HISTORICAL CONTEXT In his first encyclical addressing social issues LaboremExercens (On Human Work) Pope John Paul II revisited the topic of "work" first addressed by Leo XII 90 years and examined it at considerable depth. Marxism and as well as the popular political and social movements for change that were beginning to influence thinking throughout Eastern Europe in 1981 shaped both the proclamation and reception of this important Encyclical.
In June 1979 John Paul II had visited Poland. This trip was marked by large enthusiastic crowds and the Pope’s support for the Solidarity movement in the struggle to bring freedom and human rights to this nation.
In Poland, during September 1981, the National Congress of Delegates of the Solidarity (Solidarnosc) met in two sessions in Gdansk and elected Lech Walesa as President of the union. It issued a "Message to working people of Eastern Europe" extending greetings and words of support to workers of Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Romania, Hungary and all nations of the Soviet Union.
The two sessions of the Solidarity national congress were held 5th to 10th September and then 26th September to October 7,1981. Between these two sessions Pope John Paul II proclaimed LaboremExercens on September 14th.
Overview of the Document This is the first of John Paul II’s social encyclical. LaboremExercens begins with a Christian anthropology, humanity as persons made in the divine image. The implications of this anthropology for public policy are expanded, and related to both international and national issues.
The main concern of LaboremExercens is to affirm the dignity of workers as human persons. The encyclical identifies a potential threat by reductionist perspectives in the economic world that view labour as simply a means of production. Labour, rather than being an independent entity, is constituted by human persons and the work that they do.
The document contains a philosophical analysis and critique of both Marxist and capitalist systems. While Marxism sets labour and capital in opposition, capitalism can see workers as instruments to be exploited. In LaboremExercens the point is made that all capital is the result of labour. The issue then becomes the proper use and ownership of capital. While the right to private ownership of property including the means of production is affirmed, it is the view of the church that this right is not absolute but subject to the common good.
concept of man's dignity in work Work - making life more human Work in the subjective sense: The human person as the Subject of Work Workers Rights: Wages and other social benefits Spirituality of Work
WORK AND MAN: John Paul II underlines the Church's conviction that "work is a fundamental dimension of man's existence on earth." “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it”. "Man's 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
WORK AND MAN: “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." Each and every individual, to the proper extent and in an incalculable number of ways, takes part in the giant process whereby man "subdues the earth" through his work.
AS technology supplants man: takes away all personal satisfaction and the incentive to creativity and responsibility deprives many workers of their previous employment it reduces man to the status of its slave
SOCIAL QUESTIONS: the degradation of man as the subject of work the unheard-of accompanying exploitation in the field of wages, working conditions and social security for the workers.
The Holy Father recalls ……. “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.”
Work in the subjective sense: “the value of human work is not primarily the kind of work being done, but the fact that the one doing it is a person” . The pope 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 purpose." He then refers to the right to private property as subordinated to the right to common use.
RIGHTS OF WORKERS The Holy Father highlights that the human rights that are derived from work are a part of the fundamental rights of the person. He discusses the need to take action against unemployment, which is a true social calamity and a problem of a moral as well as an economic nature. Starting 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.“
Speaking 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 done." In 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 and sex."
It 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." Besides 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.
The 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 abused. As 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, hould not be placed at a disadvantage in comparison with the other workers in that society in the matter of working rights."
ELEMENTS FOR A SPIRITUALITY OF WORK Pope emphasizes 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." Labor 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. "By 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."