Billy Graham, “Big Business Evangelist”, is still Anti-union and touts Christ’s “Rugged Individualism”

I remember watching the Billy Graham crusades on television when I was an adolescent in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  A charismatic speaker, I remember being captivated by his speaking style and passion to the thousands of individuals who attended his crusades.  The theatricality of the final ten minutes, with hundreds of people singing “Just as I Am” as they approached Graham’s pulpit, was a spectacle to marvel.  He was the minister to the Presidents, with world wide recognition.

Graham’s talent, plus corporate dollars, helped build his worldwide business empire.  An empire which was vehemently anti-worker and anti-union.

Sid Richardson was a billionaire Texas oilman in the early 1950’s, and believing that Graham had potential, he befriended the evangelist, introducing him to other corporate leaders and helping him out any way he could.  Graham’s film production company produced a movie, “Oiltown USA”, which cost $100,000 and espoused, “the story of the free enterprise system of America, the story of God-given natural resources by men who have built a great new empire.”  In 1951, he spoke about the “dangers that face capitalistic America”, that as a nation America was no longer devoted to, “the individualism that made America great”, and that to survive Americans needed to show,“the rugged individualism that Christ brought” to mankind.

This devotion to his big business supporters led to cold, anti-union rhetoric. In 1952 at a rally he told followers the Garden of Eden was a paradise with,“no union dues, no labor leaders, no snakes, no disease.”  He insisted that a truly Christian worker, “would not stoop to take unfair advantage” of an employer by ganging up against him in a union.  Two years later he told workers to set aside thoughts of striking and devote themselves to their employers, and on Labor Day in 1952 stated, “Certain labor leaders would like to outlaw religion, disregard God, the church, and the Bible,” and added,”Wouldn’t it be great if, as we celebrate Labor Day, our labor leaders would lead the laboring man in America in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ?”  With his pro Chamber of Commerce attitude, one London columnist gave Graham a new nickname: “The Big Business Evangelist.”

Billy Graham’s anti-union, anti-worker attitudes remain as true today as they did in the 1950’s. Just ask the bakers for Panera Bread.

Kathleen VanEitzen, 55, is an “artisan” for Panera Bread in Battle Creek, Michigan.

VonEitzen, who has worked at her Panera franchise for two years, said she earns $10.45 per hour, or about $21,000 per year, putting her earnings at roughly 140 percent of the federal poverty line for a couple. But the cost of VonEitzen’s employer health insurance plan for a couple would swallow nearly half her earnings, so she and her husband, who’s had two heart attacks, go without it. Her paycheck brings in just enough to cover the mortgage payment and utilities, but the money is so tight that they often have to forgo her husband’s costly heart medications, she said. “We are skilled bakers, and they advertise us as artisan bakers,” said VonEitzen. “I’ve been in the restaurant industry most of my life. … This is less money than I worked for 10 or 20 years ago.”

Given their designation as craftsmen, a number of Panera Bread bakers in Michigan decided a year and a half ago that they wanted to join a union to improve working conditions and earn something a little closer to a middle-class living. (The bakers do not work for Panera but for a Panera franchisee.) Their effort to become the first unionized group of Panera workers in the country has led to a prolonged and ugly legal battle with their employer, Paul Saber, a major Panera franchisee and former McDonald’s executive. Saber seems determined not to recognize the bakers as a union, carrying out what appears to be an aggressive anti-union campaign, judging from complaints with the federal labor board.

Who is Paul Saber? Saber owns a company called the “Bread of Life” and owns more than 50 Paneras in Michigan and California.  Saber is also a board member of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and the name Bread of Life (like another Saber holding, Manna Development) has obvious religious connotations.  According to the bakers, Saber said workers shouldn’t unionize in part because Bread of Life is a Christian company that looks after its own.”We had to hear about how he was a good Christian who’d take care of us so we needed to stop this union nonsense,” said VonEitzen.

Despite the pressure from management, the Panera workers voted 11 to 7 in favor of the union last March. Nearly a year later, however, they still aren’t recognized as a union, as Saber’s company challenges the bargaining unit that the labor board determined for the election.”Bakers have a right to criticize our management and seek to join a union,” the company stated. “Bread Of Life also has its rights in the legal process to appeal what we sincerely believe is an inappropriate unit of bakers for union representation. Use of the established legal process is not ‘union-busting.”

Yes, the harassment and legal challenges against these workers is union-busting.  Corporations and religious organizations have come together to promote and support capitalistic millionaires, rather than respect the workers who help produce those profits with family supporting wages and benefits.  Because Jesus, according to Billy Graham and his philosophical disciples, being the “rugged individual” that he was, would have support their position.

Who is your church supporting?


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