Skip to Content
Seton Hall University

Catholic Teachings on the Rights of Workers

Pope John Paul II
On Human Work, #49, 1981

"Workers have the right to form associations for the purpose of defending their vital interests . . . The experience of history teaches that the organizations of this type are an indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrialized societies."

"Catholic social teaching . . . hold that unions are . . . indeed a mouthpiece for the struggle for social justice, for the just rights of working people in accordance with their individual professions . . . It is characteristic of work that it first and foremost unites people."

"In this consists its social power: the power to build a community . . . It is clear that, even if it is because of their work needs that people unite to secure their rights, their union remains a constructive factor of social order and solidarity, and it is impossible to ignore it."

Southern U. S. Bishops
On J. P. Stevens Company, 1980

"We again encourage workers, throughout our region, to consider carefully the reasons for forming unions. Since we are all members of the human family our reasons must be based not only on our self-interest but the good of the entire community. We suggest, therefore, that organizing into collective bargaining units may be in some circumstances an objective duty of each worker to his or her co-workers. At present this may be the only effective way of assuring the protection of human dignity and self-determination in the work place."

Pope John Paul II
Centesimus Annus, 1992

" . . . The freedom to join trade unions and the effective action of unions . . . are meant to deliver work from the mere condition of 'a commodity' and to guarantee its dignity."

" . . . The right of association is a natural right of the human being . . . Indeed, the formation of unions cannot . . . be prohibited by the state because the state is bound to protect natural rights . . ."

Bishops of Appalachia
This Land is Home to Me, 1973

"We feel that a strong and broad labor movement is basic, one which can stabilize the labor market . . . and prevent groups from playing off different sectors of working people against each other."

"The real power of the labor movement . . . is the vision that an injury to one is an injury to all . . . We know, also, that as they grow stronger, they will be attacked; that other forces will try to crush them . . ."

Pope John XXIII
Pacem in Terris, 1963, #18ff

"It is clear that (the human person) has a right by the natural law not only to an opportunity to work, but also to go about (that) work without coercion. To these rights is certainly joined the right to demand working conditions in which physical health is not endangered, and young people's normal development is not impaired. Women have the right to working conditions in accordance with their requirements."

"Furthermore, and this must be especially emphasized, the worker has a right to a wage determined according to criterions of justice and sufficient therefore . . . to give (workers and their) families a standard of living in keeping with the dignity of the human person."

Pope Leo XIII
Rerum Novarum, 1891, # 32

"No man may outrage with impunity that human dignity (of workers) which God Himself treats with reverence . . . (For a worker) to consent to any treatment which is calculated to defeat the end and purpose of his being is beyond his right; he cannot give up his soul to servitude; for it is not man's own rights which are here in question but the rights of God, most sacred and inviolable."

Pope Pius XI
Quadragesimo Anno, #83, 1931

"For as nature induces those who dwell in close proximity to unite into municipalities, so those who practice the same trade or profession, economic or otherwise constitute as it were fellowships or bodies. These groupings, autonomous in character, are considered if not essential to civil society at least a natural accompaniment thereof."

Bishops of Canada
The Problem of the Worker, 1950, #99ff

"To fulfill the role which is theirs in the national economy, to promote their professional interest, to realize their legitimate economic and social claims, workers ought to unite in solid professional organizations. The Church, since Leo III, has proclaimed the right of workers "to unite in associations for the promotion of their interests".

"Present circumstances render still more pressing and imperious the obligation of workers, as also of the employers, to exercise that right . . ."

"The Church under existing circumstances, considers the formation of these industrial associations morally necessary."

Pope John XXIII
Master et Magistra, #18, 1961

"Work is the immediate expression of the human personality . . . and must not be regarded as a mere commodity."

Pope John Paul II
Centesimus Annus, 1992

"Trade unions . . . serve the development of an authentic culture of work and helps workers to share in a fully human way in the life of their place of employment."

Vatican II
The Church in the Modern World, #68,1965"

"Among the basic rights of the human person must be counted the right of freely founding labor unions. These unions should be truly able to represent the workers and to contribute to the proper arrangement of economic life. Another such right is that of taking part freely in the activity of these unions without fear of reprisal."

U. S. Bishops
Pastoral Letter, 1919

"Authentic and effective labor unions run by workers, are the surest way to achieve the social objectives of full employment and fair wages."

Pope Paul VI
Address, 1972

"In work, it is (the human person) who comes first. An end has been put to the priority of work over the worker, to the supremacy of technical and economic necessities over human needs."

U.S. Bishops Economic Justice for All, #304, 1986

"The purpose of unions is not simply to defend the existing wages and prerogatives of the fraction of workers who belong to them, but also to enable workers to make positive and creative contributions to the firm, the community, and the larger society in an organized and cooperative way."

(Footnote: "Even if most injustice and exploitation were removed, unions would still have a legitimate place. They are the normal voice of labor, necessary to organize social life for the common good."

"There is positive need for such organizations today, quite independent of any social evils which may prevail.") 

Back to top