The Yardstick – “The Laity’s Role in Economic and Political Action”

Striker_Huelga sign.jpg

Picketer with a "Viva la Huelga!" sign during the Coachella Valley Strike in California, c. 1970s. 

Courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University.

In late November 1968, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement regarding farm labor that, while it voiced support for fair wages and better livelihoods for farm workers, stopped short of endorsing the Delano grape strike/boycott. This endorsement had been diligently sought by Chavez and supporters of the UFW, including the National Catholic Reporter and numerous lower ranking clergy.

This latter group included Monsignor George Higgins, who used his column The Yardstick on Dec. 2, 1968, to express his agreement with the National Catholic Reporter that the bishops “would have made news, the news would have had impact, the workers would have had real help – and the principles the bishops endorsed would have been a lot clearer.” Higgins, though, stated that the statement with or without the boycott would not have made much difference, as the work of agencies within the Church on their own would not improve the situation for farm workers.

Instead, Higgins said real change had to come from the laity and the local priests, since at that time it was easier “to fret about what the Bishops say or fail to say on controversial matters of public policy than to do something practical about these issues on our own initiative, regardless of what the Bishops say or do, or fail to say or do, about them.” In short, Higgins was asking the laity to take charge in the practical applications of Church teachings on social justice.

YS-Laity Role.pdf

"The Laity's Role in Economic and Political Action"
Courtesy of ACUA





1. What does Higgins mean by “pinch hitting”?

2. What is the significance of Higgins taking the position that the bishops should have gone further in endorsing the boycott and farmworkers?