Work and a Dignified Life

by | Aug 3, 2020 | Formation, Reflections

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has afflicted the world, has led us to a greater appreciation of men and women who engage in various professions that are socially indispensable, although the individuals who carry them out are rarely worthily remunerated. Among those who have made a commendable effort are not only health workers, but also people who work in cleaning, sanitation, transportation, food production … to name just a few. These men and women deserve social recognition – and appropriate remuneration – which, on many occasions, they do not receive. In addition to precarious wages and unsafe or unhealthy work conditions, there is often a lack of job stability as well as “inhuman” work conditions (workers’ rights are not protected or respected, endless working hours in situations of extreme difficulty, etc.).

All this brought reminded me of the complex reality of  industrial workers during the mid-nineteenth century (those workers were poorly paid and had to endure horrific conditions) … this was also the time in which Frederic Ozanam lived.

At all times, but especially during this time of pandemic, many essential workers engage in their profession but are not appropriately remunerated.

In 1848, a group of citizens from Lyons presented the candidacy of Frederic as deputy to the French National Assembly. Elections took place on April 23. Eight days earlier, Ozanam had sent a Circular to the voters of the Department of Rhône in which he presented his electoral program advocating democracy, progressive taxes that are to not to be a burden for the weakest members of society and, as he himself said,

[I support] labor rights: the work of the farmer, the craftsman, the merchant; workers’ associations; public utility works, which can offer hospitality to workers who lack work or resources (these works are to be sponsored by the state). I will do my best to call for justice and social security measures to alleviate the suffering of the people.

Frederic was not elected, but he continued, until the end of his life, mediating and defending the workers’ rights.

Through his word and his activity, Frederic has shown us the way to humanize and value labor relations and to denounce those unjust situations that surround us. Today, some of the points of his “program” (workers unions, social security, the right of the unemployed to receive assistance …) have become reality (and yet these aspects can still be further developed) in many countries …  but not in all. Much remains to be done in this regard, even in countries calling themselves “advanced/developed.” Other aspects still need to be improved, for example, many workers live in precarious situations (the same that occurred in the mid-19th century in France) unstable jobs, low wages, situations of misery for countless individuals who do not earn enough to cover their minimum expenses for housing, food, health care, education, etc..

Can we, as members of the worldwide Vincentian Family do something about this situation? I am sure that we can!!

Like Frederic, the Vincentian Family must make every effort to ensure that all people, especially the most disadvantaged, have access to a dignified life … and this includes access to dignified work. We must raise our voices and engage in collaborative action to bring about significant systemic changes that will guarantee that those suffering from this type of injustice can access the conditions necessary to lead a decent life. Furthermore, our action must enable these men and women to be the protagonists of their own history and and to be able to rise above the unfair situations that we have socially become accustomed to normalize. We have two powerful tools at our disposal: collaboration among the many members of the Family, and a charism (our heritage) that moves us to work for the dignity of all people, especially those who suffer the most.

Javier F. Chento
twitter icon @javierchento
facebook icon JavierChento