Pope Francis again speaks out strongly for unions, warns of “epochal challenges”

ROME–Reflecting his own principles and Catholic social thought teachings, Pope Francis I is again speaking out strongly for unions — again. But this time, he’s also warning them of “epochal challenges” and particularly not to become complacent, to advocate for all workers, and not to abandon their watchdog role over the corporate class.

“There is no good society without a good union, and there is no good union that is not reborn every day…that does not transform the discarded stones of the economy into its cornerstones,” Francis declared in a June 28 speech.

The Pope’s latest endorsement, in an audience in Rome with Italian Confederation of Trade Unions (CISL) delegates, is in line with his prior pro-union statements.  And he again, as in the others, also strongly criticized unbridled, unchecked capitalism, which he says degrades workers and people.

His remarks are also in line with more than 125 years of church teachings, which back the dignity of work and workers, the right to organize and society’s need for strong unions.

In his prior addresses, Francis also criticized Catholic politicians and business executives who ignore those teachings. This time, he omitted the politicians from his critique.

Francis spoke at a time when unions and workers are under fire in several western democracies. The GOP Trump administration and GOP-run U.S. states are rolling back worker protections, especially in regulations, while the GOP-run Congress schemes to dismantle basic U.S. labor laws.

And new French President Emmanuel Macron wants to push labor law reforms through the National Assembly to restore the 40-hour week — up from France’s current 35 hours — and to make it easier for firms to fire workers.

That led Francis to say the union movement must “face and defeat” the epochal challenges from its foes “if it is to continue to perform its essential role for the common good.”

“The union is an expression of the prophetic profile of society,” he declared. “The union is born and reborn every time that, like the biblical prophets, it gives a voice to those who have none, denounces those who would ‘sell the needy for a pair of sandals,’ unmasks the powerful who trample the rights of the most vulnerable workers, defends the cause of the foreigner, the least, the discarded.

“As shown by the great tradition of the CISL, the union movement has its great seasons when it is prophecy,” he continued. “But in our advanced capitalist societies, the union risks losing its prophetic nature, and becoming too similar to the institutions and powers that it should instead criticize.

“The union, with the passing of time, has ended up resembling politics, or rather, political parties, their language, their style. And instead, if this typical and diverse dimension is lacking, its action within businesses will lose strength and effectiveness,” Francis warned.

But unions must also innovate to keep pace with businesses and with their prophetic role, he explained. And it must speak up not just for its members, but for all workers.

“Prophets are sentinels, who watch from their lookout. The union too must keep vigil over the walls of the city of work, like a watchman who guards and protects those who are inside the city of labor, but also guarding and protecting those who are outside the walls.

“The union does not carry out its essential function of social innovation if it watches over only those who are inside, if it protects the rights only of those who already work or who are retired. This must be done, but it is half of your work. Your vocation is also to protect those who do not yet have rights, those excluded from work who are also excluded from rights and democracy.”

Francis also had some pointed words, again, against laissez-faire capitalism, which not only “does not understand the value of the trade union,” but “has forgotten the social nature of the economy, of the business.

“This is one of the greatest sins,” he declared.

In his speech, the unbridled “market economy” got a resounding “No!” from Francis. Instead, he favored what he called, quoting the late Pope John Paul II, the “social market economy.” Francis said capitalists forget it the economy’s social impact and nature.

“Perhaps our society does not understand the union also because it does not fight enough in terms of the ‘not yet rights,'” Francis mused “among those rejected from work.” The “rejected” include young workers, women, immigrants, the poor, and those “who are below the city walls.”

But unions don’t help when the society corrupts them and they too forget the poor, immigrants, jobless and dispossessed, Francis warned the CISL delegates.

“Do not let yourselves be obstructed by this. I know you have been committed for some time, working in the right directions, especially with migrants, the young and women. And what I am about to say may seem obvious, but in the world of work women are still in second class.

“You might say, ‘No, but there is that businesswoman, that other one…’. Yes, but if women earn less, are more easily exploited…do something. I encourage you to continue and, if possible, to do more” to elevate working women to equality.

“The Italian for ‘union,’ ‘sindacato,’ is a beautiful word. It comes from the Greek ‘dike,’ or ‘justice,’ and ‘syn,’ together: syn-dike, ‘justice together.’ There is no ‘justice together’ if ‘together’ does not include today’s excluded people,” Francis concluded.

Source: PAI