Today is Labor Day, our national holiday that honors the American labor movement.
Last June, Pope Francis addressed delegates from the Italian Confederation of Trade Unions. He began by speaking of the social significance of work: “Person and labour are two works that can and must stay together. Because if we think and talk about labour without the person, labour ends up becoming something inhumane, which by forgetting the person forgets and loses itself. But if we think of the person without work, we are saying something partial, incomplete, because the person is fully realized when he or she becomes a worker: because the individual becomes a person when he or she opens up to others, to social life, when he or she thrives in work. The person thrives in work. Labour is the most common form of cooperation that humanity has generated in its history.”
The Pope proceeded to identify “two epochal challenges” facing unions:
“The first is prophecy, and regards the very nature itself of the union, its truest vocation. The union is an expression of the prophetic profile of society. The union is born and reborn every time that, like the biblical prophets, it gives a voice to those who have none, denounces those who would “sell the needy for a pair of sandals” (cf. Amos 2: 6), unmasks the powerful who trample the rights of the most vulnerable workers, defends the cause of the foreigner, the least, the discarded. …
“The second challenge is innovation. Prophets are sentinels, who watch from their lookout. The union too must keep vigil over the walls of the city of work, like a watchman who guards and protects those who are inside the city of labour, but also guarding and protecting those who are outside the walls. The union does not carry out its essential function of social innovation if it watches over only those who are inside, if it protects the rights only of those who already work or who are retired. This must be done, but it is half of your work. Your vocation is also to protect those who do not yet have rights, those excluded from work who are also excluded from rights and democracy.”
The Holy Father concluded:
“The capitalism of our time does not understand the value of the trade union, because it has forgotten the social nature of the economy, of the business. This is one of the greatest sins. ... The economy has forgotten the social nature that it has as a vocation, the social nature of business, of life, of bonds and pacts. …There is no good society without a good union, and there is no good union that is not reborn every day in the peripheries, that does not transform the discarded stones of the economy into its cornerstones.”
(The Pope’s entire Address to the Italian Confederation of Trade Unions can be read at: http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2017/06/28/170628a.html.)
Happy Labor Day, one and all! And let us not forget what we observe today!