Pope Francis recently addressed members of the CGIL — Italy’s version of the AFL-CIO — about labor unions, worker justice and other themes. The English version of the Holy Father’s remarks comes courtesy of Google Translate.

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

I welcome you and thank the Secretary-General for his words. This meeting with you, who form one of the historic Italian trade union organizations, invites me to express once again my closeness to the world of work, in particular to the individuals and families who are struggling most.

There is no union without workers and there are no free workers without unions. We live in an age that, despite technological progress – and sometimes precisely because of that perverse system that calls itself technocracy (cf. Laudato Si’, 106-114) – has partly disappointed expectations of justice in the workplace. And this asks above all to start afresh from the value of work, as a place of encounter between the personal vocation and the social dimension. Working allows the person to realize himself, to live fraternity, to cultivate social friendship and to improve the world. The Encyclicals Laudato si’ and Fratelli tutti can help to undertake formation courses that offer reasons for commitment in the time we are living.

Work builds society. It is a primary experience of citizenship, in which a community of destiny takes shape, the fruit of the commitment and talents of each one; This community is much more than the sum of the different professions, because everyone recognizes himself in the relationship with others and for others. And so, in the ordinary web of connections between people and economic and political projects, the fabric of “democracy” is given life day by day. It is a fabric that is not made at a table in some building, but with creative industriousness in factories, workshops, farms, commercial, crafts, construction sites, public administrations, schools, offices, and so on. It comes “from below”, from reality.

Dear friends, if I recall this vision, it is because one of the tasks of the union is to educate in the meaning of work, promoting fraternity among workers. This formative concern cannot be missing. It is the salt of a healthy economy, capable of making the world better. In fact, “human costs are always also economic costs and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs as well. Giving up investing in people in order to make a greater immediate profit is a bad deal for society” (Enc. Laudato Si’, 128).

In addition to training, it is always necessary to point out the distortions of work. The throwaway culture has crept into the folds of economic relations and has also invaded the world of work. This is found, for example, where human dignity is trampled underfoot by gender discrimination – why should a woman earn less than a man? Why does a woman, as soon as you see that she begins to “get fat”, send her away to avoid paying for maternity? –; You can see it in youth precariousness – why should life choices be delayed because of chronic precariousness? –; or even in the culture of redundancy; And why are the most demanding jobs still so poorly protected? Too many people suffer from lack of work or undignified work: their faces deserve to be heard, they deserve union commitment.

I would like to share with you in particular some concerns. Firstly, the safety of workers. Your Secretary-General has spoken about this. There are still too many dead — I see them in the newspapers: there is someone every day — too many maimed and injured in the workplace! Every death at work is a defeat for the whole of society. Rather than counting them at the end of each year, we should remember their names, because they are people and not numbers. Let us not allow profit and the person to be put on the same level! The idolatry of money tends to trample on everything and everyone and does not guard differences. It is about training to care about the lives of employees and educating oneself to take safety regulations seriously: only a wise alliance can prevent those “accidents” that are tragedies for families and communities.

A second concern is the exploitation of people, as if they were performance machines. There are violent forms, such as the hiring and slavery of laborers in agriculture or on construction sites and in other workplaces, the constraint on grueling shifts, the downward game in contracts, the contempt for motherhood, the conflict between work and family. How many contradictions and wars between the poor are consumed around work! In recent years, the so-called “working poor” have increased: people who, despite having a job, cannot support their families and give hope for the future. The union – listen carefully to this – is called to be the voice of those who have no voice. You must make noise to give voice to those who have no voice. In particular, I recommend attention to young people, often forced into precarious, inadequate, even enslaving contracts. I thank you for every initiative that promotes active employment policies and protects people’s dignity.

In addition, in these years of pandemic, the number of those who resign from work has grown. Young and old are dissatisfied with their profession, the climate in the workplace, the contractual forms, and prefer to resign. They look for other opportunities. This phenomenon does not mean disengagement, but the need to humanize work. Also in this case, the union can do prevention, focusing on the quality of work and accompanying people towards a relocation more suited to the talent of each one.

Dear friends, I invite you to be “sentinels” of the world of work, generating alliances and not sterile oppositions. People thirst for peace, especially at this moment in history, and everyone’s contribution is fundamental. Educating for peace even in workplaces, often marked by conflicts, can become a sign of hope for all. Also for future generations.

Thank you for what you do and will do for the poor, migrants, fragile and disabled people, the unemployed. Do not neglect to take care of those who do not join the union because they have lost trust; and to make room for youth responsibility.

I entrust you to the protection of Saint Joseph, who knew the beauty and effort of doing his job well and the satisfaction of earning bread for his family. We look at him and his ability to educate through work. I wish a peaceful Christmas to all of you and your loved ones. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you. And if you can, pray for me. Thank you!

1 reply
  1. Simone Zimmer
    Simone Zimmer says:

    excellent – so many good points made. The time of unions and worker’s rights is not one of the previous centuries, it is now.

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