Priority of Labour over Capital
The right to work, to have a job, to earn money and so support your family are all connected to the dignity of the individual. Catholic social teaching affirms that human beings are not merely a commodity, a tool as part of a process to make things. Human beings are greater than anything. They deserve a fair wage and proper working conditions.
Work is not punishment or a necessary evil, nor is it person’s means of accumulating control, power and wealth. Both of these ideas are contrary to the biblical view of work. We understand work as something intrinsically good, we are co-creators of God’s world and work is part of our contribution.
Work must be undertaken responsibly and labour treated well, this includes how we approach the work we do, what it is we do with our work and how employers treat their employees. A strong theme in Catholic Social Thought is support for trade unions and state measures to ensure concrete safeguards in place like living wages and holiday leave.
Jesus speaks a lot about work, while much of this is in parables, we should not restrict interpretations of these parables to be only spiritual ones. Jesus spent most of the years of his life learning the trade of carpentry and we should not forget this when we hear him lament about the servant who hides his talent in the ground.
Dignity in work also touches upon work-life balance, as in some places where people are expected to give more and more to their employers to the determent of other spheres of our lives. The keystone of this is the importance of the Sabbath, but the principle extends to other areas of our lives and has implications for how we use our own time and how we manage the work of others in our employment.
Link it to scripture readings
Genesis 2:1-3 God rests on the seventh day.
Deuteronomy 14:28-29 The Lord blesses our work so that we may share its fruits with others.
Deuteronomy 24:14-15 Do not withhold wages from your workers, for their livelihood depends on them.
Matthew 20:1-16 All workers should be paid a just and living wage.
Mark 2:27 The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.
Luke 12:13-21 One’s worth is not determined by an abundance of possessions.
James 5:1-6 Those who become rich by abusing their workers have sinned against God.
Link it to key Church documents such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), Papal documents etc.
Summary: John Paul who had then been Pope for more than fifteen years writes this very thoughtful letter in which the terms ‘structures of sin’ and ‘option for the poor’ strongly emerge (from liberation theology). He goes onto condemn the gap between the rich and poor which can be partially linked to the arms trade.
On Human Work came very much from the experience and the heart of Pope St John Paul II. It presents a critique of nature of work, and the conflict between labour and property. It challenges some of the social and political aspects of work at that time (1981): the suppression of unions, forced migration of workers and so on, reminding us that ‘work is for people, not people for work’.
Summary: Work is the central issue of this document; do women and men participate in God’s creativity and share in its productivity or are they merely cogs? This poses the idea that work should increase human dignity as the economy is made for labour and man is the subject of work. New concepts of solidarity and ‘indirect employer’ emerge strongly in this encyclical.
Link to a particular Saint whose charism is linked to this particular principle
St. Jose Maria Escriva https://opusdei.org/en-uk/article/biography-of-saint-josemaria-escriva/
St. Edith Stein (Benedicta of the Cross): https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=179
Link to local/national groups associated with this principle
Pax Christi: http://paxchristi.org.uk/
Young Christian Workers: http://www.ycwimpact.com/
Helping people to find work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UjI0H9AQyA
Dear Lord, those of us who plough the land, as men and women who earn our bread with the sweat of our foreheads, those of us who believe that the seed is life and generates life…
Those of us who enrich the soil through our work, who are humble farm workers, yet have knowledge – we ask you for strength in these difficult times.
Liberate us, Lord, from those who say that we, who are peasant farmers, belong to the past. Free us, Lord, from cynical people who say that there have to be losers as well as winners. Free us from them, because we know that we are in this world to live in solidarity and justice.
We do not believe that we should disappear, either as a social class or as a rural culture. We do not want to live in city slums or emigrate to other countries. We do not want our families to become fragmented.
Oh Lord, protect us from those who are driven by insatiable greed. From those who always want more and more money. From those who make commerce out of the land, water and earth.
Save us from falling into the clutches of those who say: “I have enough economic power to spread false information, so that lies appear as truth”. Give us courage to face the struggle. Give us the strength of your peace.
May our spiritual leaders be filled with your Spirit, so that they may guide us along the path of faith and hope.
Dear Lord, let us not fall into the temptation of individualism. Give us the blessing of respectful and intelligent relationships.
Oh Lord, in you we trust. You have always been our strength. You have always been our refuge. We hold to you, you who are the way, truth and life.
Provided by Erasmo Valiente, Jesuit Development Service Community Worker, El Salvador
Questions for personal /group reflection
Is your employer a Foundation Living Wage employer? If not can you advocate that it becomes one? https://www.livingwage.org.uk/
Do you consider your work to be an immense dignity? How do you view it? What might need to change in your attitude towards work? What is stopping you viewing work as a human dignity?
Do you support companies that do not treat their employees correctly? Or companies that do not pay their fair taxes? How can these businesses be held to account?
When choosing goods do we consider the conditions of the workers participating in the supply of product?
Have we ever been unemployed? If not, have we given thanks and praise to God Almighty for such a blessing? If we have, can we remember how we felt? Can we reach out in some way to others who are currently in a similar situation? Maybe we are unemployed at this time? What do we need from our community at this time? How does our relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ fit in to these situations?
Can you support people who work at sea? These people are often extremely isolated due to many months at sea in confined quarters, often without crew members who speak the same language. When the ships are in harbour the workers are often not able to leave the vessel due to not having visas or documentation? What if they need a dentist or doctor? How do they cope without being with their families? You can send messages of support to seafarers through Apostleship of the Sea https://www.apostleshipofthesea.org.uk/