What is the Catholic Social Teaching (CST)?
The social doctrine of the Church or the Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is a set of conciliar and papal documents that deal with social concerns of the Church and Christian faith. Although an indispensable guide for reflection and action for Christians who intend to respond to the various economic and political problems in society in the light of faith, the CST remains unknown to many Catholics and Christians.
What is CST's Teaching on Labor and Capital?
The modern CST as a set of documents has been existing in the Catholic tradition for more than one hundred years after Centesimus Annus (1998) commemorated the 100th anniversary of the publication of the first CST document Rerum Novarum (1898). Throughout these years and in almost all documents, the labor issue has always been central of the social doctrines of the CST. The rights of workers has always been a recurring theme in these teachings of the Catholic Church. Papal and conciliar documents of the CST on the workers’ welfare is always given a top agenda in the CST as a response to the growing labor problems in industrializing and developing countries.
For the Church, work is the mark of a person operating within a community of persons (CCC 2427). Thus, the concept of work is central in the Church’s social teachings. In relation to social justice, “[h]uman work is a key—probably the essential key—to the whole social question” (CFC 1181). It is the key to the solution ... of the whole "social question (Laborem Exercens#3).
Pope John Paul II in his social encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), affirms the dignity of work and confirms its centrality in the social question. In this document, he stresses the priority of labor over capital and supports the rights of workers and labor unions (Henriot et. al. 1988: 69). In industrial and industrializing countries, solving labor problems and addressing the economic concerns of workers are important keys to industrial peace and social justice. Many economic issues can be resolved if the workers are satisfied and happy with the wage and benefits they receive from their employers.
One must remember that the working class constitutes more than half of a developing country’s population. Because of low wage and high standard of living, many workers in urban centers usually join the ranks of those who live below the poverty line. In the Philippines, most ordinary industrial workers join the 70% of the population who live in poverty, while the owners of big businesses which constitute the top 5% of the population live in prosperity and luxury. The unequal distribution of income and wealth has something to do with the relationship between labor and capital. Thus, one may ask: Which should be a priority in doing business for Christians: Labor? Or capital?
The Church's Teaching on the Priority of Labor over Capital
Textbooks on business administration, management and entrepreneurship in business courses with their preoccupation with profit always imply that productive capital in business is a priority over Labor. The common practice of some business establishments is to sacrifice the wage and benefits of workers to lower production cost to attain their forecast and maximize profit. One unfair labor practice that shows this priority of the growth of capital rather than labor is the “casualization” of labor. To lower labor cost to increase profit is the hiring of casuals with work contracts with less than six months to prevent employees to become regular or permanent, especially in the Philippines. This practice indicates than businessmen/women are not really more concerned with the welfare of the workers by providing them permanent jobs but with the increase of profit or capital. The hiring of students as casual crew in fastfood chains rather than permanent employees is one example of this contractualization of labor and prioritization of capital over labor.
Is capital really more important than labor in business?
Labor which consists of people or workers is always seen by the Church views as the most important value in the production process. Workers are created in the image and likeness of God, and thus possess human dignity and human rights. Moreover, the work of employees in a business firm is seen by the Church as actualizing of the divine call in the Book of Genesis on subduing the earth. Work in a production is not only a mere exhaustion of physical energy but contains a spiritual meaning. That is why the Catholic Social teaching speaks on the spirituality of work.
Capital, on the other hand, consists of material things. Money, stocks, machinery, equipment, land and all other forms of productive capital are created things. It’s true that capital is crucial in formation and maintenance of business. But it pales in comparison with labor in terms of spiritual and moral importance for the Church. Therefore, if a Catholic entrepreneur or business manager has to select which to prioritize between the two in case of conflict, he or she has to opt for labor, as people posses human dignity while capital consists only of material value. Furthermore, if a difficult business situation would force to him/her to choose, the business owner and/or manager must let go of his/her higher profit margin or forecast than retrenching workers,or reducing and removing workers' benefits and privileges.
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