from the pitfalls of faith in a non-existent neutrality. It was not guided by an impartial view of the unions and did not present valid arguments in considering the request for certification of the C.L.A.C. local.


It is of interest to note the one· sided criterion the Board employs in its rejection of the C.L.A.C.’s request for certification. In the first place, the Board refuses to accept our denial of discrimination at face value. In the face of the lack of any evidence that people have been refused membership in the C.L.A.C., the Board leaves itself open to the suspicion that it was guided by a certain amount of prejudice against the C.L.A.C.

Secondly, the Board argues that there are really two ways by which discrimination takes place. The one is the obvious way by which membership is refused to certain people. The second and more subtle way is really the one with which the Board concerns itself. According to the Board, this type of discrimination takes place when an organization refers to God, the Bible, the Creator, divinely given laws, the custom of Scripture reading and prayer at its meetings. For there may be workers who, on account of their particular beliefs, would have objections to joining such an organization. We shall now make a few pertinent remarks about this definition of discrimination.

We do not deny that there may be some who object to joining an organization like the C.L.A.C. on the basis of their disagreement with its principles and aims. However, we are of the opinion that such people should not be forced to join the C.L.A.C., and that their position is no different from those who object to joining a so-called neutral union. The Board briefly considers this last possibility, but then hastens to say:

It would not appear, however, that such persons would be in any different position than persons who, because of their faith, object to receiving blood transfusions or joining the armed services.”

This statement is a typical example of the shallow reasoning throughout. For what does the Board prove by making this comparison? Nothing else than that these groups are merely lumped together to prove that they all belong to a minority group. But what does that prove? Does the Board intend to say that because all these groups belong to a minority their views and rights and freedoms need not be considered? This would indeed be a cynical attitude, but we cannot help draWing that conclusion, especially since the Board does not even attempt to show the essential likeness of these groups. If it is the intention of the Board to imply that objections to receiving blood transfusions and joining the armed services are invalid, it would appear to us that the Board is exceeding its jurisdiction. By merely classifying those who have objections to joining certain labour unions with the other two groups, the Board shows that it was rather desperate in its search for reasons to disqualify the C.L.A.C., and that it used some arguments without realizing their full implications. (The fact that we do not agree with the two groups mentioned by the Board is incidental to our arguments here; we merely wish to emphasize that indifferently brushing aside the rights of minorities is inconsistent with our constitutional rights.)


The Board writes in defense of the monopolistic and secular unions:

“If on account of certain precepts of their creed they (conscientious objectors) were dissuaded or excluded from joining a ‘neutral trade union,’ the rules of membership or practices of which did not purport and were not designated or calculated to select them for unequal treatment on the basis of their creed, it is difficult to conceive how such a ‘neutral union’ could be considered guilty of discrimination.”

However, it is apparent that such a statement is made on the basis of a subjective interpretation of the unions’ intentions. For it might well be that others have weighty objections against membership in such unions. Those who do not agree with the basis and aims of Christian organization should not be forced to join by means of compulsory membership. Similarly, workers who object to the principles and methods of a “neutral” labour organization should be able to refrain from joining or financially supporting such organizations.

If the Board wishes to define as discrimination the inability of some to join a Christian organization, it should also call the inability of others to join a “neutral” organization by the same name. We do not think that this definition of discrimination is correct, but we feel that the Board should be consistent in its use of this term. While explaining the meaning of discrimination, the Board uses a method which indicates that it is onesided in its opinion. At one time the Board takes to defending the position of those who might disagree with the C.L.A.C. However, when the Board discusses “neutral” labour unions, it takes upon itself to defend these organizations against possible objectors. This shift of position betrays the Board’s lack of impartiality so necessary for making fair decisions.


Let us now take a close look at the Board’s description of discrimination with respect to equality. The exclusive bargaining position of a trade union necessitates the need for equality in the opinion of the Board. However, all men are not equal in the sense that they hold similar views about social or political problems—or, more specifically, in the sense that they would all wish to join the same type of labour union. To bring about a kind of equality by means of compulsory unionism is proof of the influence of totalitarian thought. The C.L.A.C. realizes that this compulsion should not be applied to members of any labour union be it Christian or un-Christian.

It must seem strange to those who think tluougb slogans and shallow argument that a Christian organization, which consistently advocates voluntary unionism, is found guilty of discrimination, whereas the un-Christian unions which attempt to destroy the freedom of association by compulsory legislation, intimidation, and coercion, are declared innocent in this case.

This sort of upside down reasoning must seem particularly ironical to those who have personally suffered the loss of their jobs as a result of the dictatorial methods of some unions.


It is oue conviction that the only way out of this un· healthy situation lies in a return to a real freedom of organization; abolition of compulsory unionism in all its manifestations and the introduction of true industrial equality. By this equality we have in mind a more representative organization of the workers so that unions with different fundamental beliefs, such as Christian and unChristian, are allowed to operate alongside of each other. In this way we will be able to talk about democracy and equality and give some realistic contents to these words. The Board makes a Significant statement with which we can heartily agree:

“The freedom which people claim for themselves to believe in any religion or no religion, or to belong to any faith or to none, makes it impossible in our democratic and multi-religious society for one faitto obtain a monopoly on this freedom.’

All we ask from the Board is that it apply this statement to Christian and un-Christian organizations alike. We are aware that this concept of organizational democracy is a novel idea and will continue to receive much criticism, but those who are so ready to criticize should be aware that the present monopolistic position of the powerful unions is responsible for the smothering of a truly Christian testimony in this important area of society. Furthermore, it is a threat to the rights and freedoms of the workers.


It appears to be a popular view which holds that Christian organizations are born out of a religious bigotry and an unwillingness to cooperate. However, looking at the realities of life we make some startling discoveries. The C.L. A.C., which is a Christian organization, pleads for more tolerance in the form of a more democratic set-up. If we contrast this plea for tolerance with the intolerance of monopolistic unions and the Board, which seeks to disqualify Christian organizations, we might well ask: Who is really guilty of intolerance?

We will use a second instance to refute the accusation of intolerance. The C.L.A.C. has time and again made it clear that compulsory unionism cannot be justified. In other words, it advocates the toleration of disagreement and disapproves of compulsory unionism. Again, contrast this with the bitterness and force with which the labour unions deny the rights of dissenters and do not even hesitate to deprive workers, whose convictions do not allow them to join un-Christian unions, of their very livelihood. Again we might ask: Who is really intolerant now?


We have attempted to give the readers an explanation of our views regarding the Board’s decision. We believe that the Board has not made this decision on the basis of impartial justice, but on the basis of a humanistic faith in the validity of a mythical neutrality. This one-sided outlook has forced the Board to seek refuge in many subtle inconsistencies.

We might mention in passing that it seems to be some· what strange that in a country which states in its constitutional document, the Bill of Rights, that we recognize the supremacy of God, an organization which merely seeks to give some meaning to such statement in its practical affairs is considered out of place.

We do not doubt that the subject discussed in this article has to do with one of the fundamental problems of our time. It has to do with the freedom and opportunity to think and to act according to the demands of God’s Word. Therefore, it is directly related to freedom of religion. It will not be of much avail if we guarantee freedom of religion by way of a constitution or Bill of Rights if a certain group or governmental body can dictate to us what we should believe, and in how far we may seek to apply one beliefs. It is of paramount importance that we begin to realize the immense issue at stake. A nation which docs not counteract the unwholesome iufluence of un-Christian and totalitarian thought is undermining its very existence.

It is our conviction that we may not give up our struggle for existence, but, on the contrary, carryon to have justice prevail. We must do that by publicizing our legitimate aims and by means of seeking redress in the courts. Let us take fresh courage then and continue in faith, knowing that all power in heaven and upon earth belongs to Him who shall aid and strengthen us in a struggle which will also be to the benefit of our entire nation.