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Collective Bargaining

The most important of all are workingmen’s unions, for these virtually include all the rest. History attests what excellent results were brought about by the artificers’ guilds of olden times. They were the means of affording not only many advantages to the workmen, but in no small degree of promoting the advancement of art, as numerous monuments remain to bear witness. Such unions should be suited to the requirements of this our age – an age of wider education, of different habits, and of far more numerous requirements in daily life. It is gratifying to know that there are actually in existence not a few associations of this nature, consisting either of workmen alone, or of workmen and employers together, but it were greatly to be desired that they should become more numerous and more efficient.

Rerum Novarum (“On the Condition of Labor and the Working Classes”), Pope Leo XIII, 1891, #49.


 

In modern times we have seen an extensive increase in the number of workers’ associations, and their general recognition in the juridical codes of single States and on the international level. Members are no longer recruited in order to agitate, but rather to co-operate, principally by the method of collective bargaining. But it is worthwhile stressing here how timely and imperative it is that workers be given the opportunity to exert their influence throughout the State, and not just within the limits of their own spheres of employment.

Mater et Magistra (“Mother and Teacher”), Pope John XXII, 1961, #97.


 

Among the basic rights of the human person is to be numbered the right of freely founding unions for working people. They should be able truly to represent them and to contribute to the organizing of economic life in the right way. Included is the right of freely taking part in the activity of these unions without risk of reprisal. Through this orderly participation joined to progressive economic and social formation, all will grow day by day in the awareness of their won function and responsibility, and thus they will be brought to feel that they are comrades in the whole task of economic development and in the attainment of the universal common good according to their capacities and aptitudes.

Gaudium et Spes (“The Church in the Modern World”), Vatican II, 1965, #68.


 

The important role of union organizations must be admitted: their object is the representation of the various categories of workers, their lawful collaboration in the economic advance of society, and the development of the sense of their responsibility for the realization of the common good.

Octogesima Adveniens (“A Call to Action”), Pope Paul VI, 1971, #14.


 

History teaches us that organizations of this type are an indispensable element in social life, especially in industrialized societies. This does not mean that only industrial workers can form these associations. Every profession can use them: agricultural workers, white-collar workers, and employers.

Laborem Exercens (“On Human Work,” Donders translation), Pope John Paul II, 1981, #20.


 

Catholic social teaching does not see unions as reflecting only a “class”‘ structure, and even less as engaged in a “class” struggle. They are indeed engaged in the struggle for social justice, but this is a struggle for the common good, and not against others. Its aim is social justice and not the elimination of opponents.

Laborem Exercens (“On Human Work,” Donders translation), Pope John Paul II, 1981, #20.


 

One of the methods used by unions is the strike, or work stoppage – a means that is recognized by Catholic social teaching as legitimate under the proper conditions and within proper limits. Workers should be assured of the right to strike without fear of penalty.

Laborem Exercens (“On Human Work,” Donders translation), Pope John Paul II, 1981, #20.


 

The purpose of unions is not simply to defend the existing wages and prerogatives of the fraction of workers who belong to them, but also to enable workers to make positive and creative contributions to the firm, the community, and the larger society in an organized and cooperative way.

Laborem Exercens (“On Human Work,” Donders translation), Pope John Paul II, 1981, #20.


 

Labor unions themselves are challenged by the present economic environment to seek new ways of doing business. The propose of unions is not simply to defend the existing wages and prerogatives of the fraction of workers who belong to them, but also to enable workers to make positive and creative contributions to the firm, the community, and the larger society in an organized and cooperative way [13]. Such contributions call for experiments with new directions in the U.S. labor movement.

Laborem Exercens (“On Human Work,” Donders translation), Pope John Paul II, 1981, #304.


 

The church fully supports the right of workers to form unions or other associations to secure their rights to fair wages and working conditions. This is a specific application of the more general right to associate. In the words of Pope John Paul II, “The experience of history teaches that organizations of this type are an indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrialized societies.” Unions may also legitimately resort to strikes where this is the only available means to the justice owed to workers. No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself. Therefore, we firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably now seen in this country, to break existing unions and prevent workers from organizing. Migrant agricultural workers today are particularly in need of the protection, including the right to organize and bargain collectively. U.S. labor law reform is needed to meet these problems as well as to provide more timely and effective remedies for unfair labor practices.

Economic Justice for All, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1986, #104.


 

Along with the rights of workers and unions go a number of important responsibilities. Individual workers have obligations to their employers, and trade unions also have duties to society as a whole. Union management in particular carries a strong responsibility for the good name of the entire union movement. Workers must use their collective power to contribute to the well-being of the whole community and should avoid pressing demands whose fulfillment would damage the common good and the rights of more vulnerable members of society. It should be noted, however, that wages paid to workers are but one of the factors affecting the competitiveness of industries. Thus, it is unfair to expect unions to make concessions if managers and shareholders do not make at least equal sacrifices.

Economic Justice for All, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1986, #106.


 

All church institutions must also fully recognize the rights of employees to organize and bargain collectively with the institution through whatever association or organization they freely choose. In the light of new creative models of collaboration between labor and management described earlier in this letter, we challenge our church institutions to adopt new fruitful modes of cooperation.

Economic Justice for All, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1986, #353.


 

We should add here that in today’s world there are many other forms of poverty. For are there not certain privations or deprivations which deserve this name? The denial or the limitation of human rights as for example the right to religious freedom, the right to share in the building of society, the freedom to organize and to form unions, or to take initiatives in economic matters–do these not impoverish the human person as much as, if not more than, the deprivation of material goods? And is development which does not take into account the full affirmation of these rights really development on the human level?

Solicitudo Rei Socialis (“On Social Concern,” Donders translation), Pope John Paul II, 1987, #15.


 

Society and the State must ensure wage levels adequate for the maintenance of the worker and his family, including a certain amount for savings. This requires a continuous effort to improve workers’ training and capability so that their work will be more skilled and productive, as well as careful controls and adequate legislative measures to block shameful forms of exploitation, especially to the disadvantage of the most vulnerable workers, of immigrants and of those on the margins of society. The role of trade unions in negotiating minimum salaries and working conditions is decisive in this area.

Centesimus Annus (“The Hundredth Year”), Pope John Paul II, 1991, #15.


 

An abundance of work opportunities, a solid system of social security and professional training, the freedom to join trade unions and the effective action of unions, the assistance provided in cases of unemployment, the opportunities for democratic participation in the life of society–all these are meant to deliver work from the mere condition of “a commodity,” and to guarantee its dignity.

Centesimus Annus (“The Hundredth Year”), Pope John Paul II, 1991, #19.


 

We find a wide range of opportunities for commitment and effort in the name of justice on the part of trade unions and other workers’ organizations. These defend workers’ rights and protect their interests as persons, while fulfilling a vital cultural role, so as to enable workers to participate more fully and honorably in the life of their nation and to assist them along the path of development.

Centesimus Annus (“The Hundredth Year”), Pope John Paul II, 1991, #35.


 

Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level.

Caritas in Veritate (“In Charity and Truth”), Pope Benedict XVI, 2005, #25.


 

The Church’s traditional teaching makes a valid distinction between the respective roles and functions of trade unions and politics. This distinction allows unions to identify civil society as the proper setting for their necessary activity of defending and promoting labour, especially on behalf of exploited and unrepresented workers, whose woeful condition is often ignored by the distracted eye of society.

Caritas in Veritate (“In Charity and Truth”), Pope Benedict XVI, 2005, #64.

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