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 CNS Story:

CHARITY-UNIONS Jul-20-2009 (630 words) With photo. xxxn

Pope urges workers' voices be heard, unions adapt to global economy

By Chaz Muth
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When Pope Benedict XVI released his third encyclical -- "Caritas in Veritate" ("Charity in Truth") -- he stressed that the voice of workers must be heard as heads of state, industry moguls, labor union leaders and environmentalists develop long-term solutions for the ailing global economy.

The pope's encyclical -- released in early July -- re-emphasizes the Catholic Church's continuing support of workers associations going back to Pope Leo XIII's encyclical, "Rerum Novarum," in 1891, but it also challenges labor union leaders to adapt to a growing global economy to remain relevant.

According to John Carr, executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the pope's encyclical says a healthy economy depends on workers who earn a sustainable wage, receive reliable health benefits and have a safe environment in which to perform their jobs.

"Pope Benedict, like earlier popes, thinks labor unions are a big part of the solution," Carr told Catholic News Service.

The encyclical encourages a strong voice for labor to balance the authority of management in the global economy -- a give-and-take system expected to achieve long-term financial security.

"What Benedict says is we need moral individuals and we need ethical structures. It's not an either-or," Carr said. "In some ways, the most important word in this encyclical is 'and.'

"Instead of sort of taking sides, or lifting one over another, he says the Catholic way is to pull those things together," he continued. "He really integrates charity and truth, charity and justice. He talks about the economy and ethics in a way that make them seem not like competing values, but in fact things that need to work together for the good of the human family."

Labor union president John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO applauded the pope's support of labor unions in the encyclical, saying it offers an ethical critique of the global economic crisis.

Sweeney also said the encyclical proposes concrete elements for policies anchored in moral values that enhance the dignity of all, especially the poor and working people.

"The encyclical levels a strong critique at the forces of unfettered free-market capitalism and globalized greed," he said.

The AFL-CIO is an umbrella organization for a host of unions that represent teachers, construction workers, cable installers and several other groups. Its Web site says it represents more than 11 million members.

Though "Charity in Truth" does support the workers movement, it's far from being just a pro-labor document.

Stephen Schneck, director of the Life Cycle Institute at The Catholic University of America in Washington, said Pope Benedict calls on labor union leaders to address the needs of workers, industries and nations beyond the scope of their membership.

"That's really a strong statement," Schneck told CNS. "That's calling on union members and union leaders to recognize that union interests aren't what it's all about. That they are part of a much broader enterprise, this idea of the common good and that unions need to be focusing and serving the common good -- just as business interests, just as the state, just as all of the groups and individuals in society need to be focused on the common good."

Though Schneck doesn't believe union leaders will change their philosophy overnight, he does trust that the pope's broader vision will ultimately take hold and make unions stronger than they are today. In recent years unions have lost members and influence.

"We need to be part of a bigger picture," he said. "If you ask me, I think that bigger picture that is reaching out beyond their membership is probably also the future for union growth, for unions to have their proper place in society. For them, in a sense, to come back from (their current) predicament."


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