University of Notre Dame

Catholic Social Thought on Labor-Management Issues, 1960-1980

Patrick J. Sullivan, CSC






In late June 1960, Leopoldville was the site for the third annual convention of the Union of Congolese Workers (UTC), formerly the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions of the Congo.(1) Threatening to mobilize all workers in a drive for pay raises, unless a government austerity program applied to all classes equally by March 31, 1961, the union labelled politicians, who had voted themselves high salaries and other benefits, as constituting themselves, as a majority of the privileged class. UTC president, Bo-Bilko, told union members not to be concerned about the effectiveness of reactions to UTC's views on the austerity program, even though honest and national UTC leaders were branded as Communist and corrupt. Critics of the UTC platform were warned, that unemployed workers in a year and a half "virtually have lost hope of living in this country."

The same convention, delayed due to a rioting and violence spree following independence on June 20, 1960, gathered representatives of different tribes and parts of the nation.(2) The convention claimed guidance from Christian social teaching, yet was open to workers from all religions. Its resolutions called on government to assist a private enterprise system with some government controls, offset tendencies of government regulation to deteriorate into dictatorships, permit labor unions and other occupational groups to participate in government policy-making on economic matters, end racial discrimination in social legislation, develop public works to relieve unemployment, increase pensions and family allowances, and place minimum and maximum limitations on wages and salaries.

South Africa

In early 1960, the South African hierarchy issued a pastoral entitled, "On Human Unity".(3) Sections of relevance to labor-management relations discussed mainly human rights. Among rights everyone possesses, in order to fulfill one's nature and reach one's destiny, so that they transcend other claims and desires are the rights to: life; maintain and develop physical, moral and intellectual life; home life; work as an indispensable means for the maintenance of family life; free choice of life; use of material good, subject to duties and limitations; and proper ordering of social and communal life. Specifically on labor-management relations the bishops added.

This proper ordering of society requires, in the sphere of industry and commerce, that the labor of each be accorded its proper dignity and just wages, adequate to a man and his family's needs, be paid; that . . . [it be] possible for each man to secure a portion of private property, and favor higher educational facilities for well disposed and intelligent children.

. . . we deplore the tendency to multiply restrictions, until they constitute an intolerable and exasperating burden equal to an almost complete suppressing one's right of free movement, seriously affecting one's right to work and earn a living.

Also, the just social order condemns the migratory labor system and demands the family be allowed to fulfill its proper function, with the husband and father joined to his wife and children in a genuine home life.

The pastoral continued with denunciations of arrangements and attitudes based on un-Christian discrimination along racial and color lines. Calling economic solidarity a concrete expression of Christian love, the bishops urged strengthening in interdependence of different sections of the nation,

. . . while the common good requires conditions of industry, trade management, employment and labor not be disturbed and changed abruptly and suddenly . . . nevertheless, the common good demands that those who have the skill, ability, sense of application, patience, and desire to advance not be deprived of the opportunity of such advancement and progress in their economic position.

Furthermore, economic unity and interdependence in justice requires payment of proper wages and provisions of decent living conditions "in the form of housing and amenities." In addition to the opportunities to acquire technical skills and training there should be opportunities to utilize such skills "without consideration of color."

True, there must be safeguards for equilibrium in productive capacity and economic security workers have enjoyed. Yet, adjustments required to cushion ill effects of economic change must not be only to maintain a "privileged position for them in the economic system." In concluding, the bishops called the Group Areas Act a "a denial of fundamental rights," because it restricted the right of ownership for certain groups of people.

In early 1962, there were objections voiced about parts of the South African bishops' pastoral.(4) Paragraphs criticized by Rev. R.J.N. van Tonder, member of the Protestant Action Committee, Dutch Reformed Church. He spoke of color never being an excuse or pretext for injustice or silence and urged every lawful means to undo wrongs done to underprivileged groups. Examples cited included starvation wages, jobs denied members of some groups, compulsory migratory labor, and denial of "the elementary right to organize" for defense of legitimate interests.

A response came quickly from Capetown Archbishop and chairman of the South African Bishops' Conference, Owen McCann. The disputed paragraphs represented applications of moral law to certain situations in South African not partisan politics. "Economic life is surely subject to moral standards... it is our duty as bishops not only to enunciate principles but also to apply them to specific instances."

On September 24, 1973 Archbishop Denis E. Hurley, O.M.I. of Durban, spoke at a Natal University convocation on "The Urgency of Change."(5) Although he made specific references to the South African scene, his basic themes had universal application.

Hurley began by suggesting that white South Africans be ready for radical change by 1980. He had no intention of being a prophet, simply a commentator on the facts of life. Youth desire change, but adults do not. Expectations of imminent change were evident among persons and groups--academic, business, politics, religious and others. Hurley admitted counter indications of immobility could be cited. Though some might claim the latter might nullify the former, Hurley thought initiatives in change were "already out of the hands of White South Africa and firmly in Black Hands." He specified black consciousness among intelligentsia, emergence of Homeland Leaders, like the Zulu Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, and the rise of Black workers. Referring to statistics that might be cited about South African economic dependence on the Black workers, Hurley explained.

Firstly, there is the realization of the power he wields from the successful strikes earlier this year. Secondly, there is a desire of industry and commerce to improve his efficiency by promoting him up the labor scale and giving him better training. Thirdly, are endeavors afoot to open the trade unionism world to him.

Hurley thought that such developments prevented turning back the clock and expected the rapid benefits of trade unionism to assist the Black worker, which "industrial progress and industrial peace demand."

Hurley described world support for South African Blacks and possible reactions of South African Whites--opposition, apathy or acceptance. Discussion of apathy focused on a human tendency to judge oneself and institutions as responsible only for a section of the community--academic, political, professional and religious. Hurley noted this weakness in the church's outlook.

It failed to notice that, with emergence of the modern world of democracy and participation, the most important evil needing attention are social evils. . . . Today, the worst sins are shared sins, the sins of vested interests . . . financial and racial oligarchies . . . peoples' democracies and parliamentary parties. Religion has not been especially effective in calling for conversion from this kind of sin.

Hurley spoke of similar challenges to apathy that universities, professions, government, athletics, trade unions, and landowners had to meet. In conclusion, he decried the use of negativism and fear in facing change and called for effective moral vision,

. . . in light of all that Jewish and Christian faith have contributed to our appreciation of man and all that has been hammered out in the last few centuries in philosophical and scientific and political evolution and revolution.


In August 1979 a statement entitled, "The Church and Marxism," was issued by nine Catholic Zambian bishops, along with the Christian Council of Zambia and the Zambia Evangelical Council.(6) This joint-statement was prompted by a fear that the approved democratic socialism of President Kenneth D. Kaunda was drifting toward a "scientific socialism."

The first part of the statement laid out the history of socialism and contrast between Zambian humanism and scientific socialism. Late in the nineteenth century socialism's general thrust was that the wealth of society should be placed at the service of all through public ownership of the means of production. Different forms emerged and are emerging still in many countries. Yet, since the late 1920's the socialist movement split into democratic socialism and scientific socialism.

Democratic socialism, as practiced in Great Britain, Tanzania, West Germany and Zambia in the 1970's, entailed public ownership of major industries and natural resources. A welfare state was established, freely providing all citizens with the necessities of life--educational, health and social services.

Scientific socialism, inspired Marx' and Lenin's writings, entailed defined doctrine and action program, as well as the demand that ownership of all means of production must be transferred to the state. The state is to be controlled by the party claiming to represent the urban and rural working class and aiming to create a communist society. Theoretically everything belongs to the people. Practically, everything and everyone is subject to the Communist Party. Communism is to take place through the unavoidable and evolutionary movement of history--a result of a "material dialectic." Yet, the process can be hastened and guided by a revolutionary struggle of the working class under the leadership of a "vanguard" party.

Christian beliefs are in harmony with socialism, insofar as it means a system which tries, by public ownership of means of production, to have national wealth and all created goods serve and flow fairly to all members. Hence, the right to property must be subordinated to this principle. There are many socialist states where nothing happens to trouble Christian consciences. For the authors of the Zambian statement, no criticism was entertained about socialist policies outlined by the president in Humanism in Zambia nor in the preamble to the Constitution of Zambia's ruling party.

The main task of the party is to accomplish a victorious transition from capitalism to humanism through socialism as a means of eradication of imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, fascism and racism on one hand; poverty, hunger, ignorance, disease, exploitation, and crime on the other.

Thus, Christians reject only those forms of socialism, which do not respect the dignity and religious aspects of human persons and which, therefore, can never lead to real humanism. So, scientific socialism is rejected!

Nevertheless, the statement also rejected shibboleths hurled at any critics of any type of socialism - "You are capitalists!" For, the statement condemned any form of capitalism "which placed profit before persons and are based upon exploitation of man by man." Even though Christian social teaching did condemn socialism for its materialism, Christian social teaching has been misrepresented as teaching an absolute right to private property. In reality, the right has been taught as qualified. First, ownership is really stewardship of God's creation. Second, ownership should be distributed as widely as possible. Hence, there are obligations to others and society, especially the poor; the economy must remain always at the service of people. Consequently, materialism is condemned, whether of the liberal capitalism or totalitarian communism variety.

Furthermore, scientific socialism is thoroughly opposed to belief in God, religion and Christianity. For, Marx and Lenin were professed atheists and hostile to religion. Marx said, "The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of people is required for their real happiness." Marx was ready to tolerate religious practice, believing it necessarily would fade away when the economic base of society had been transformed. Lenin, however, actively campaigned for the abolition of religion. "Communism will never succeed until the myth of God is removed from the minds of men. . . . A Marxist must be a materialist . . . an enemy of religion." Although Lenin cautioned against "giving offense to the religious sentiments of believers," lest religious fanaticism be intensified, his followers in Russia, China and elsewhere implicitly or explicitly have been opposed to religion.

For example, George Novak in Humanism and Socialism has written, "Marxism is not agnostic but uncompromisingly atheistic. Nothing exists beyond nature and humanity." The second conference of the Mozambique Department of Ideological Work, Beira, June 1978, declared, ". . . religion is an obstacle to the advancement of the revolutionary process." Catholic bishops of Angola were saddened by "systematic propaganda in favor of atheism, discrimination against the faithful . . . and sacrilegious profanations of churches and sacred objects," in December 1977. Although 80 percent of the people in Equatorial Guinea were Catholic, its president closed all Catholic churches and banned Catholic worship services.

The label "scientific socialism," claiming to apply the methods of the physical sciences to people, society and history, implies other forms of socialism are unscientific and naive. Some regard Marxism as "a kind of religion making absolute and transcendent claims . . . and strengthened by its vision of a this-worldly future utopia in a classless society."

Humanism, like socialism, has several forms. Atheistic or secular humanism say there is no God. So, one establishes the self as the highest authority and sense world as the only reality. Christian humanism maintains that the organization of society and everything else should help us respond to a divine call to mature in the fullness of Christ. Zambian humanism, according to its president's writings, mentions scientific humanism rarely and only to reject it. A humanist believes,

. . . it is impossible for man to live by bread alone . . . in the presence of a supreme being--the source of life . . . man is the center of all creation and noting is more important. . . . Let no one pretend . . . scientific socialism and humanism are the same.

The Zambian religious leaders' statement rejected scientific socialism as a philosophy, then for two reasons: it denies God and the human person. The latter follows from the former. The statement discussed human dignity as found in the scriptures and asserted, "Without this, no revolution can better the lot of mankind, nor bring true welfare." Indeed, there are no inviolate rights without reference to God and human dignity. For example, no rights to,

. . . fair share in the wealth given to the nation for the good of all . . . food, clothing and shelter . . . fair opportunity in life . . . freedom to raise and educate children . . . freedom speech and participation in politics . . . freedom of speech and conscience.

While totalitarian Communists deem freedom as luxury and equality as material, Christians mourn failure to protect basic rights and inculcate spiritual values. While Marxists value people only for developing humanity, Christians value people for their intrinsic worth and relationship to God. While the Communist Party assumes it alone espouses the cause of humanity, Christianity assumes a variety of action programs can abet human development. While Marxists insist material conditions decide actions, Christians see a power to choose. While totalitarian communists equate common good with collectivity, Christians concede only a conditioned and temporary restriction of human freedom in some necessities.

Other philosophical explanations of Zambian religious leaders for Marxists' failure to produce an ideal society were a misunderstanding of "the origin of evil" and the determination to establish the humanist society by "political and economic action." While Marxists say all injustice springs from class conflict and private ownership of means of production, Christians find evil, not in matter, but in human spirits driven by selfishness, pride, greed and lust for power. While Marxists ascribe the causes of injustice only to economic or political circumstances, Christians admit evil can be embodied in dehumanizing and sinful structures of social, cultural, economic, and political institutions. While Marxists spread revolution through economics and politics, Christians spread renewal of personal and social minds and hearts. For, said the religious leaders,

Religion is not like clothes . . . we can put on or take off without changing the way . . . our body functions. Our beliefs about God penetrate whatever program we adopt to achieve humanism. . . . The humanism we pursue depends on our idea of man. This . . . is determined by our belief in God or our denial of Him. . . . They are rather like the blood that runs through our body and affects all our actions. If it is pure, we will be healthy and act vigorously. If it is poisoned, we fall sick.

On the one hand, the religious leaders quoted the Zambian president about Christian faith as a "watershed in the life of every person. The... overriding difference in the thought, work, and deed of every living man and woman on this earth." On the other hand, the idea of a "Christian Marxist" was dismissed as no less self-contradictory than a "socialist capitalist." Indeed, if one calls oneself a Christian Marxist simply because of sharing a desire for social revolution to attain a just society or finding some truth in Marx' ideas, confusion is bound to follow. On the one hand, Marxists are correct about Christians too often silently observing the industrial workers' plight and consenting to colonialist arrangements. On the other hand, the religion Marxists rejected was a caricature of the faith, resulting from sin from which Christians are never free. On the one hand, Marxists criticism did much to make Christians aware of exploitation and dedicated anew to the cause of justice and the option for the poor. On the other hand, Christians can make use of some elements of Marxism as tools for social analysis and collaborate with Marxists in removing exploitation and restructuring the society.

However, there must be initially holding in abeyance ultimate beliefs and gradually dialogue with respect for each other's convictions. Christians are not ready to pursue a just society through means that often offend the human person, do injustices to some, violate freedom of conscience and religion. Although not positive of the real sources of calls for "scientific socialism" in Zambia, the religious leaders were positive the central process of the nation--participatory democracy was not involved. The religious leaders suspected Marxist-Leninist "vanguard party" and "double-speak" were at work. They quoted the president of Zambia, "If you are not careful, the one-party participatory democracy can become tyrannical . . . [and] enslave the people it is supposed to serve." In their search for answers, the religious leaders posed questions to the people and leaders--many of whom were Christian.

From the fact that courses where Marxism is taught are held for party leaders and "political educators," it seems a decision has been made to give the party a Marxist ideology. Who in the party has taken this decision?

Are views of the "common man" being sought? If he expresses them will they be listened to? If not, what becomes of participatory democracy?

Are even leaders free to disagree with new policy? The emphasis on "reeducating" them suggests they are not and they simply have to be enlightened about the wisdom of what is being done.

One purpose of a recently established Young Pioneers is precisely to indoctrinate young people with a scientific socialism. Have parents been asked about this? In this context we record alarm at the proposal all youth organizations be suppressed in favor of the Young Pioneers.

Is scientific socialism to be taught in our educational institutions? If so, to what extent will it interfere with the teaching of religion . . . a strong desire of the great majority of our parents?

Concluding, the religious leaders challenged all Christians to be serious about political life and the party to be true to its principles. Being against capitalism or against scientific socialism was not sufficient. There must be serious reflection on traditional values and religious social teaching.


On December 6, 1977 the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, issued a pastoral letter.(7) It referred to attempts, made since World War II, to resolve national conflict and promote a multiracial government. Technical aspects of economic developments and collective racial interests were deemed insufficient to build the kind of creative and powerful nation, based on common good rather than racial egoism. An appeal was made to the rich raw materials and spiritual values of the nation.

Building the future was dependent upon the nation being freed from chains which isolate people. Hence, a call to redistribute wealth, respect, power, and responsibility. Wealth redistribution of power and responsibility.

Meeting "the liberator," Christ, entails courage, optimism, faith, detachment and working for others. Also asserted was a right and duty of all to citizenship, the freedom of the church from domination by any party and in choosing between different parties or programs, and the duty of Christians to provide political support in accordance with a conscience based on faith and moral principles. Values Christians should support include: liberty, justice, peaceful living, respect for human life, family stability, universal education, parental choice of children's education, government support for equitable education, minority and regional cultural identity and freedom, subordination of private interest to the common good, and favorable conditions for moral life in society. Christians were called to reject opposition to public profession of one's religion, an economic system supporting social injustice and Liberal and Marxist ideologies. Finally, Christians were cautioned about deceitful and concealed programs, strategies, and tactics.

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