From the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of Media Relations
Labor Day 2005: Time to Recall the Teaching of Pope John Paul II on Work and Workers
WASHINGTON (August 25, 2005) — Labor Day is a time to reflect on the teaching of Pope John Paul II on work and workers, according to the chairman of the bishops’ domestic policy committee in the annual Labor Day statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
The first Labor Day since the death of Pope John Paul II “is a good time to recall the constant teaching of the Pope,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio. Pope John Paul said that trade unions have “the Church’s defense and approval,” and that unions are an “indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrial societies.” The new Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has affirmed this teaching, insisting it is “necessary to witness in contemporary society to the ‘Gospel of Work,’ of which John Paul II spoke in his encyclical Laborem Exercens.”
“However, on Labor Day 2005, there are some daunting challenges to how we live ‘the Gospel of Work,’ and how we respect the dignity of work and the rights of workers today,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “In this economy many are moving forward, reaping the rewards of their education, skills and hard work. Others can be left behind, hungry, homeless, or poor, often struggling with rent or paying for decent health insurance. Families in the middle can be one lost job, one major illness, one unanticipated setback away from serious economic trouble. As their children grow, parents are faced with balancing the costs of education and saving for their own retirement. Too many families find it difficult to reconcile the demands of work, the duties of family life, and the obligations of community and spiritual life.”
Bishop DiMarzio pointed to troubling signs that reflect these pressures in our economic life.
“--Sadly the American labor movement seems bitterly divided over priorities, personalities, and how to move forward.
--The Central American Free Trade Agreement very narrowly passed Congress after an angry debate about its impact on workers and farmers in the U.S. and Central America.
--There is a growing conflict in some local communities, and on Wall Street, about the obligations of large retailers and major employers to their workers in the U.S. and around the world, and the communities they serve.
--Workers in the automobile, airline and other industries confront ongoing struggles over wages, work rules, health care, and pensions in the face of new competition and new economic realities.
--Our nation debates how budgets, benefits, and sacrifices are to be shared—who gains and who loses—in the midst of the war and deficits.
--The minimum wage, last raised in 1997, leaves a full-time worker with two children below the poverty level, while the gap between executive and worker compensation continues to widen dramatically.
--In a time of more retirees and longer life spans, discussion about retirement—what it means and who will pay for it—begins with a polarized debate about Social Security, but also extends to pensions, savings, and taxes.
--The reality that many U.S. workers are immigrants too often leads to a search for scapegoats rather than practical responses that recognize both the humanity and contributions of these newcomers to our country.”
Bishop DiMarzio said the Catholic tradition offers a different way of thinking about economic life than addressing problems in simplistic, ideological, or polarized ways. The Bishops expressed key principles to guide economic choices in their statement A Catholic Framework for Economic Life.
Those principles included the idea that a fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the poor and vulnerable are faring; that all people, to the extent they are able, have a corresponding duty to work, a responsibility to provide for the needs of their families, and an obligation to contribute to the broader society; that workers, owners, managers, stock-holders, and consumers are moral agents in economic life; and that the global economy has moral dimensions and human consequences.
“To move forward, our nation needs a strong and growing economy, strong and productive businesses and industries, and a strong and united labor movement. In Catholic teaching, it is up to workers to choose how they wish to be represented in the workplace, and they should be able to make these decisions freely without intimidation or reprisal. When management and union representatives negotiate a contract or settle disputes, they should pursue justice and fairness, not just economic advantage,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “On this Labor Day all of us are called to look at the economy from the ‘bottom up’: how our economic choices (i.e., work, investments, spending,) affect ‘the least of these---poor families, vulnerable workers, and those left behind.”
Copies of the Labor Day statement are available from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of Domestic Social Development, 202-541-3185, www.usccb.org/sdwp.
to read the full text of the statement.My Comments:
I work hard. During the summer and autumn months, I work very long hours, which means I often don't get to spend as much time as I'd like with my family. I'm good at what I do. I am respected by my co-workers for my expertise, for being easy to work with, and for doing what is necessary to get the job done (despite spending a little too much time blogging).
Notwithstanding these facts, because I receive a salary rather than being paid an hourly wage, and because I do much of my job seated behind a desk, I doubt that I qualify as a "worker" in the eyes of the "social justice" types in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of Domestic Social Development.
By best friend is in sales. He works very hard. He travels around the country, spending many evenings away from his family, to earn the sort of living that will allow his wife to stay at home with their children.
Notwithstanding these facts, because he receives a salary plus commission and bonuses rather than being paid an hourly wage, and because he gets to fly in planes and stay in hotels on the company dime, I doubt whether he qualifies as a "worker" in the eyes of the "social justice" types in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of Domestic Social Development.
The point I'm trying to make is that we are all laborers in the vineyard, whether our wages are paid hourly or via salary. People work to support their families. They pay their taxes. They contribute to their churches. They give to charity.
I don't like the term "worker" - especially the way it is used by political parties (i.e. Democrats) and the way it is used in this document coming from the USCCB. It implies that those not meeting the narrow definition of "worker" espoused by the Democrat Party and the "social justice" types do not "work" hard, and that they earn something less than an honest living.
And whether I'm a "worker" or not, I plan to enjoy my Labor Day weekend when it rolls around next week.