Q. What does the Church teach about labor unions? I know that the Catholic Church often supports unions, but I don’t exactly know why.
A. The Church has long taught that all people who work have the right to just wages for the support of their families, decent healthcare, safe working conditions, and enough “off-time” to spend with their families, to exercise religion, and to enjoy moments of leisure.
There are times, of course, when employers may not recognize these rights, or dutifully respect them. And so Pope Leo XIII, in 1891, taught that unions of workers can be helpful to promote these rights, and negotiate for them. Pope St. John Paul II, among others, frequently supported this teaching, and recognized that unions can help to ensure human rights. Certainly, this was the case with the unions of Pope St. John Paul II’s native Poland, which helped to usher in religious and political freedom, and undo the tyranny of the Soviet system.
Leo XIII said that unions could also be great cultural forces: they could help those in distress, they could aid in the education of young people, and they could advance public projects of artistic and cultural value. However, Leo XIII also taught that unions should help to bring employers and workers together, in a relationship of trust, mutual support, and charity.
Unions, the Church teaches, should serve the common good, and this means that they must act virtuously. Like any social group, unions are always in danger of becoming self-interested, or losing a broad vision of the common good of the whole of society. This can lead to real social disorder. In order for unions to achieve their purpose, they must be led by people of virtue, with a desire to support long-term, positive, charitable, and sustainable relationships with employers, and with the entire community. Only when unions approach their task with this vision can they support the needs of families and the rights of workers. And, when unions are led with a true vision of the common good, they can help to create conditions that lead to the most important kind of union: our eternal unity with the Holy Trinity.
Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.