“The moral rights corresponding to this obligation”

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.

 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    :D

    http://www.udhr.org/UDHR/default.htm

    Article 23
    (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free
    choice of employment, to just and favourable
    conditions of work and to protection against
    unemployment.

    (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has
    the right to equal pay for equal work.

    (3) Everyone who works has the right to just
    and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself
    and his family an existence worthy of human
    dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other
    means of social protection.

    (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join
    trade unions for the protection of his interests.

    Article 24

    Everyone has the right to rest and leisure,
    including reasonable limitation of working hours
    and periodic holidays with pay.

    The bolded part definitely echoes the writings of Pope JP II.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Man, I wish the Catholic church had more bishops and popes like John Paul II.  Maybe I do not agree with him on every issue, but he certainly had his heart in the right place on some critical ones.  

    His assertions about work being a duty really resonated with me.  I might not necessarily believe that I am obligated by a divine Creator to work, but I certainly believe that I am obligated to work by those who built the foundations of the life I now live and I have an obligation in turn to help lay the foundation for those who will come after.  My mood is at its worst when I feel like I am unable to make such contributions, or when the contributions that I do make are insufficient to fulfill that duty.  

  • http://leftcheek.blogspot.com Jas-nDye

    I take it that PJP2′s definition of attainable work is quite different than Bachmann’s?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Man, I wish the Catholic church had more bishops and popes like John Paul II.

    I don’t. I wish it had more bishops and popes closer to the many parish priests I know, who are strong on the dignity of the marginalised and the rights of the poor without also being authoritarian social conservatives.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HZDOAAQAB5LXYL5Z4EAV55QMLY AbdulJ

    I don’t know this for sure, but I get the impression that Michele Bachmann thinks that adding 50,000 McDonald’s jobs is an amazing accomplishment for the economy and is probably astounded that CPAs, nurses, teachers, and IT specialists aren’t thrilled to grab them up. She seems like the kind of person who doesn’t really understand how — for many specialists — taking a job digging ditches or picking grapes for 18 months will seriously (perhaps even fatally) destroy their ability to ever return to their previous fields when the economy rebounds.

    (She’s probably also the kind of person who thinks that the government can stimulate the economy by harassing LBGT people, but I guess that’s neither here nor anywhere.)

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I don’t. I wish it had more bishops and popes closer to the many parish priests I know, who are strong on the dignity of the marginalised and the rights of the poor without also being authoritarian social conservatives.

    Unfortunately, I cannot say that I know many parish priests.  

    And yeah, the authoritarian social conservative bend does grate on me.  I wish that they saw things like, for example freedom to more easily control reproduction, as being part and parcel of the social justice movement.  

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    She seems like the kind of person who doesn’t really understand how — for many specialists — taking a job digging ditches or picking grapes for 18 months will seriously (perhaps even fatally) destroy their ability to ever return to their previous fields when the economy rebounds.

    I am a software test engineer by trade (resulting in the atrophy of the skills I built up through education for a software development job but I have to play the cards I am dealt) and I was unemployed for most of the last two years.  One of the agencies that I contract through had an opening that they wanted me to apply for, though the provider was a little sparse on the details, but it was in a department of a company where I wanted to work so it might fit me.  

    I went to the interview to discover that the position was about posing 3D skeletal models to synch with a 3D recording of a person in motion to help refine Microsoft Kinect’s body-recognition algorithms.  While neat, it was very, very basic.  Interviewees were “interviewed” in twos, and the entire thing consisted of just the interviewer watching us pose things to see if we could do it.  No questions were asked, no resumes were consulted, just verify that you can click the screen in the right places.  They wanted people to come in to work in shifts, one shift really early in the morning and getting out in the afternoon, the other shift coming in the afternoon and getting out late at night.  Neither shift worked for me because I could not commute at this times since the busses did not run at the head and tail end of those shifts, respectively.  The pay was pretty poor, it gave no guarantee of more than a few months, would lock me out of other contracts at that company for three months after this one stopped, and experience has taught me that the easier a job is to get the more likely you are to get dumped and replaced rather than worked with.  

    I got a call a few days later from the agency recruiter telling me that they wanted me to take the contract.  I tried explaining why that would not be a good contract for me, and she told me that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush.  I was adamant though.  

    It occurred to me that, if my unemployment had not already run out, I would have just gotten myself disqualified from collecting any more because I know I could have held out for a better fit.  

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    You know, I was reminded of these two pages from The Great American Deception, by Ravi Batra ( http://www.amazon.com/Great-American-Deception-Politicians-Economy/dp/0471165565 )

    http://picturepush.com/public/6938952
    http://picturepush.com/public/6938980

    Sorry for the poor quality; the scanner wasn’t great and the text on the pages is starting to lose its solid color.

    As J.D. in Bulworth put it, “how a young man gonna take care of his financial responsibilities
    workin’ at motherfuckin’ Burger King? He ain’t! He ain’t, and please don’t even start with the school shit.”

  • Lori

     

    It occurred to me that, if my unemployment had not already run out, I would have just gotten myself disqualified from collecting any more because I know I could have held out for a better fit.  

     
    If you were still eligible for unemployment this situation should not have disqualified you, provided you kept the focus on the right issue. Namely that you could not take the job because the hours conflicted with your only means of getting to and from the work. If you were turning it down purely because it was a poor fit then yes, it would have been a problem. 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The next two pages really kinda wrap it up. Check the opinion poll, in particular, on page 36. The myth of lazy, entitled American workers is exploded in that poll, because American workers are most assuredly willing to do a lot to keep their jobs.

    http://picturepush.com/public/6939060
    http://picturepush.com/public/6939078

    EDIT: fixed crappy wording.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    If you were still eligible for unemployment this situation should not have disqualified you, provided you kept the focus on the right issue. Namely that you could not take the job because the hours conflicted with your only means of getting to and from the work. If you were turning it down purely because it was a poor fit then yes, it would have been a problem.

    It would not necessarily have been impossible for me to get there, just very impractical.  The only shift I could maybe manage was the morning shift, by getting up several hours earlier than I was due at the shift becuase that was the only possible route that would run so early. 

    If I took the late shift, I would be waiting at the bus stop for at least six hours after I got off shift before the next bus ran again, at which point I would go home for approximately four hours of sleep before having to leave for work again.   

    Could I make it there?  Technically, yes.  Could I practically maintain that job with that kind of commute?  No, I do not think I could. 

  • Guest-again

    ‘because I like watching right-wing Catholics squirm’ – you know, when it comes to John Paul II, all that squirming is due to their unbearable delight, right?

    ‘Man, I wish the Catholic church had more bishops and popes like John Paul II.’
    First – I don’t, but then, my Catholicism is essentially of a historical variety. Second – the Catholic Church already does, and the result is disheartening, to say the least.

  • ako

    Yeah, I can agree with Fred’s “This specific thing he said is something I admire”, but considering stuff like his deeply damaging stance on AIDS and condom use, his consistent support of sexist and homophobic attitudes, and his appalling mishandling of the sexual abuse crisis, I’m not going to join the cheering section.  

    And the right-wing Catholics that I know love their “Down with the Commies!  Keep women in their place!  Forget condoms, just keep your legs crossed!  Sexual abuse?  It’s all the fault of those dirty queers!” pope.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.maki Jon Maki

    I have to admit that I have a knee-jerk negative reaction to any mention of John Paul II.  Not because of any anti-Catholic bias, or anything in particular the man said or did (though obviously, his word here aside, there is plenty to choose from there), but simply because, being named Jon-Paul, I spent a significant portion of my life having to put up with various “Pope” jokes.  (I know; I need to let it go, but as my dad used to say, “God forgives, but a Maki never forgets.”)

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that this…

    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.

    …is a keeper.  It’s very much in line with ideas that have been in the forefront of my mind this week as I keep encountering people who are stuck in that binary mindset.

    I’m just so tired of seeing Facebook posts complaining about “the government.”  My point being, thanks, Fred.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Yeah, I can agree with Fred’s “This specific thing he said is something I admire”, but considering stuff like his deeply damaging stance on AIDS and condom use, his consistent support of sexist and homophobic attitudes, and his appalling mishandling of the sexual abuse crisis, I’m not going to join the cheering section.

    Okay, to revise my initial statement, I wish we had more popes that held to this idea on this particular issue.

  • Apocalypse Review

    FearlessSon:

    Me too. I didn’t want to make this thread all about trashing JP II because it is important to examine the ways in which society falls short of being fair to workers.

    That said, as a QUILTBAG person I have many reasons to dislike the man, and while he was very right on the subject of labor he had the wrong of it on many other things.