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Pope Francis calls for renewed international attention to workers’ rights

June 18, 2021

As the world emerges from the pandemic, Pope Francis called on the international community to turn its attention to the common good, workers’ rights, and the inclusion of marginalized peoples in international decision-making processes.

He also emphasized the “prophetic vocation” of trade unions—while warning against their corruption—and the importance of seeing the right to private property within the context of the universal destination of goods.

The Pontiff was one of four world leaders who addressed the International Labour Organization (ILO) virtually on June 17. Established in 1919 under the Treaty of Versailles, the ILO is now a UN agency that sets labors standards and develops labor policies and programs. President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, Prime Minister António Costa of Portugal, and President Joe Biden of the United States also addressed the organization.

Speaking in Spanish, the Pope said:

Let us avoid past fixations on profit, isolationism and nationalism, blind consumerism, and denial of clear evidence pointing to discrimination against our “disposable” brothers and sisters in our society. On the contrary, let us look for solutions that help us build a new future of work, based on decent and dignified working conditions, which comes from collective bargaining, and which promotes the common good, a foundation that will make work an essential component of our care of society and creation.

“We must continue as we did in 1931, when Pope Pius XI, in the wake of the Wall Street crisis and in the midst of the Great Depression, denounced the asymmetry between workers and employers as a flagrant injustice that gave capital a free hand,” he continued. Quoting the 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, he said:

Property, that is, “capital,” has undoubtedly long been able to appropriate too much to itself. Whatever was produced, whatever returns accrued, capital claimed for itself, hardly leaving to the worker enough to restore and renew his strength. (no. 54)


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