Social Justice in Quadragesimo Anno II
By Dr. Paul Hwang – Director of ALL Forum
Quardragesimo Anno on Labor Issues
I pointed out in the previous writing in the August newsletter, Pope Pius XI looked with concern at the working condition in which workers were treated as simple production tools in society at the time, youth and female workers were exposed to ethical risks, and even domestic life was threatened. After the Great Depression in 1929, the US and global economy had to confront the result in the mass production of unemployed people. The world’s working environment was getting worse due to the rise of unemployed people. The pope deplored the poor conditions of the workers.
Basically, Pius XI inherited the teachings of Leo XIII, and regarded it as an intrinsic right for workers to form a union, and the principle that they should form a union according to their occupation and work based on religion for the good of the union members. Also, although workers can form unions, the union was viewed as a voluntary organization because it was up to them to decide whether or not to join the union. This is different from the “union shop system”, which was popular at the time, when hired, had to join a labor union and if it lost its status as a union member, workers would be fired. Stimulated by the teachings of the church, Western countries legally approved trade unions or labor groups, and by granting them exclusive privileges in activities for workers, unions can
represent workers and sign labor contracts and trade agreements. Pius XI said regarding the union’s activities, “The new system of trade unions and labor organizations is overly bureaucratic and political. Rather than contributing to the reconstruction and improvement of the social order, there is a risk of being used for special political purposes 75) In fact, communists have turned workers into a tool for realizing their ideology by pushing them into class struggle.
Pius XI believed that the wages of workers should be determined in consideration of the livelihood of workers and their families, the circumstances of businesses and the request of common good.
He identified it as a social justice obligation that wages must ensure livelihood. “We can never say that social justice has been met unless workers are paid enough to make a safe living for themselves and their families.”56) In order for social justice to be satisfied, wages must be sufficient to maintain a family’s livelihood and sufficient measures should be taken in cases of old age, disease, unemployment, etc.
Quardragesimo Anno and Pope John XXIII
After one generation later, Pope John XXIII summed up his teaching in the encyclical Mater et Magistra . He wrote the encyclical in 1961 in a way that continued Quadragesimo Anno (1931). The world had changed considerably in the previous 30 years both politically and economically. The Great Depression and World War II had ended, the cold war had begun, and technology allowed for increased productivity, but vast poverty remained across the globe.
Above all, John XXIII pointed out in the encyclical especially the paragraphs 38 to 42 that the supreme criterion in economic matters must not be the special interests of individuals or groups, nor economic despotism, national prestige or imperialism, nor any other aim of this sort. On the contrary, all forms of economic enterprise must be governed by the principles of social justice. Also he said people’s aim must be to achieve in social justice a national and international juridical order, with its network of public and private institutions, in which all economic activity can be conducted not merely for private gain but also in the interests of the common good.