WASHINGTON (CNA) — Work has dignity because it participates in God’s creation and builds up the common good, the U.S. bishops said in their annual Labor Day statement. They called for shared sacrifices to heal the country, while recognizing the rights of workers and the stark facts of unemployment, poverty and insecurity.
“An economy that cannot provide employment, decent wages and benefits, and a sense of participation and ownership for its workers is broken in fundamental ways,” said Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., in the letter.
The chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development emphasized the suffering of those in difficult situations.
“This Labor Day we need to look beyond the economic indicators, stock-market gyrations and political conflicts and focus on the often invisible burdens of ordinary workers and their families, many of whom are hurting, discouraged, and left behind by this economy.”
He urged Christian virtue in carrying out work and in considering the situation of others.
“We must remember that at the heart of everything we do as believers must be love, for it is love which honors the dignity of work as participation in the act of God’s creation, and it is love which values the dignity of the worker, not just for the work he or she does, but above all for the person he or she is.”
Bishop Blaire invoked Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, calling it the “cornerstone” for more than a century of Catholic social teaching.
That encyclical “lifted up the dignity of the worker in the midst of massive economic changes.”
“Pope Leo’s powerful letter rejected both unbridled capitalism that could strip workers of their God-given human dignity and dangerous socialism that could empower the state over all else in ways that destroy human initiative,” the bishop said.
“In Catholic teaching, work has an inherent dignity because work helps us not only to meet our needs and provide for our families, but also to share in God’s creation and contribute to the common good. People need work not only to pay bills, put food on the table, and stay in their homes, but also to express their human dignity and to enrich and strengthen the larger community.”
Pope Leo XII taught that there is a natural right to join a union that the government must protect. Pope Leo’s successors, like John Paul II and Benedict XVI, have reaffirmed this right.
“Our Church continues to teach that unions remain an effective instrument to protect the dignity of work and the rights of workers,” Bishop Blaire said, noting efforts to remove or restrict the bargaining rights of workers and to limit their role in the workplace.
“Bishops in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere have faithfully and carefully outlined Catholic teaching on worker rights, suggesting that difficult times should not lead us to ignore the legitimate rights of workers,” he added.
“Without endorsing every tactic of unions or every outcome of collective bargaining, the Church affirms the rights of workers in public and private employment to choose to come together to form and join unions, to bargain collectively, and to have an effective voice in the workplace.”
Some unions have taken positions the Church cannot support. These differences should be addressed through respectful dialogue, he suggested.
The Labor Day letter pointed to national problems like unemployment, child poverty, student-loan debt, income inequality, economic stagnation and “unsustainable deficits and growing debt that will burden our children for decades to come.”
These problems have an ethical dimension. Some institutions sought short-term gain without regard to long-term consequences, while some individuals made “irresponsible choices” and let their “greed and envy” exceed their financial capacity.
However, the bishop criticized “too much finger pointing,” the “unfair” blame of immigrants, and the demonization of either the market or the government as the source of all economic problems.
He urged Americans to respect the various roles of economic life and to “avoid challenging the motives of others.”
“We can understand and act like we are part of one economy, one nation, and one human family. We can acknowledge our responsibility for the ways, large or small, we contributed to this crisis,” Bishop Blaire advised.
“We can look for common ground and seek the common good. We can encourage all the institutions in our society to work together to reduce joblessness, promote economic growth, overcome poverty, increase prosperity, and make the shared sacrifices and even compromises necessary to begin to heal our broken economy.”