Labor Day 2008

Center of Concern | Mon, Sep 1, 2008

By Bob Stewart

“Our faith,” the U.S. bishops remind us in their pastoral letter Economic Justice for All, “is not just a weekend obligation, a mystery to be celebrated around the altar on Sunday.

It is a pervasive reality to be practiced every day in homes, offices, factories, schools, and businesses…We cannot separate what we believe form how we act in the marketplace and the broader community” (#25).

The bishops’ pastoral letter builds on a long tradition, a tradition that can be traced to the Hebrew prophets and their passion for social justice for the most vulnerable of society, the New Testament, the Patristic and Medieval teaching against rapacious wealth, and the most recent papal encyclicals, beginning with Rerum Novarum in 1891. *

In the same pastoral letter, actually in the first paragraph of the letter, the bishops provide people of faith with a specific guideline to use in evaluating our economy, a principle that we can surely use this Labor Day for our reflection on justice for workers and their families: “Our faith calls us to measure this economy, not by what it produces but also by how it touches human life and whether it protects or undermines the dignity of the human person.”

How is our economy touching “human life” and is it protecting or undermining the “dignity of the human person”? A recent, well-documented book (632 referenced notes) by Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker, provides us an evaluation, a report card on the economy and how workers are being treated.

Based on his careful and attentive study of the plight of workers, Greenhouse observes: “One of the least examined but most important trends taking place in the United States today is the broad decline in the status and treatment of American workers… that began nearly three decades ago… and hit full force soon after the turn of this century… A profound shift has left a broad swath of the American workforce on a lower plane than in decades past, with health coverage, pension benefits, job security, workloads, stress levels, and often wages growing worse for millions of workers” (p.4). He notes a few pages later in the book: “Employee productivity has … far outpaced wages, rising 15 percent from 2001 through 2007. Corporate profits have climbed to their highest share of national income in sixty-four years, while the share going to the wages has sunk to it lowest since 1929” (p.9).

Clearly, the wages and benefits for workers have stagnated while corporate profits have soared. Economic justice for all continues to be an unattained goal this Labor Day.

*Catholic Social Doctrine and Worker Justice: A Call to the Common Good, prepared by Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice (www.CATHOLICSCHOLARSFORJUSTICE.ORG).

Posted by Bob Stewart—Ignatian Volunteer