Encyclical asks unions to protect workers beyond their membership

WASHINGTON – Pope Benedict XVI called on labor unions to look beyond their membership when protecting the rights of workers and turn their attention to workers in other fields and in developing countries where social rights are violated.

The pope reached out to labor unions in his third encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), released July 7.

“The protection of these workers, partly achieved through appropriate initiatives aimed at their countries of origin, will enable trade unions to demonstrate the authentic ethical and cultural motivations that made it possible for them, in a different social and labor context, to play a decisive role in development,” he said in the encyclical.

Since the church’s traditional teaching makes a valid distinction between the roles of trade unions and politics, it is correct for unions to identify civil society as the proper setting for their activity of defending and promoting labor, especially among exploited and unrepresented workers often overlooked by the general public, the pope said.

In the current global market, some businesses in rich countries have outsourced jobs to poor countries where the work force wages are low, and in the process have exploited workers in that country while driving down prices in their own nations, the pope said.

“These processes have led to a downsizing of social security systems as the price to be paid for seeking greater competitive advantage in the global market, with consequent grave danger for the rights of workers, for fundamental human rights and for the solidarity associated with the traditional forms of the social state,” he said. “Systems of social security can lose the capacity to carry out their task, both in emerging countries and in those that were among the earliest to develop, as well as in poor countries.”

The pope said unions often face obstacles in trying to represent workers, “partly because governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labor unions.” He said that, even more today than in the past, there was an urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international and local levels for the promotion of associations that can defend workers’ rights.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.