An alliance to put decent work at the centre of sustainable and integral development

In an unprecedented gathering, on 23 and 24 November, trade unions from across the world, including the leading international workers’ organisations (ITUC, ETUC, TUCA, etc), the International Labour Organization (ILO), and its director general, came together with Cardinal Peter Turkson and representatives of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development to hold a dialogue on the cornerstone of integral and sustainable development: human work, decent work.

The holding of this two-day meeting was, first of all, in itself a major achievement. The second was the quality of the exchanges that took place. And the third, but equally important achievement, was the level of dialogue and consensus reached.

The Church and trade union representatives coincided on the diagnosis of the dire inequalities dividing humanity, amid threatening processes such as climate change and the rapid shift to a digitalised economy, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

They also underscored the profound changes imposed by successive labour reforms weakening workers’ rights and lowering the living standards of huge swathes of the world population, the financialisation of the economy, concentrating wealth in the hands of a few, and the blind faith in technology as a solution to social problems.

Individualism, inequality, precariousness, mass unemployment, poverty, exclusion and the discarding of people are placing our “common home” at risk.

This meeting “opens up new and hopeful perspectives for the reflection and shared contribution of workers’ movements to contemporary societies”, a sentiment expressed by several trade union leaders at the event and reflected in the Final Declaration, summarising the dialogue held.

Trade unions value and recognise the contribution made by the Social Doctrine of the Church, through its defence of the centrality of the person, the right to decent work, the need to prioritise labour over capital and recognition of the strategic role played by trade unions, through social dialogue and collective bargaining, in building fairer societies.

The Church, which convened the conference, and the trade union movement agree on the fundamental need to place work at the heart of the social question, and that human dignity should be the foundation for a new ethical paradigm. This rights-based paradigm should ensure integral, inclusive and sustainable development, as expressed in the Laudato si’ Encyclical, which offers concrete reference for the action needed to “care for our common home” and to promote “a just transition with social justice for all”.

Pope Francis does not want an economic system that “increases the number of unemployed, or homeless, or landless”. During his pontificate, drawing on all the teachings preceding it, decent work is imperative, unwaivable and irreplaceable in allowing people to cover their needs and to live a decent life.

Accordingly, he considers trade unions to be an essential institution for the construction of more democratic, participatory and inclusive societies, based on the values of collaboration, networking, unity, solidarity, and organisation. They play a crucial role in the defence of human dignity and the dignity of work.

He encourages them to exercise leadership, taking up their prophetic mission (to denounce and develop critical consciousness) with renewed energy and constant innovation, to exercise universal solidarity, ensuring the inclusion of the “most vulnerable in the world of work”. A global solidarity that protects rights, with “work, land and housing for all”, that enables us to flee from individualism and consumerism, and questions the system. The Church wants to be true to its mission, serving, from the periphery, the “suffering humanity” of the world of work.

Accordingly, the challenge raised by this meeting, for churches, Christian workers’ movements and trade unions, at regional or local level, is by no means inconsiderable. The road ahead is long. It could be a source of inspiration to take the initiative, strengthening this alliance, opening a dialogue and sharing synergies, to place work and workers’ organisations at the centre of integral and sustainable development that respects human dignity and the planet.

This article has been translated from Spanish.