Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Place of Workers in Society

"From the beginning, therefore, he is called to work. Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures, whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense, it constitutes its very nature." These words begin the encyclical  'On Human Work' by  Pope John Paul II (1981) and introduce an article in Bible & Life on Labor by a Seoul priest.

If these words are true it is only right that all labor and laborers should in every place and time enjoy glory and respect. Is this the reality of what we see in society?  There has been a change but labor still is looked upon negatively. In Korea, it is not difficult to find persons who look upon labor as the punishment for losers. Hearing 'labor movement' and 'labor union' many tense up or are on their guard.

Why should this be the case? From childhood, that is the education received and as adults, this is what they have seen and heard. Labor is looked down upon and working  to better the situation is seen as a leftist interest. This should not be the case within the Nation or the Church.

In the Korean Constitution, we have the three rights spelled out: the right to organize, collective bargaining and collective action. Laborers have a right to organize a labor union, participate, the right to collectively bargain and the right to strike. This is a right the Nation has given to the worker-- an enormous right.

He lists some of the many encyclicals on labor: Rerum Novarum 1891 (On the condition of Labor), Quadragesimo Anno 1931 (After Forty Years), Laborem Exercens 1981 (On Human Work), and Centesimus Annus 1991 (The Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum). The Church has not only stressed the respect and rights due to the workers but listed the obstacles to this respect and rights.

What is the Church's record on following its own teaching? The writer wants us to ask those working in Church related facilities and he responds that not a small number are disappointed in what they see. For the most part transparent but no different in the pursuit of profits, giving the lowest wages, and in labor disputes similar to what we see in the world.

He concludes that the members of the Church have not yet digested the teaching and this we need to confess. "Where we stand is the way we see the landscape." He hopes this proverb doesn't describe the way we react to the Church's teaching. He feels that if the Church is not going to follow its teaching it should not get involved in work hiring others.

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