(September 14, 1981
CITY, DEC 4, 1997 (VIS) - John Paul II wrote the Encyclical
"Laborem Exercens" in 1981, on the occasion of the
90th anniversary of Leo XIII's Encyclical "Rerum Novarum"
on the question of labor. It was signed on September 14, feast
of the Holy Cross.
it he develops the concept of man's dignity in work, structuring
it in four points: the subordination of work to man; the primacy
of the worker over the whole of instruments and conditioning
that historically constitute the world of labor; the rights of
the human person as the determining factor of all
socio-economic, technological, and productive processes, that
must be recognized; and some elements that can help all men
identify with Christ through their own work.
Encyclical has an introduction and four chapters: "Work and
Man," "Conflict Between Labor and Capital in the
Present Phase of History," "Rights of Workers,"
and "Elements for a Spirituality of Work."
wish to devote this document," writes the Pope, "to
human work and, even more, to man in the vast context of the
reality of work. . . . Work is one of these aspects, a perennial
and fundamental one, one that is always relevant and constantly
demands renewed attention and decisive witness."
is not for the Church to analyze the repercussions that changes
in the world of labor may have on human coexistence. "But
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, and to help to
guide the above-mentioned changes so as to ensure authentic
progress by man and society."
work is a key, probably the essential key, to the whole social
question, if we try to see that question really from the point
of view of man's good. And if the solution -- or rather the
gradual solution -- of the social question, which keeps coming
up and becomes ever more complex, must be sought in the
direction of 'making life more human', then the key, namely
human work, acquires fundamental and decisive importance."
II. Work and Man.
Paul II underlines the Church's conviction that "work is a
fundamental dimension of man's existence on earth." This
conviction is found in the first pages of Genesis: "Be
fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it."
dominion over the earth is achieved in and by means of work. . .
. The proper subject of work continues to be man," and the
finality of work "is always man himself." It is a
question of the objective and subjective meaning of work:
although both are important, the second takes precedence;
"there is no doubt that human work has an ethical value of
its own, which clearly and directly remains linked to the fact
that the one who carries it out is a person, a conscious and
free subject, that is to say a subject that decides about
technology fosters an increase in the things produced by work,
sometimes it "can cease to be man's ally and become almost
his enemy, as when the mechanization of work 'supplants' him,
taking away all personal satisfaction and the incentive to
creativity and responsibility, when it deprives many workers of
their previous employment, or when, through exalting the
machine, it reduces man to the status of its slave."
Holy Father recalls that "in order to achieve social
justice in the various parts of the world, in the various
countries, and in the relationships between them, there is a
need for ever new movements of solidarity of the workers and
with the workers."
is a good thing for man -- a good thing for his humanity --
because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it
to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human
being and indeed, in a sense, becomes 'more a human
III. Conflict between Labor and Capital
in the Present Phase of History.
Pope observes that during the period which has passed since the
publication of "Rerum Novarum" (1891), "which is
by no means yet over, the issue of work has of course been posed
on the basis of the great conflict that in the age of, and
together with, industrial development emerged between 'capital'
antagonism "found expression in the ideological conflict
between liberalism, understood as the ideology of capitalism,
and Marxism, understood as the ideology of scientific socialism
and communism, which professes to act as the spokesman for the
working class and the world-wide proletariat."
he recalls the principle of "the priority of labor over
capital." The first "is always a primary efficient
cause, while capital, the whole collection of means of
production, remains a mere instrument or instrumental
cause." Thus appears the error of economism, "that of
considering human labor solely according to its economic
Paul II then refers to the right to private property,
emphasizing that the Church's teaching regarding this principle
"diverges radically from the program of collectivism as
proclaimed by Marxism," and "the program of capitalism
practiced by liberalism and by the political systems inspired by
position of 'rigid' capitalism continues to remain unacceptable,
namely the position that defends the exclusive right to private
ownership of the means of production as an untouchable 'dogma'
of economic life. The principle of respect for work demands that
this right should undergo a constructive revision, both in
theory and in practice." For this reason, regardless of the
type of system of production, it is necessary for each worker to
be aware that "he is working 'for himself'."
IV. Rights of Workers.
Holy Father highlights that the human rights that are derived
from work are a part of the fundamental rights of the person.
discusses the need to take action against unemployment, which is
a true social calamity and a problem of a moral as well as an
with the concept of the "indirect employer," in other
words, "all the agents at the national and international
level that are responsible for the whole orientation of labor
policy," he notes that in order to solve the problem of
unemployment, these agents "must make provision for overall
planning." This "cannot mean one-sided centralization
by the public authorities. Instead, what is in question is a
just and rational coordination, within the framework of which
the initiative of individuals ... must be safeguarded."
of the rights of workers, he recalls the dignity of agricultural
work and the need to offer jobs to disabled people. As for the
matter of salaries, he writes that "the key problem of
social ethics in this case is that of just remuneration for work
addition, "there must be a social re-evaluation of the
mother's role." Specifically, "the whole labor process
must be organized and adapted in such a way as to respect the
requirements of the person and his or her forms of life, above
all life in the home, taking into account the individual's age
is fitting that women "should be able to fulfill their
tasks in accordance with their own nature, without being
discriminated against and without being excluded from jobs for
which they are capable, but also without lack of respect for
their family aspirations and for their specific role in
contributing, together with men, to the good of society."
wages, there are other social benefits whose objective is
"to ensure the life and health of workers and their
families." In this regard, he notes the right to leisure
time, which should include weekly rest and yearly vacations.
Pope then considers the importance of unions, which he calls
"an indispensable element of social life." "One
method used by unions in pursuing the just rights of their
members is the strike or work stoppage. This method is
recognized by Catholic social teaching as legitimate in the
proper conditions and within just limits," but must not be
for the question of emigration for work reasons, he affirms that
man has the right to leave his country to seek better living
conditions in another. "The most important thing is that
the person working away from his native land, whether as a
permanent emigrant or as a seasonal worker, should not be placed
at a disadvantage in comparison with the other workers in that
society in the matter of working rights."
V. Elements for a Spirituality of Work.
this last chapter, he underlines the elements that help give
labor the meaning that it has in God's eyes. Thus, "the
knowledge that by means of work man shares in the work of
creation constitutes the most profound motive for undertaking it
in various sectors."
is participation in the work of the Creator and the Redeemer.
Jesus Christ looks upon work with love because he himself was a
laborer. This is a doctrine, and at the same time a program,
that is rooted in the "Gospel of work" proclaimed by
Jesus of Nazareth.
enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us,
man in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption
of humanity. He shows himself a true disciple of Christ by
carrying the cross in his turn every day in the activity that he
is called upon to perform."
the very end, the Holy Father notes that he prepared this
document for publication on May 15, the date of the 90th
anniversary of "Rerum Novarum," but that due to his
hospital stay after the attempt on his life on May 13, he was
not able to complete the definitive revision on time.
* * *
* * *
Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London
* * *
The Warmth of Other Suns
The Epic Story of America's Great
By Isabel Wilkerson
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a
sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi
for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin
was falsely accused of stealing a white
man's turkeys and was almost beaten to
death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling,
a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem
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lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster
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operate in his own home town." Anchored
to these three stories is Pulitzer
Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's
magnificent, extensively researched
study of the "great migration," the
exodus of six million black Southerners
out of the terror of Jim Crow to an
"uncertain existence" in the North and
Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates
sociological and historical studies into
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Starling, and Pershing settling in new
lands, building anew, and often finding
that they have not left racism behind.
The drama, poignancy, and romance of a
classic immigrant saga pervade this
book, hold the reader in its grasp, and
resonate long after the reading is done.
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