.- The United States bishops are calling on people this Labor Day to consider the U.S. economy “from the ‘bottom up’”, in other words, from a justice perspective that has people considering how their economic habits, such as work, investments and spending, affect the poor and vulnerable workers. In the bishops’ annual Labor Day statement, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said these reflections should be based on the teaching of Pope John Paul II on work and workers.
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,” noted the chairman of the bishops’ domestic policy committee.
His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, 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,” he said.
Bishop DiMarzio pointed to troubling signs that reflect these pressures in the current economy: Growing conflict about the obligations of employers to their workers; full-time workers receiving minimum wage fall below the poverty line; there is insecurity about who will pay pension benefits; immigrants are scapegoats in the difficult economic climate; the Central American Free Trade Agreement passed Congress.
The Catholic tradition offers a different way of thinking about the economy, which the bishops expressed in their statement “A Catholic Framework for Economic Life.”
Catholic teaching states that the 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, the bishops said in their statement.
“To move forward, our nation needs a strong and growing economy, strong and productive businesses and industries, and a strong and united labor movement,” Bishop DiMarzio said.
“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.”