A considerable period of the 19th century was characterized by very serious labor conflicts. In this context, Blessed Frederic Ozanam pronounced his well-known sentence: “The order of society rests on two truths: justice and charity.” Undoubtedly, promoting decent work is a duty of justice and charity.
The question of unemployment at present is a serious one, since the covid pandemic has produced – and is producing – a considerable increase in layoffs, although it is also true that in some countries we are seeing a slight recovery.
I believe that, among the many ways that the Vincentian Family can help the poor, one is to bring the unemployed out of poverty by getting a good job. With a dignified and stable job, the situation of need is overcome and a strategy for improvement can be planned.
I invite you to review some basic notions about employment. One of the things that differentiates work from other activities is the aim to produce. The economist Marshall pointed out that an activity is work when it is performed in pursuit of some good other than the direct pleasure of its execution.
Work is valuable because it allows us to solve our own needs or those of our family: we work so that we do not lack food, clothing, housing, culture, independence, certain capacity to save for the future, etc.
In addition, we may work to improve the lives of others. My work should bring a certain benefit for others. Finally, through work (on an ideal level) one feels useful and even creative: people work to leave some trace of their passing in the world, which, many times, occurs within work.
I would now like to refer to the most frequent form of employment: most people work as employees, as salaried workers. The salary is a contractual remuneration, more or less fixed, received by the worker in exchange for offering his labor force for a period of time. Wages are generally paid weekly, fortnightly or, more frequently, monthly.
It is unfortunate not only when there is a lack of work, but also when what is paid is little, is unfair, and is not enough to lead a decent life. In times of great unemployment, it is not uncommon to find some employers who take advantage and exploit their workers, especially when the State does nothing or does not want to do anything about it.
We Vincentians are called to live with intensity the attitude of the Good Samaritan, an example that Jesus offers to those who want to be his disciples. Today, one way of being “Good Samaritans” is to help the poor to find work, looking for ways to ensure that, on the one hand, the worker is faithful to his task and, on the other hand, that the wages are decent.
Many of you know that I love movies. Today I recall an old and great movie I saw, called “Metropolis”, by Fritz Lang, from 1927. It shows several employment conflicts. The female protagonist says, at the end: “the mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart.” That is to say, the social question is not solved only from the numbers, and even less taking advantage of people, but from the lived fraternity.
Three questions to conclude:
1. In these last months, have I helped any person to get a job?
2. Did we help the members of the Vincentian Family who have lost their jobs during this pandemic?
3. As a member of the Vincentian Family, in addition to our specific ways of helping the poor, do we consider the possibility of promoting cooperatives or micro-enterprises?