University of Notre Dame

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

Patrick J. Sullivan, CSC


Early in 1960 the Bishops of Holland responded to an appeal of Dutch Catholic labor unions.(24) After a discussion with sixty labor leaders, the bishops sent a letter with their suggestions. While asking leaders to reflect seriously, the bishops did not intend to impose their own solutions.

A single Catholic union was suggested, with three horizontal categories: laborers, clerical workers, and administrators. Each should have a voice in any unions to be formed, in order to prevent any submerging of the interests of the smaller groups.

In case a central union could not be established, laborers, clerical workers and administrators should be in distinct unions, but grouped in a tripartite federation. Later, the federation might become a single union. Yet, coming to light was a nine-year tangle. In 1951 leaders of the Catholic Worker Movement--national center of the Catholic labor unions--revealed the plan to replace horizontal unions with vertical unions.

The bishops also suggested that unions assume the responsibility for moral, religious and cultural education of the membership. Such could be accomplished by so-called "twin" organizations allied to the unions.


In early 1961, Daniel Mageen, Bishop of Down and Connor, was representative and signer for the Catholic Church, in the appeal of a Churches Industrial Council of Northern Ireland.(25) The council, embracing also Church of Ireland, Methodists, and Presbyterians, praised efforts in Parliament and Belfast's City Council to help workers laid off from Belfast's shipbuilding.

Their statement cited the needs to foster mutual confidence, destroy barriers and collaborate fully for the common good. Asserted was the Christian duty of leaders in all ranks of industry to devise plans for employing the skills of workers. "In this way," said the council, "people could be encouraged to invest in Ulster some of the millions which find their way elsewhere."

In late 1962, Michael Browne, Bishop of Galway, chided employers and workers at a newly opened factory for not settling their twenty-day labor dispute.(26) The church had been asked to establish a school in the Mervue section of Galway, for which a large industrial center was planned. Galway's people were very disappointed, when one of the factories closed shortly after being opened. For, the Irish people in efforts to stem the emigration flow, provided enormous sums of money to build factories, so that employment might be increased.

Supporting the bishop were Galway's Mayor, Alderman Ryan, and trade union officials. Referring to the work stoppage at the $1.5 million Perez factory, the bishop rebuked employers and employees, who "cannot regard themselves as entitled to close down factories if it suits their particular and selfish interests." The bishop reminded managers and trade unions they "have a duty to consider the welfare of the nation and give it priority over their own selfish interests."


In late 1963, Giuseppe Siri, Cardinal Archbishop of Genoa, addressed a Thirteenth International Management Congress in New York.(27) Speaking at the plenary session, "Management and the Spiritual Needs of Man," Siri defined a manager, not simply as creator and comptroller of technical progress or generator of physical energy, but also as an inspirer and leader of people or intellectual and moral communicator. Indeed, preoccupation with technology and output is unjust and unsatisfactory.

Yet, a policy of "universal use of man's talents" is a two-way street between managers and workers.

It implies a declared wish to improve relations, . . . to lift them out of inertia and confusion, or to clear away factors giving rise to mutual misunderstandings. It implies a promotion policy, which gives to each opportunity to develop natural qualities and acquired abilities and which avails itself of them. . . . These conditions aid in creating in management a "human" environment that lessens distances and strengthens social peace.

To create such policies, management cannot neglect "moral doctrine, in fact... theology of labor . . . that will give a total picture of man." Furthermore, management must have the courage,

. . . to affirm the economy is at the service of man . . . to affirm production is not justified in itself--only in the measure in which it places man (free from a more material servitude) in a condition to attend to all his duties (not excluding those relating to his supreme and eternal destiny) and to express the noblest aspects of his spiritual nature.


In late 1960 Manuel Cardinal Goncalves Cerejeira, Patriarch of Lisbon, addressed a YCW study week at Fatima.(28) He first stated what YCW was and second what YCW was not. "Young Christian Workers have as their mission to take the message of the church to their fellow workers--neither more no less than this."

Insisting one would be mistaken to see YCW promoting the economic and political status of workers, the Goncalves cautioned his listeners further.

This is not the place to analyze causes of the sufferings of the working class. Among them are obviously the actions and omissions of the other classes. The Young Christian Worker movement is not actually a movement for the promotion of the temporal good of the workers and often it is accused of being too abstract.

In other words YCW "lays the groundwork for a Christian world of work, thus aiding the future conditions of the workers."

Late in 1962, Florentino Andrade, Apostolic Administrator Bishop of Oporto, spoke to a symposium of business leaders.(29) It was the tenth anniversary of the Catholic Industrialists and Managers Organization. One hundred leaders were in attendance.

He insisted that every one has a natural right to goods deemed indispensable for human life, but modern social and economic conditions prevented people from exercising the right to own property. Calling the question of property "fundamentally a question of humanism," Andrade maintained that, if it were easier for everyone to own property, a "pauperization" process would be arrested. In conclusion, he bemoaned failures of contemporary society to observe the natural law. "If man is to be master of himself and a child of God, we must build a new world of brotherhood among men."


On January 17, 1960, twelve archbishops of Spain issued a joint pastoral, which echoed their August 1956 pastoral on social justice.(30) They urged the rich to be content with moderate earnings and to avoid scandalous and anti-Christian life styles. While acknowledging strikes as illegal and refusing to blame inflation on workers, the archbishops stressed the need for "fair wages and fairer distribution of goods, doing away with irritating inequalities." They also recommended profit sharing plans and joint worker-management ownership. If economic plans are successful, workers must get equitable shares of the profits.

All groups were called to sobriety and austerity. The rich, especially business managers and owners, must not amass big profits nor neglect proper investment for improvement and expansion of a business. Also, workers must be examples of dedication in work, "an agreeable offering to God because it serves our brothers."

Late in 1960, Enrique Pla y Deniel, Archbishop of Toledo and Cardinal Primate of Spain, wrote the Workers Brotherhood of Catholic Action (HOAC), which was castigated by some taking action outside the spiritual field and by others for ineffective effort in solving Spain's worker problems.(31) Hailing HOAC as one actor in the labor field deserving genuine recognition, the Cardinal warned all--worker advocates and critics--not to confuse Catholic social doctrine with socialism and communism. Instead of fostering class hatred or violence it was "the best defense of the worker's dignity as a human person." Insisting HOAC was "not a trade union nor a mere confraternity," but a "vanguard apostolic organization . . . to exercise an effective apostolate among the workers," the Primate concluded, "no one claiming to be Catholic can label as demagoguery what is within church social teaching and the church blesses and supports."

Also in late 1960, two hundred thirty YCW leaders issued a statement on Spain's economic crisis.(32) The occasion was the government's "reactivation" or relaxation of several anti-inflationary measures. Representing some 10,000 YCW members at a July meeting, chaired by Canon Joseph Cardijn founder of YCW, the statement called for several types of government actions.

Workers' rights were defended. Workers must share with capital "in profits, decisions and plans of production." Workers must be free "to express their opinion and make it effective, particularly when it is a matter of impairing obligations and sacrifices on them."

Likewise, workers must have job security. "No one in conscience, should resort to dismissal, except as a last resort and after having honorably exhausted every possible means." Besides adequate salary, workers are entitled to unemployment insurance, sufficient- to allow workers "to live in a dignified manner." There must be free labor unions, as well. Yet, they must,

. . . remain removed from any political activity . . . be truly representative . . . fulfill with complete independence their authentic function of defense of the rights of the working class.

There must be a recognition of the priority of labor in business, "in accordance with its superior quality over capital." Finally, labor was entitled to "true information as to the situation and plans for economic reactivation."

In late 1960, the Spanish Primate's voice was again heard.(33) It was a letter to Jose Solis Ruiz, a cabinet minister in charge of Spain's labor-management syndicates and the Nationalist Movement, the only legal political party. Officials like Solis were appointed; however, some 500,000 lower officers were elected in 26 labor-management syndicates for various industries. The government banned all "horizontal" unions as the United States experienced, but permitted "vertical" syndicates or unions. The Primate's letter was preceded by several earlier messages.

His letter to HOAC was reinforced by a message to the YCW convention. They were challenged to help alienated workers return to the church. Urging a legal recognition for HOAC and asserting the right of Catholic worker' groups to be heard in decisions affecting workers, the Primate scolded and lectured Solis further.

First, the Primate complained HOAC was ignored in Spain, "which is one of the few confessional states in the world and which has a model concordat." He claimed government documents labeled HOAC "subversive," leaders were harassed by the police and fined for what they say--"or even for what they do not say--sometimes in the very presence of their bishops."

Second, both Primate and church upheld the opinion that there must be genuine management and labor representation in the syndicates. Otherwise, "the syndicates would constitute a totalitarian regime like those of Hitler or of the Soviets."

Third, the Primate asserted the church's right to organize management and labor groups, within the framework of Catholic organizations. Such was acknowledged in the Spanish Charter (Constitution), which he personally helped to draft and was confirmed in the 1953 concordat between Spain and the Holy See. Thus, he deemed "extremely dangerous" the present relationship between the government and HOAC, which had been accused of agitating against the Franco regime.

In conclusion, he reiterated earlier statements, which made clear HOAC did not aspire to be a syndicate. Nevertheless, the Primate insisted the brotherhoods, of which HOAC was the umbrella organization, should,

. . . train their members, so that inside the syndicates, they can act in accord with church doctrine....Since membership in official syndicates is obligatory for all Spanish workers, it is obvious that the workers will have different ideologies...Yet, the brotherhoods, which consist only of volunteer members and exercise vigilance to prevent any Communist infiltration, may do a great deal of good both for the state and syndicates themselves.

Early in 1961, Angel Herrera, Bishop of Malaga, spoke to Franco, during a visit to "Our Lady of Siege" shrine.(34) Conversation focused on papal teaching and current world events. The bishop thought Spain needed to achieve much more in social justice for farm workers in the south of Spain. Referring to agrarian reform by the government, Herrera insisted that a major prerequisite was "a change in the large landowner himself." He had hope of Spain's literacy campaign giving an impetus to the government coming to grips with the most serious problems of the nation--the agrarian problem.

Around the same time in 1961 another bishop, Pablo Gurpide Beope of Bilbao, expressed concern over the economic plight of Spanish workers.(35) He condemned efforts to solve national economic difficulties at the expense of the workers. Catholic employers were urged to do everything possible to provide workers a minimum standard of living "as a matter of conscience."

Late in 1961 Bishop Pablo Gurpide Beope of Bilbao had a pastoral letter published, during the fourteenth national council of YCW.(36) Three hundred delegates came from fifty-seven Spanish dioceses. From Brazil, Belgium, Portugal, Ruanda-Urundi and elsewhere came many other delegates. The bishop's letter urged a minimum wage, so that workers could live in a manner worthy of human beings.

Little has been accomplished in the solution of the very urgent problem of a living wage. To establish this minimum, it is not sufficient to conduct sociological studies. It is necessary to start at once, in a decisive manner, to put it in to practice so that workers may live with the dignity of a human being in all aspects, in exchange for a normal working salary. Workers should not have to resort to an extra effort of overtime or double employment.

Also, in late 1961, Spain's Twentieth Social Week passed resolutions on labor-management issues.(37) In addition to fostering community life and autonomous social institutions, there was a call for an intense campaign to spread the social teaching of the church. So to, there were calls for: fuller promotional opportunities for all citizens, leveling of great income disparities between various classes of citizens, respect for the principle of subsidiarity in any national economic planning, more widespread basic education and more complete technical training.

In early 1962 the Second National Week of Pastoral Sociology was held in Madrid.(38) One hundred diocesan priests and religious priests, from thirty-six of Spain's sixty-seven dioceses were present and the topic was "Factors That Determine Religious Life in the World of Labor."

Monsignor Jesus Iribarren, a director of the Spanish hierarchy's Office of Information, alleged that a largely de-Christianized working class could be attributed to social, political, and ideological influences. Angel Ruiz Camps, a member of the national committee of Labor Conference of Catholic Action, blamed Marxism and called for techniques to offset Communist weaning away workers from the church. Rev. Luis Gomez Rereda, SDB, blamed a "path of bitterness" for youth unable to cope with the adult working world. A national counselor of the Women's Labor Conference called for a new approach to the ever-increasing number of working women.

Also in early 1962, Cardinal Jose Maria Bueno y Monreal, Archbishop of Seville, issued a pastoral letter, which assailed employees' low wages in Andalusia Province.(39) In addition to urging creation of new work opportunities and collaboration of employees and employers, clergy and laity in all efforts to help the rural workers' housing and education as well, the Cardinal was very direct about wages.

The first obligation of an employer in compensating his workers . . . is to know the minimum salary scale for workers in his region. This minimum is seriously obligatory in conscience.

Later in 1962, Spanish bishops issued a pastoral letter, on the first anniversary of John XXIII's encyclical, Mater et Magistra.(40) It challenged labor, management and government to an elevated social conscience in the spirit of that encyclical. To employers, a very specific challenge,

A Christian spirit requires, above all, respect for the working man and payment for his work of a just salary which coincides, not necessarily with legal requirements, but with requirements to satisfy needs of dignified life for a worker and his family.

In late 1962, Ecclesia, official organ of Spain's Catholic Action Movement, and Pueblo, official organ of the National Syndicalist Center of the Falange, Spain's only legal political party, exchanged charges.(41) The syndicates included both workers and employers, to form Spain's only legal labor organization. By law, all the workers were bound to be members. Pueblo published an editorial describing HOAC as

. . . people disguised in apostolic pretexts, using demagogy as their weapon and forming an extralegal Catholic labor union responsible for disrupting Spanish union solidarity and . . . past labor disputes.

Ecclesia responded that Puebla's "systematic opposition to apostolic organizations of a social character is an obsession," HOAC was not a labor union and was supported in a recent pastoral letter of the Spanish bishops. In addition to urging HOAC members to join and participate actively in the syndicalist organization, the bishops setup their Episcopal Commission on the Social Apostolate. The commission was

. . . to draft as soon as possible a plan for the social apostolate and especially for a workers' apostolate and to direct a practical execution of the same in all of Spain.

It is absolutely clear the Hierarchy . . . is not placing itself before these associations in an attitude of restraint or recrimination, but rather of protection and stimulation, and that at the same time it is maintaining "vigilant care" over them, without delegating that function to any periodical whatsoever.

In early 1963 Auxiliary Bishop Laureano Castan of Tarragona was named by the Cardinals and Archbishops of Spain as the national episcopal counselor for Catholic Social Action.(42) Addressing the eighth National Assembly of Employers' Social Action, the bishop asserted employers must sanctify themselves, not in spite of being an employer, but in order to fulfill that function properly. He also asserted that a reversal of Christian values by capitalism eventually had been further developed into Marxist theory.

Instead of a Gospel principle--properly recalled in Mater et Magistra--"Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be given you besides," capitalism sought first the material success of business, believing that all the rest, even God, would be given to them.

In July 1964, Juventud Obrera (Working Youth) organ of YCW, alleged that the ruling Falangist party injected politics into the lives of workers as Communists did.(43) YCW members supported a petition for rehiring of Austrian mining and metallurgical workers dismissed for strike activities. Of all parties involved, these workers were deemed least motivated by political interests. Yet, subsequent arrests, lockouts, and deportations turned workers against their opponents. The YCW organ urged Spaniards to remedy basic causes rather than viewing all strikes as political actions.

The Austrian petitioners tried unsuccessfully to see government leaders, including vice president of the cabinet, ministers of labor and public order and director of the national syndicate. Relations between workers and owners were deemed to be "a permanent; insult to the dignity of the workers." Though government recognized some grievances of the miners, it allowed management to play the part of judge so often workers' interests invariably suffered.

Around the same time, a government censorship office prevented Working Youth from publishing an editorial on church recognition of a worker's right to form free labor unions.(44) Despite serious Catholic criticism, the government insisted state-controlled syndicates respected social teaching faithfully. Such censorship preceded a controversy about the freedom of farmers to organize.

Rural Apostolate, Catholic Agricultural and Farm Youth, Young Catholic Farm Women and Ecclesia challenged the government to make sweeping reforms for the sick farm situation. Part of those ills were due to lack of freedom in farmers' organizations, resulting in lack of communication between farmers and government. Catholic Action groups also maintained rural standards of living had fallen far behind urban standards, especially since 1961. Many Spanish families were said to lack even the basic necessities of life.

Tomas Allende Garcia-Baxter, a president of Brotherhood of the National Workers' and Employees' Syndicate publicly denied the Catholic Action groups' allegations. Cautioning the critics about using "necessary prudence," the president claimed production quotas and tax provisions applying to farmers dated from 1898 and 1930. Reminding critics the rules, under which Spanish farmers operated, differed markedly from those of other Western European nations, the president maintained that farm syndicates and associated cooperatives were,

. . . entirely free since the leaders are elected by their own farm members and there is participation by the members in their activities.

In early 1965 Antonio Anoveros Ataun, Cadiz Bishop, voiced strong support for HOAC and YCW, but chided Falangist unions for undemocratic structures.(45) Both Catholic groups were praised for striving and aspiring,

. . . with heroic courage at times in hostile environments . . . to be eloquent leaders, sincere to themselves, open in pure brotherhood, self less in service of their brothers. Those who have not reached such goals are training and preparing themselves to do so.

Referring to syndicates, Anoveros said Catholics wanted unions to achieve "genuine representation that would create confidence among members . . . [who should be the] true leaders and those responsible" for union activity.

The bishop asked employers to organize a business "as a great family in which all cooperate for a greater achievement of its aims and share benefits and responsibilities equally." Workers were urged to listen to Catholic union leaders without prejudice and "consider them not as men who only practice a religious belief."

Early in 1965, Casmiro Morcillo, Madrid Archbishop, told Spanish business leaders to move more quickly to distribute Spanish wealth through union contracts or profit sharing.(46) The audience, including economists and tax experts, attended a week-long seminar on financial law. Decrying a slow pace of social justice and the immorality of excessive accumulation of profit, Morcillo deplored the traditional Spanish custom of tax dodging, stating "moral conscience always reaches where justice and mutual welfare reach." All were reminded of a duty "to distribute wealth fairly through an equitable system of progressive taxation."

In August 1970, the Spanish hierarchy, at the end of their Twelfth Plenary Meeting in Madrid, issued "The Church and the Poor."(47) The pastoral began by singing the praises of clerical, lay and religious cooperators who provided biblical, theological and sociological expertise on doctrinal and experiential aspects of poverty. Despite other important topics--even church renewal--the bishops devoted almost the entire meeting to the subject of poverty. They did so, to heed Vatican II's Church in the Modern World, which proclaimed, "The spirit of poverty and charity is the glory and authentification of the church of Christ." These bishops also desired to heed the words of Paul VI on the eve of the assembly, "We can all see what reforming power the exaltation of this principle can have: the church must not only be poor, the church must appear poor."

Most of the letter dwelt on a twofold message of poverty for the church--witness to poverty in living and solidarity with and help for the poor. The second aspect of the message focused on some roots of poverty. "Cultural poverty" was to be addressed by educational programs, especially for society's most needy levels--"the working class, peasants, immigrants, etc." "Social disunity and blind egotism" was to be addressed by efforts to undo the unjust distribution of goods. Poor people must defend personal and collective rights. So, the bishops approved "day after day more decisively . . . the legitimate aspirations of labor." Holders of collective riches were begged to,

. . . set an example of austerity . . . eliminate unjust distinctions separating some people from others . . . achieve worthwhile and efficient land reform in rural areas . . . multiply suitable housing . . . help Christian and human development of low-income families . . . end land speculations . . . undo causes of forced emigration . . . rapidly eliminate disproportionate differences in wages ... adjust minimum wages to meet necessities of the worker's family and realities of national prosperity . . . resolve justly and effectively problems of seasonal and temporary workers.

Every level of the church was urged to cooperate with Caritas, a real though modest source for advancement of the poor, forming and stimulating consciences, and co-ordinating church forces of charity and reform. Indeed two principal and inseparable causes of poverty were lack of participation in decision making and sufficient preparation for such participation. Hence, the Spanish hierarchy reiterated,

The right of all men to associate and meet freely for licit ends... the promotion of professional interests by truly representative labor unions and efficient political participation.

Other rights enunciated in Pacen In Terris also were reiterated by the Spanish hierarchy. They concluded, "Here are only a small sample from the large panorama on which is projected the problem of the poor."

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