The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers


The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers

overwhelmedThe economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to  make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If  the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must  be respected–the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the  organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic  initiative.



Work is, as has been said, an obligation, that is  to say, a duty, on the part of man. . . Man must work, both because the  Creator has commanded it and because of his own humanity, which requires work  in order to be maintained and developed. Man must work out of regard for  others, especially his own family, but also for the society he belongs to, the  country of which he is a child, and the whole human family of which he is a  member, since he is the heir to the work of generations and at the same time a  sharer in building the future of those who will come after him in the  succession of history. On Human Work (Laborem Exercens. . . ), #16

Work  is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not  only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves  fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a  human being.” On Human Work (Laborem Exercens. . . ), #9

The  obligation to earn one’s bread by the sweat of one’s brow also presumes the  right to do so. A society in which this right is systematically denied, in  which economic policies do not allow workers to reach satisfactory levels of  employment, cannot be justified from an ethical point of view, nor can that  society attain social peace. The Hundredth Year (Centesimus  Annus. . . ), #43

In many cases, poverty results from a violation  of the dignity of human work, either because work opportunities are limited  (through unemployment or underemployment), or “because a low value is put on  work and the rights that flow from it, especially the right to a just wage and  to the personal security of the worker and his or her family.”  Charity  in Truth (Caritas in Veritate. . . ), #63

All people have the right to  economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent  working conditions, as well as to organize and join unions or other  associations. A Catholic Framework for Economic Life, #5

All these rights, together with the need for the workers  themselves to secure them, give rise to yet another right: the right of  association, that is to form associations for the purpose of defending the  vital interests of those employed in the various professions. These  associations are called labor or trade unions. On Human Work (Laborem Exercens. . . ), #20

As the Church solemnly reaffirmed in the  recent Council, “the beginning, the subject and the goal of all social  institutions is and must be the human person.”  All people have the  right to work, to a chance to develop their qualities and their personalities in  the exercise of their professions, to equitable remuneration which will enable  them and their families “to lead a worthy life on the material, social,  cultural and spiritual level” and to assistance in case of need arising  from sickness or age. A Call to Action (Octogesima Adveniens. . . ), #14

The economic sphere is neither  ethically neutral, or inherently inhuman or opposed to society. It is part and  parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be  structured and governed in an ethical manner. Charity in Truth (Caritas in Veritate. . . ), #36

I would like to remind everyone,  especially governments engaged in boosting the world’s economic and social  assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the  human person in his or her integrity: “Man is the source, the focus and the  aim of all economic and social life.” Charity  in Truth (Caritas in Veritate. . . ), #25, quoting The Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes. . . ), #63

Labor Day & The Church

Monday is Labor Day. It was once a day when the vast majority of Roman Catholics would take part in some kind of special Mass or parade or both to mark the occasion. Here in Washington, D.C. there will be a special Mass led by Archbishop Donald Wuerl, but the Mass is next weekend, not this. It will take place at the Cathedral, not as it traditionally did at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, where after the Mass, the entire congregation would process outside to lay a wreathe at the statue of Cardinal Gibbons, the man who championed the rights of labor and won the hearts of the workingman at the turn of the century.

In the San Francisco Monitor, Bill Issel, professor emeritus of history at San Francisco State University, has an article in the Catholic newspaper in the beautiful city by the bay that details how Labor Day was celebrated in San Francisco when he was growing up. I especially liked Issel’s recollection that his father and uncles could quote whole portions of Pope Leo XIII’s seminal encyclical Rerum Novarum and Pope Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno from memory.

In our own day, I don’t think I know anyone who can quote the Holy Father’s encyclical on social justice, Caritas in Veritate, from memory. Even though we can access encyclicals at the click of button on our computers and when we have a Pope who writes lucidly, and accessibly, compared to the stilted, formal language employed by Leo and Pius, the ignorance of the average Roman Catholic about the Church’s social teachings is astounding.

The late Cardinal Nguyen van Thuan, charged with the task of drawing up a compendium of the Church’s social teaching, would tell his friends a tale that I have no reason to doubt. When Pope John Paul II instructed him to draw up the compendium, with the goal of making those teachings more accessible, the cardinal asked the Holy Father whether the text should be designed for seminary students or lay people. Pope John Paul II replied that he intended to use the compendium to teach the social justice traditions to the bishops!

The role of the Catholic Church in the United States is an especially proud one regarding the history of the labor movement. It was Cardinal Gibbons who fought back the efforts of some to have the Holy See condemn the first labor union in America, the Knights of Labor. As well, the fact that Catholics played such a prominent role in the American labor movement meant that the AFL-CIO would be a bulwark against communism. In Europe, labor movements were as often as not aligned with the communist parties of western Europe.

Alas, there has been a decline. Yes, Bishop Murphy issued a fine statement on behalf of the USCCB. But,some of the steam seems to have gone out of the engine. As often as not, the most prominent spokesmen for Catholicism are men like George Weigel, who poked fun at Caritas in Veritate, Michael Novak, who thinks modern corporations resemble the suffering servant in Isaiah, and Father Robert Sirico, whose embrace of libertarian economic ideas puts him decisively at odds with more than 100 years of official Church teaching. The alliance between labor and the Catholic Church has not been the same since Msgr. George Higgins went to glory.

We – and by we I a mean all who are genuinely concerned about the Church’s social teaching – should ask ourselves what can be done to renew the once vital relationship between the Catholic Church and organized labor. Priests like Father Clete Kiley, who appeared in the Q & A segment on immigration and who, like Msgr. Higgins, is a priest from the Archdiocese of Chicago, have been doing a great deal of work with unions. Father Kiley directs immigration policy at UNITE HERE. An organization, Interfaith Worker Justice, has teamed up with the AFL-CIO to provide union leaders to speak at churches or, in the alternative, materials for sermons that focus on the human dignity of the worker. The program called “Labor in the Pulpit, on the Bimah, & in the Minbar” has a website with tons of information and resources that would be useful not just to a preacher but to any parish social justice committee. The group has signed up more than 1,000 churches to participate, but it should be 10,000 churches, or 100,000. If your pastor does not talk about labor this weekend, complain to him directly and tell him you wil say a prayer to St. Joseph the Worker for his conversion of heart!

This and other such efforts must receive the support of bishops, of Catholic universities and colleges, of Catholic media. Labor Day should once again become an important day in the life of the Church, an indication that the well being of the labor movement is once again an important concern of the Church. I always want us to remember to lay flowers at the monument to Cardinal Gibbons, but I should also like one day to contribute to the erection of another statue, to a future cardinal, maybe someone who is not even a bishop yet, who earns the love and devotion of the labor movement as Gibbons did. I hope to always enter a Church and see materials on social justice in the vestibule, pro-life pamphlets next to pro-labor pamphlets because both positions reflect the Church’s commitment to authentic human dignity. And, I’d better hear some reiteration of Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno and Laborem Exercens this weekend from the pulpit!

Pope Francis and Economic Inequality: Five Essential Quotes



Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pope Francis and Economic Inequality: Five Essential Quotes


By Bishop Robert McElroy

Five months is nothing in the life of an institution that “thinks in centuries” like the Catholic Church. So it’s almost miraculous that Pope Francis has, in the short time since his election, amassed so much teaching on a single subject: economic inequality. This subject is also the focus of the 2013 Labor Day Statement by Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

Three days after his election, Pope Francis tied his choice of name to St. Francis of Assisi and said, “How I would love a Church that is poor and for the poor.” This began a stream of commentary on economic inequality and the Church’s response to it. Here are  five essential quotes from Pope Francis on this issue and why each is significant:

1. “While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are charged with providing for the common good. A new, invisible and at times virtual, tyranny is established, one which unilaterally and irremediably imposes its own laws and rules.”Address to new Vatican ambassadors, May 16

This quote puts it all out there. Too much money is in the hands of too few, while the vast majority struggle to get by. This is a direct result of ideologies that put the free market before everything else, including the duty of the government to ensure that people’s basic needs are met. The Holy Father says that money must serve, not rule. Some commentators noted that Francis, who emphasizes his role as bishop of Rome, made a point to refer to himself as the pope while delivering these remarks.

2. “Every economic and political theory or action must set about providing each inhabitant of the planet with the minimum wherewithal to live in dignity and freedom, with the possibility of supporting a family, educating children, praising God and developing one’s own human potential. This is the main thing; in the absence of such a vision, all economic activity is meaningless.”Letter to Prime Minister David Cameron for the G8 Meeting, June 17-18

This quote reflects the thread of Catholic social teaching, going back to Rerum Novarum (1891), that people must be at the center of every economic system.

3. “This happens today: if the investments in the banks fall slightly… a tragedy… what can be done? But if people die of hunger, if they have nothing eat, if they have poor health, it does not matter! This is our crisis today!”Address at Vigil of Pentecost, May 18

Here Pope Francis clearly questions society’s priorities. How could we be so alienated from our own humanity that we care more about the fate of a bank than a human life? Our American culture has accomplished so much good through creation and innovation, but our culture also suffers from a materialism that is pervasive and corrosive.

4. “Let us remember well, however, that whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor, from the hungry!”General Audience, June 5

So it’s not just our policies that ignore the poor, but our habits too. Francis goes on to criticize a “throwaway culture” that values people based on their ability to consume and treats others as useless. We have to realize that our lifestyles so often legitimate the grotesque inequalities of income and living standards that surround us. Most piercingly, we have to examine those areas of our personal lives where we have totally succumbed to the allure of materialism, and then we must change at our core.

5. “How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we don’t care; we don’t protect what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another!” — Homily, July 8

These words were spoken by the pope at Lampedusa, the Italian island where a boatload of immigrants from Africa seeking a better life tragically shipwrecked, and hundreds drowned. In our hearts we realize the excruciating poverty that exists in the poorest nations on the Earth. But we respond so often not with justice or even charity, but by shutting out the screams of pain and scenes of suffering among the poor so that we will not have to probe deeply into the nature of our own society, our own personal choices. In this way, we all become participants in what Francis has terms “a global culture of indifference.”

With God’s grace, we can all answer Pope Francis’ call to build a culture of encounter, in which we see every person with the dignity given to them by God.

Bishop McElroy is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and a member of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


In a few days, our families will gather together and celebrate Labor Day

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In a few days, our families will gather together and celebrate Labor Day. For a number of years now, I have prepared a labor day article for one of our local newspapers, The Examiner. In this email, I would like to share it with you.

Also, since you are receiving this email, know that you have the ability to also post to the list. So, if you have a Labor Day comment, and it is a reflection of our Catholic values, I invite you to share it with our 250+ list members.

Finally, if you have not see the 2014 USCCB Labor Day Statement, here is the link: .


Fr. Sinclair Oubre, J.C.L.

Spiritual Moderator of the Catholic Labor Network

America’s Schizophrenia

Americans love to look upon the Statue of Liberty, and see it as a symbol of our most basic value: individual freedom. However, by only seeing the Statue of Liberty in this way, we conveniently ignore where the statue came from, and the words that are actually engraved on its base. Read more

Labor Day Statement 2013


Labor Day Statement 2013

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, Bishop of Stockton
Chairman, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
September 2, 2013

Every human being enjoys a basic right to be respected, not because of any title, position, prestige, or accomplishment but first of all because we are created in the image and likeness of God. From an ethical and moral perspective we embrace the exhortation of St. Paul “to anticipate one another in showing honor” (Rom 12:10). Today’s competitive culture challenges us to strive for victory and advantage, but for St. Paul the challenge is to build each other up and honor one another’s innate dignity.

Labor Day is an opportunity to take stock of the ways workers are honored and respected. Earlier this year, Pope Francis pointed out, “Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. . . . It gives one the ability to maintain oneself, one’s family, to contribute to the growth of one’s own nation.” Unfortunately, millions of workers today are denied this honor and respect as a result of unemployment, underemployment, unjust wages, wage theft, abuse, and exploitation. Read more

Labor Day 2013: “All together to promote justice and human dignity”

Labor Day 2013: “All together to promote justice and human dignity”





Labor Day has been celebrated for 123 years as a sign of solidarity with all workers around the world.  Are we finally reaching a world centered on the human person rather than a world of work centered on capital and mechanization?

The 2004-2005 report from the International Labor Office (ILO) gives terrible statistics:  of the approximately two billion eight hundred and fifty million workers in the world 49% earn less than 2 Dollars a day and, of these, 39% less than one dollar!  Two hundred million men and women are unemployed! Today poverty has worsened throughout the world.  According to an OECD report 60% of men and women workers in the world do not have a proper contract and are exposed to job insecurity.

Last year many labor disputes occurred throughout the world.  In Asia, the Philippines, Taiwan and in Indonesia workers gathered to demand wage increases.  In Tunisia, Egypt and the Middle East they called for economic reforms and measurements for employment.  In New  York and in London, in the midst of an unprecedented financial crisis, they occupied the financial centers of Wall Street and the City to oppose the power of money. Read more