Thursday, May 01, 2008

dignity of labor

The Good Book says the following rather severe injunctions without lessening the threatening impact of their texts and the stern spirit of their contexts: “By the sweat of your brow, you shall have food to eat.” (Gen. 3:19). “Hard work always yields its profit, idle talk only brings want.” (Prov. 14:23). “Whoever does not want to work, let him not also eat.” (2 Thess. 3:10). These are inspired words. They are harsh but right. They are demanding but just. There is an intimate relationship between human beings, human labor and human life—together they make a dignified and dignifying triad. Apart they become less in nature and significance.

The truth is that human beings dignify labor just as labor dignifies human beings—and human life is thus nurtured and enhanced. In other words, the reality of human labor has two interacting dimensions: One, its objective element that has reference to the ways and means, the modalities and technologies used by human persons to produce needed goods and useful items. Two, its subjective factor that has relevance to the human person as a dynamic being capable of acting on a variety of work processes, as a multi-talented agent gifted with intellectual, volitional and physical potentials.

Thus it is that the more capable and talented a worker is, the more appreciated his work becomes. And vice versa: The more important and necessary is a given work, the more esteemed the worker becomes. This can be readily called and understood as the symbiotic relationship between the worker and the work, between labor and the laborer. One confers worth and importance, character and import on the other. The opposite is also true when the agent and its action are either especially odious or downright criminal: Agent and action show their combined disgrace plus malevolence.

According to the Social Doctrine of the Church, given the principle of the inherent dignity of a worker and the norm of the acquired value of work, the following are materialistic views and capitalistic perspectives that should be categorically rejected: Employees, workers and laborers are ultimately but instruments of production—as when they become factory workers. They are merely considered as labor force for the harnessing by and profit of capitalists—as when corporations look more at the purely physical very much more than the human attributes of their employees. They are looked upon as really nothing more than chattels for sale and dispatch to the highest bidders—as in the concrete case of simple laborers sent abroad.

Briefly, the human person is the measure of the dignity of work. On the other hand, the dignity of work confers honor on the human person.

The fundamental question is what happen when there is precisely no work available in a country where millions of people are able, willing and looking for work? What happens when there is lack of work vis-à-vis abundance of poverty, hunger and misery among the people? What happens when the little money earned through hard work, buys even less basic commodities? What?

1 May 2008