The U.S. Catholic bishops have issued their 2008 Labor Day statement in which they address Catholic social teaching and defend workers’ rights, calling for “renewed vigor as we seek to build together a society that cares for its own, reaches out to the poor and vulnerable, and offers true hope to all.” According to the bishops, the more we share and exercise self-control over our possession and use of earthly goods, the less need we have for regulatory laws required when “economic privateers and profit seeking pirates” take over whole areas of the economy.
Noting that the United States is blessed with freedom, energy, and creative initiative, the statement reminds Catholics that such blessings must be tempered by “a deep sense of responsibility for one another, for our planet, and for the future.”
The statement was issued by William Murphy, Bishop of Rockville Centre, New York and Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
In the statement Bishop Murphy describes his inspiration, the late “labor priest” Monsignor George Higgins. Monsignor Higgins worked for workers’ rights for more than fifty years.
Bishop Murphy said Monsignor Higgins would be concerned about “the worker, the person, and the family whose lives are affected by a host of factors.” In the bishop’s view, were he alive today the monsignor would weigh all those factors by their overall impact on human beings and would point out the lack of union representation in emerging industries and workplaces “where exploitation has been most evident.”
The monsignor would also urge that Catholic social teaching still offers “one of the best ways to assess whether the human person is the center of economic life or whether workers who are poor and marginalized are forgotten.”
The Church, Bishop Murphy explains, continues to focus on the worker as “cornerstone of Catholic teaching on economic life” adding that the Catholic community is brought together by “the challenge of overcoming poverty.”
He further writes that the ethical principles of subsidiarity and solidarity are particularly relevant to the question of globalization. When joined together, the opportunity to be creative and productive becomes harnessed to the “makers of a vibrant economy.”
“This links their work into a set of relationships bringing new opportunities to one another across political and social divisions and especially across the great divide between rich and poor,” the statement says. “Let interdependence become the ‘solidarity’ of neighbor to neighbor in such a way that the subsidiarity of free creativity builds up and offers new possibilities for all neighbors, especially the poor and the vulnerable.”
The Labor Day statement also cites the bishops’ document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” stressing the need for one to form one’s conscience rightly by basing it not on personal feelings or popularity but on the truth of the human person and human society. Candidates and issues, it says, must be examined “from the perspective of human life and dignity, the true good of society, the common good of us all in our nation and in this world.”
The Labor Day statement particularly focuses on the “Faithful Citizenship” document’s sections on economic justice, labor, and workers’ rights.
“Never forget that human life is the supreme good in this world,” Bishop Murphy closes. “Never forget that human dignity is not an expendable commodity but belongs to everyone without exception. Every day we are pro-life. Every day we are champions of human dignity. Our voices and our votes should shape society by bringing these inalienable truths into every particular proposal and program, every particular candidate’s projects and plans.”