I was at a conference last weekend and recently (re)introduced to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
Add to the list of reasons I’m thankful to be Catholic: having such a rich resource culminating from centuries of development of these practical thoughts to apply to life. On this May Day, the Feast Day of St. Joseph the Worker, I turn my attention to the situation of the worker. Most of us, after all, come from the “working class”. Cross referencing the Compendium with the political discourse regarding “the 1% vs 99%”, the pushes to increase the minimum wage, and tax policy, I find very much lacking in these debates.
On one side of the debate or the other, the arguments boil down to reduction of the human person to numbers – salary, headcount,… egghead figures used to get to a quantitative sense of social justice, or demonstrate an exertion of political force. What is lost in all of this is the dignity of the worker – the human person in their totality as being in the image and likeness of God, allowing God to express Himself creatively through the output of their labour.
I’ve been very dissatisfied with any discussion of numbers. A local company’s CEO decided to reduce his own salary so that every worker could make at least $70,000 a year. God bless him, but I also sense the pressure on other companies, including small businesses who already struggle to maintain a healthy balance sheet. to follow suit. Legislatively, Washington State is gradually forcing everybody to pay their workers $15 an hour. Somehow, this will make everything better.
No doubt, a living wage is what speaks to the dignity of the worker. There are a lot of side effects to legislatively (inorganically) moving the economic norm in such a way – higher prices, fewer hours, etc. Without this being tempered by a keen sense of social justice, legislative action solves a problem for a few months and $15/hour is no longer a sustainable living wage anymore.
Referring back to the Compendium, it is the starting point for a rich set of principles for the considerations that we as employers and customers can use in deciding how we do business. This May Day, I pray that we recover the sense of the innate dignity of every employee in consideration of matters of worker justice.