May 1, 2020
Posted by ICTC on Friday, May 1, 2020 at 3:46 AM PDT
Sign of the Times
May 2020: The Dignity of Work in the COVID-19 Crisis
In recognition of May Day, we chose to highlight that labor rights and the dignity of work, more formally known as The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers, is a key component of Catholic Social Teaching, and began with the publication of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum – Rights and Duties of Capital Labor on May 15, 1891. The roots of Rerum Novarum are found in the sermons and writings of a parish priest - Father Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler, who spoke out and analyzed the poverty and subsistence wages of his community. Ketteler was the forerunner and inspiration of the German Catholic social movement. Economic, political, cultural, and social life in the United States has changed drastically since the days of Ketteler and the writing of Rerum Novarum. Many of the same moral issues confront us today even though the context may be different. We still wrestle with the meaning of justice and charity in our communities. Here are the links to some key Church documents:
- On May 15, 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical Rerum Novarum – Rights and Duties of Capital Labor,which is considered the beginning of the formation of what we now call Catholic Social Teaching. Its main concern was the condition of the working class.
- On May 1, 1991, for the 100th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, Pope John Paul II issued the encyclical Centesimus Annus (the Hundredth Year), with recurring themes of social and economic justice, and the dignity of the human person.
- Also, May 1 is the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker.
These documents takes on special significance in the public discourse on which people are designated as “essential workers” are on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis response. Here are some recent news stories related to labor and the dignity of work:
- What the Covid-19 stimulus package says about essential workers and our social values (America Magazine, April 30)
- U.S. bishops issue statement in support of migrant farmworkers during pandemic (NCR, April 29)
- Workers' Memorial Day homily: 'Profit over people' robs work of dignity (Catholic News Service, April 29)
- Pope calls for consideration of ‘universal basic wage’ for unprotected workers (Vatican News, April 13)
Want to learn more?
Save the date for The Future of Work: Human Dignity in an Era of Globalization and Autonomous Technology – a live webinar featuring Cardinal Turkson, Jose Barroso of Goldman Sachs and Nobel Prize-winning economist Professor James Heckman on June 25 hosted by the University of St. Thomas.