Thursday, May 16, 2013


The newly elected Pope Francis kisses the feet of prisoners in Rome during the ritual of foot washing that precedes Easter

There are few unions that still rely on Catholic social principles as previously defined in the encyclical Rerum Novarum of Pope leo XIII in 1898. That encyclical deals with the situation of the working class and expresses in a number of principles the social teaching of the Catholic Church. The Belgian Christian Trade Union Federation ACV is one of the few trade unions in Europe that every year commemorates the publication of Rerum Novarum on 15 May. The former Dutch Catholic Confederation NKV also had a manifesto based on the social teaching of the Catholic Church. I do not know what has been kept of those principles on since the merger of the former socialist NVV with NKV into the current confederation FNV.

The former International Christian Trade Unions Confederation ICV, the predecessor of the WCL, was also based on the principles of the social teaching of the Catholic Church. Over the years, under the influence of trade unions from third world countries like for example CLAT in Latin America other principles were introduced. Those changes were not always apreciated. President Piet Brussels of the former NKV metal union believed that there were to much Marxist elements in it. Ironically, as already mentioned, years later the NKV merged with a former socialist federation.

The main principles in the papal encyclical are a fair wage, the right to property and solidarity with the weak. As instruments to pursue these objectives were mentioned both government intervention and the formation of trade unions. With this introduction on the functions of government, the role of industry and labor Pope Leo XIII leads The Catholic Church into the industrial era. His plea for trade unions was not only an innovation in ecclesiastical circles, but also to the outside world. Leo's encyclical contains a critique against unbridled capitalism and at the same time condemns Marxism.

The encyclical Rerum Novarum outlined the excesses of the industrial revolution and criticized the society based on capitalism as the cause of the misery. The political ideology of liberalism was also criticized because of her support of capitalism. At the same time the Pope rejects the class struggle and the ideologies that supported it, socialism and communism. Instead, the encyclical emphasized the importance of fair wages and adequate redistribution of wealth and ownership for the workers.

Core values ​​of Catholic social teaching are: human dignity, human development, solidarity, complementarity, charity, subsidiarity and redistribution of ownership and wealth.

Human dignity
This main principle is founded on the Catholic vision of the human person. Central to this vision is that man is created in the image of God and that man therefore has an inalienable individual human dignity. Related is the idea that man is not just something, but someone (a person). The Catholic vision of man considers him capable of self-knowledge, personal development and relationships with others.

Catholic social teaching recognizes that men and women are different, but have to fulfill complementary roles. Both sexes should respect and support each other in their roles.

Solidarity is committed to the public interest and not just to temporarily reducing the suffering of others. It is emphasized that the human being is dependent on other people and that everyone is connected. Men are by definition social human beings.

In the later encyclical Caritas and Veritate (Latin: Love in Truth) charity is highlighted as one of the main principles, which was considered by Jesus himself as a summary of all principles. Because love can not be effective by itself, it should be accompanied by the Truth.
Subsidiarity implies that what people as individuals can arrange must be left to themselves. If individuals cannot do so, then these tasks should be transferred to the local community and if necessary to other, higher authorities. Politically speaking, it is a principle of decentralization.

Redistribution is on the ownership of companies that should be distributed as widely as possible among the population. It also emphasises antitrust measures and the need of cooperative companies and banks.  

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