When Pope XIII published Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of Labour) in 1892, it was considered a brilliant piece of thinking on the Church walking closely with the average man and woman because it demonstrated that in reality, once again, the Church situated herself in the reality of human existence: in the social, political and economic spheres with a keen recognition of human dignity; the protection of basic economic and political rights, including the right to a just wage and to organize associations or unions to defend just claims; the right to private property; the rights of labor over capital; the just organizations of society for the common good.
Pope Leo rejected not only a communistic philosophy but he did not ignore the basis of its appeal to workers and condemned the exploitative nature of the liberal-capitalist alternative. He wanted the Church on all levels to be engaged with the social order which slowly took shape in the later years of the 19th century and then in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan brings the issue of labor closer to home in his message for Labor Day 2011 when he said in part of the American contribution to the Church’s social teaching on labor:
“…James Cardinal Gibbons visited Pope Pius X at the Vatican. The saintly pontiff expressed admiration for the Church in the
I hold that inspired reply before your eyes as we get ready for Labor Day weekend. I am so proud that the workers of our county look to the Church as an ally, and realize that the Church has been in the lead from the earliest day in protecting and promoting the legitimate rights of the laborer.
And, lest you think such a stance is a thing of the past, I only remind you of less than thirty years ago, when a devoted Catholic husband, father, electrical repairman and labor leader, Lech Walesa, inspired a revolution, with quotes, not from Marx, but from John Paul II, wearing on his lapel not the hammer and sickle, but a medal of Our Lady of Czestochowa.
Today, thank God, Catholics in America are among the best-educated, most prosperous people in the country. However, as 130 years ago, we still are grateful to number among our people those brave workers struggling for a decent wage, job, security, and elementary justice. Our great-grandparents will haunt us if we ignore them.”
A blessed Labor Day to you!