For a less snarky, clearer, and more compelling discussion of the rights that correspond — necessarily — from the obligation to work, see John Paul II’s encyclical Laborem Exercens, or “On Human Labor.”
Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a big fan of this encyclical, due mainly to the forceful logic of its secular argument. But I’ll also confess that I enjoy citing this sometimes because I like watching right-wing Catholics squirm.
Here’s one pertinent part of John Paul II’s argument (all italics original):
IV. RIGHTS OF WORKERS
16. Within the Broad Context of Human Rights
While work, in all its many senses, is an obligation, that is to say a duty, it is also a source of rights on the part of the worker. These rights must be examined in the broad context of human rights as a whole, which are connatural with man, and many of which are proclaimed by various international organizations and increasingly guaranteed by the individual States for their citizens. … The human rights that flow from work are part of the broader context of those fundamental rights of the person.
However, within this context they have a specific character corresponding to the specific nature of human work as outlined above. It is in keeping with this character that we must view them. Work is, as has been said, an obligation, that is to say, a duty, on the part of man. This is true in all the many meanings of the word. Man must work, both because the Creator has commanded it and because of his own humanity, which requires work in order to be maintained and developed. Man must work out of regard for others, especially his own family, but also for the society he belongs to, the country of which he is a child, and the whole human family of which he is a member, since he is the heir to the work of generations and at the same time a sharer in building the future of those who will come after him in the succession of history. All this constitutes the moral obligation of work, understood in its wide sense. When we have to consider the moral rights, corresponding to this obligation, of every person with regard to work, we must always keep before our eyes the whole vast range of points of reference in which the labour of every working subject is manifested.
For when we speak of the obligation of work and of the rights of the worker that correspond to this obligation, we think in the first place of the relationship between the employer, direct or indirect, and the worker.
The distinction between the direct and the indirect employer is seen to be very important when one considers both the way in which labour is actually organized and the possibility of the formation of just or unjust relationships in the field of labour.
Since the direct employer is the person or institution with whom the worker enters directly into a work contract in accordance with definite conditions, we must understand as the indirect employer many different factors, other than the direct employer, that exercise a determining influence on the shaping both of the work contract and, consequently, of just or unjust relationships in the field of human labour.
John Paul’s “indirect employer” encompasses “many different factors,” and many different actors — individual, corporate and institutional. This reflects a fully realized picture of civil society as including multiple layers of actors, agencies and relationships, all mutually interdependent. Catholics like JP2 discuss this in terms of “subsidiarity.” I also like the language of my fellow Baptist, Martin Luther King Jr., who called this an “inescapable network of mutuality.”
That idea of mutuality can be seen in the encyclical. John Paul II was keenly aware that to speak of obligations and their corresponding rights is necessarily to speak of relationships.
Those relationships, and the relationships between those relationships, are complicated because the world is complicated. It’s always tempting to pretend the world isn’t complicated. To pretend, for example, that instead of an inescapable network of mutuality, we live in a simplistic world of binary, exclusive responsibilities. That view tends to correspond to a model of reality consisting only of two actors — rugged individuals and a monolithic, leviathan state.
Those clinging to such a simplistic model will likely be bewildered by JP2’s ensuing discussion of the various and varying mutual responsibilities of the “many different factors” that constitute the “indirect employer” he deems responsible for ensuring the right to work. The bewilderment induced by this simplistic model tends to express itself through the attempt to force every discussion into one of two binary categories: unfettered laissez-faire capitalism or socialism. Since what John Paul II describes as the duty of the indirect employer clearly is not the former, the bewildered simplifiers will likely jump to the conclusion that he is advocating the latter. That’s wrong, but it wouldn’t be the first time these folks have inaccurately assumed that someone is a socialist. That seems to be a hobby of theirs.
Anyway, a bit more on the role — and the duty — of indirect employers:
18. The Employment Issue
When we consider the rights of workers in relation to the “indirect employer”, that is to say, all the agents at the national and international level that are responsible for the whole orientation of labour policy, we must first direct our attention to a fundamental issue: the question of finding work, or, in other words, the issue of suitable employment for all who are capable of it. The opposite of a just and right situation in this field is unemployment, that is to say the lack of work for those who are capable of it. It can be a question of general unemployment or of unemployment in certain sectors of work. The role of the agents included under the title of indirect employer is to act against unemployment, which in all cases is an evil, and which, when it reaches a certain level, can become a real social disaster. It is particularly painful when it especially affects young people, who after appropriate cultural, technical and professional preparation fail to find work, and see their sincere wish to work and their readiness to take on their own responsibility for the economic and social development of the community sadly frustrated. The obligation to provide unemployment benefits, that is to say, the duty to make suitable grants indispensable for the subsistence of unemployed workers and their families, is a duty springing from the fundamental principle of the moral order in this sphere, namely the principle of the common use of goods or, to put it in another and still simpler way, the right to life and subsistence.
In order to meet the danger of unemployment and to ensure employment for all, the agents defined here as “indirect employer” must make provision for overall planning with regard to the different kinds of work by which not only the economic life but also the cultural life of a given society is shaped; they must also give attention to organizing that work in a correct and rational way. In the final analysis this overall concern weighs on the shoulders of the State, but it cannot mean onesided 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, free groups and local work centres and complexes must be safeguarded, keeping in mind what has been said above with regard to the subject character of human labour.