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Kentucky Bishops Celebrate Labor Day by Calling for Justice for Workers29 Aug

Labor Day

Each year the U. S. Bishops’ Conference issues a statement near Labor Day to emphasize the Church’s profound understanding of our participation in the creative activity of God. The holiday can be used by Catholics to remind ourselves that we are created in God’s image. We read in this year’s statement:

Labor Day is an opportunity to take stock of the ways workers are honored and respected. Earlier this year, Pope Francis pointed out, “Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. . . . It gives one the ability to maintain oneself, one’s family, to contribute to the growth of one’s own nation.” Unfortunately, millions of workers today are denied this honor and respect as a result of unemployment, underemployment, unjust wages, wage theft, abuse, and exploitation.

Coming so close to the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom during which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the now famous I Have a Dream speech it is appropriate that in their statement honoring that event the Bishops concluded with this sentence:

We join the call for positive action that seeks to end poverty, increase jobs, eliminate racial and class inequality, ensure voting rights, and that provides fair and just opportunities for all.

The Catholic Conference of Kentucky has worked on issues important to laborers and will continue to press for a living wage; for safe working conditions; and for the fair treatment of all who labor, both native-born and immigrant.

Recently the Conference has joined with others by signing a statement that calls for the just treatment of miners who expended their efforts to produce a profit for companies that promised them retirement benefits and now are trying to maneuver out of their promises. This sort of corporate behavior fails to meet the moral standard of justice expressed in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church which states, “Labor has an intrinsic priority over capital.”

That principle was also proclaimed much earlier by none other than President Abraham Lincoln who declared in his State of the Union Address delivered on December 1, 1862:

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

Click here to read the statement signed our bishops.

train stationThe Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice have this to say  about the attempts by mining corporations who seek to avoid keeping their commitments to retired employees by declarations of bankruptcy:

ACCORDING TO CATHOLIC SOCIAL DOCTRINE, the human rights of workers are rooted in their being created in the image and likeness of God. Catholic Social Doctrine also asserts that all workers possess a fundamental human right to health-care. Therefore, we judge and publicly declare that, in the case of a bankruptcy, the right of workers to health-care – as provided for in their union contracts – cannot in justice be subordinated to, or displaced by, any claims of capital, including claims of investors and creditors. It may be that some human-made laws provide for such subordination or displacement by capital of workers’ fundamental human rights. But, according to Catholic Social Doctrine, the Eternal Law of God does not permit the subordination or dis-placement of labor to capital, for labor has priority over capital. In such cases, we judge and declare that those human-made laws would be, in the eyes of God, unjust laws.

Click here to read their complete statement.

The U.S. bishops’ 2013 Labor Day statement closes with the following words challenging us to a renewed commitment to promoting the human dignity of all:

The pain of the poor and those becoming poor in the rising economic inequality of our society is mounting. Therefore, on this Labor Day 2013, let us renew our commitment to promote the dignity of the human person through work that is honorable, pays just wages, and recognizes the God-given dignity of the working person.

At the end of Mass we are commanded “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” We leave with a sense of mission to show one another honor by what we do and say. On this Labor Day our mission takes us to the millions of people who continue to suffer the effects of the current economy.

Clip art copyrighted by Bobbie Peachey:  http://webclipart.about.com
Photo of Thurmond Depot by Frank Kehren, used under Creative Commons.

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