The Catholic Church and Labor

By Marcus Evans

Recently my family and I spent time reflecting on what it means to be a Catholic and a worker. During our time of reflection I referred back to some of the Churches documents about labor and man as a worker. You don't have to search very far within the Church documents to find out what our Church has to say about labor and the worker.

In 1891 Pope Leo XIII issued a papal encyclical entitled Rerum Novarum (Condition of the Working Class). In this document Pope Leo XIII protested strongly against the harsh conditions that the industrial workers had to endure. Pope Leo XIII further defended the basic rights of workers to form associations (unions). He also reminds the wealthy owners of the inviolable dignity that all humans possess. Pope Leo XIII wrote "the misuse of people as though they were things in pursuit of gain is truly shameful and inhuman". He began a long tradition of Catholic Social Teaching that supports labor and appreciates what it means to be a worker.

In 1981 Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical entitled Laborem Exercens (On Human Work). In this document Pope John Paul II proposed a few concepts that have had a major impact on what Catholics believe regarding labor. Two of these concepts are the priority of labor over capital and the concept of the indirect employer.

The priority of labor over capital refers to the production process itself. It is meant that in the relationship between labor and capital only man possesses dignity. Capital (the material things of the production process) cannot possess this dignity. Capital exists for man to subdue, to use in his work and sharing in God's creation. Man is not subject to capital and furthermore man cannot be treated as capital for a company to utilize like a machine. The worker is a human created in the image and likeness of God the Creator.

The concept of the "indirect employer" is used to describe the legislation and structures that affect labor; including attitudes that society holds regarding labor. An example of an indirect employer is when a powerful company forces smaller companies into contracts that will not allow the smaller company to pay a livable wage to its workers. In this situation, the more powerful company would be culpable for the low wages paid to the workers even though the workers are not actually "employed" by the more powerful company. This situation exists now more than ever in our globalized markets.

The popes and bishops of the Church have written volumes of material about labor and what it means to be a worker. I am part of a local labor-religion coalition in Oklahoma City and I am often reminded of how proud we should be as Catholics when pastors from other denominations tell me that everything they have learned about justice in the workplace they have learned from the Catholic Church. We are a part of a Church that is not afraid to take a stand on difficult issues. Being a global Church, Catholics view the social questions facing our world within the context of our common membership in the global community.

"The obligation to earn one's bread presumes the right to do so. A society that denies this right cannot be justified, nor can it attain social peace."Pope John Paul II

Marcus Evans is a parishioner at St. Charles Borromeo parish, a member of the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House community, and an Executive Board Member Central Oklahoma Labor Federation AFL-CIO

St. Charles Parish Adopts Policy Regarding Sweat Shop Manufactured Fund Raising Products

The St. Charles Borromeo parish council has adopted a policy forbidding use of fund raising products that are manufactured in sweatshops. Here is the full text of the policy.


The following policy has been written to be followed as a requirement for all fund raising efforts at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church when clothing and religious articles are to be sold as a fund raising item.

Whereas..St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church as a parish always attempts to follow the commandment of our Lord when He said "to love your neighbor as yourself". As Catholics we view the world as a global community and therefore we find our neighbors in every corner of the world. All races, faiths and peoples deserve to live the most human of lives. The current situation in the clothing, cut and sew industries, and religious products industry (especially in the southern hemisphere and Asia) is one in which the person has been reduced to a means to a profit. The lives of these workers are lives of poverty and hopelessness. For us, being in solidarity with these workers means to cease in participating in the profits that these companies make on the backs of the poor and marginalized. In the 5th chapter of the Epistle of St. James it is written "Here, crying aloud, are the wages you withheld from the farmhands who harvested your fields. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.' Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum wrote "Among the most important duties of employers, the principle one, is to give every worker what is justly due him" and finally in the encyclical letter of Pope John Paul II Laborem Exercens the pope wrote "the Church considers it her task always to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated.." We are called by the Church to continue to view our responsibilities to the global community as one dedicated to discerning issues of social justice. The burden of Christian discernment should be an inviolable part of the consciousness of every Christian and of every parish. Therefore,

1. Anytime a fundraising effort is planned that will involve the sale of clothing, or religious articles then this policy shall be used as a guide by the Stewardship Committee.

2. A current list of approved manufacturers and fair trade fund raising groups will be kept. This list of manufacturers, distributors and fair trade fund raising groups will be the utilized to locate a source for products that are produced by workers whose labor has not been exploited. This list will be kept on file in the office of the Pastoral Associate.

3. No clothing or religious articles that have been made by exploited workers will be sold as a fundraising item at St. Charles. If we can not find the specific product that we are trying to procure through an approved manufacturer then we will not utilize that product as a fundraising item.

4. This policy in no way requires products to be union made or made in the USA. Many worker co-operatives are located throughout the world. Furthermore, simply because a product is made in the USA does not mean that the worker has not been working in sweat shop conditions. Almost always, union made products are made by workers who have a voice in their labor and are not working in exploitive conditions.

Approved by the Parish Council, May 9, 2006

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