A Jubilee for Workers:
Challenges and Opportunities for the New Millennium
Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles
Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee
United States Catholic Conference
September 4, 2000
This Labor Day, September 4, 2000, has been declared the Jubilee Day of
Workers. It is a day set aside to honor working men and women and to
celebrate the meaning and value of work as we begin a new millennium.
From its early Hebrew origins, Jubilee has focused on the importance and
meaning of work. Leviticus 25 speaks about the relationship of people
to the land and to their work. It speaks about the farming, financial
practices and work of the Jewish people. It encourages the just
distribution of goods. God's people are reminded that all things come
from God and they are for common use.
The Book of Genesis records God's command to human beings: "Fill the
earth and subdue it" (Gn 1: 28). We fulfill this command through work.
In God's plan and Catholic teaching, work is both a right and duty. It
is a right because work is how we express our dignity and provide for
ourselves and our families. Work is necessary to help use the earth's
resources to benefit each of us and all of society. Through work we
contribute to God's continuing creation. Indeed, work helps to direct
human activity toward God. In the words of St. Paul "Whatever you do, do
all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10: 31).
Over the past century, the Church has developed its teachings on work
and economic life. Our Catholic tradition holds that "human work is a
key, probably the essential key, to the whole social question" (Laborem
Exercens #3) facing society. This Jubilee year is a good time to reflect
on the progress and problems of the American economy and how it can
serve all of God's children.
The American people are experiencing the longest sustained economic
growth in history. Work is abundant. Profits are growing. People are
moving from welfare to work. The unemployment rate is remarkably low,
below what many thought was possible just a few years ago. Real family
income has begun to rise again. Inflation seems to be held at bay.
These certainly are very good times. But the big picture can mask the
growing gap between rich and poor. Economic growth can sometimes
distribute economic benefits inequitably. Some new jobs offer meager
wages and few benefits. Just beneath the surface of economic prosperity
lies the reality of what our bishops have described as three economies
living side-by-side (NCCB, A Decade After Economic Justice for All,
A first economy finds many people prospering in this new information age
and global marketplace. They not only cope but thrive in the new
economy, experiencing remarkable economic rewards for themselves, their
families and their companies. They are moving ahead.
A second economy includes people who are doing well by some measure, but
are squeezed by declining incomes, struggle to afford health care, and
worry about the cost of a college education or Catholic schools for
their children. They find the new "global competition" not only an
opportunity but also a source of worry.
A third economy touches a substantial number of people who are left
behind and cannot escape poverty. Too often they live in the wrong
place—a neighborhood without decent jobs or affordable housing. They
lack the necessary skills for the "new economy." Many need not only
decent well-paying jobs, but the means to get to work and/or the child
care necessary to continue working.
For Christians, these realities represent not just troubling statistics,
but the struggles of brothers and sisters, members of our one human
family. The values of our faith call us to shape economic policies that
protect human dignity, promote strong families, and create vibrant
communities. In our religious tradition the fundamental moral test of
any society is how the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable are faring.
We are making progress, but challenges remain. One vital challenge is
the increasing globalization of finance, trade, and work in our world.
Rapid globalization is one of the reasons for both economic growth and
economic dislocation. Retraining of dislocated workers to allow them to
engage in the developing technologies should be a top priority. At the
same time, workers, particularly those in the growing service industry,
must be assured of their right to choose whether to organize and join
unions or other associations to promote and defend their dignity. The
Church has long stood and continues to stand with workers and their
unions in the struggle for justice, decent wages and a meaningful voice
in economic life. The results of globalization must be managed wisely
and assessed for their impact on human life and human work. In the words
of John Paul II: "Solidarity too must become globalized." (Jubilee of
Workers, May 1, 2000)
The debate over globalization is often polarized: some see it as the
solution to economic problems; others see it as the source of economic
difficulties, especially for vulnerable workers and poor families. The
Church looks to raise the moral and human dimensions of these issues —
how they touch immigrants fleeing poverty, workers seeking their rights,
regions like Africa and parts of Latin America that could be left
behind, trade embargoes which shape our relations with other peoples and
nations, and the oppressive debt that impedes the progress of many
developing nations. While Pope John Paul II's call for debt forgiveness
to mark the Jubilee Year is being addresses by the Congress and the
Administration, much more is needed.
The bishops' Conference is exploring ways to encourage a Catholic
conversation on economic globalization framed by our traditions and
values. We intend to invite business and labor leaders, economists and
theologians, those who shape globalization and those touched by it to
join in a discussion of both the opportunities and challenges of rapid
globalization, who it lifts up and who it leaves behind. We believe our
social tradition and our everyday experiences as a community of faith
and service—both here at home and around the world—give us unique
perspectives and useful contributions to contribute to the discussion on
Another critical issue related to globalization is the plight of
immigrant workers in our country. We must treat immigrants with the
dignity and honor afforded all people. Many of these workers, regardless
of their immigration status, have contributed greatly to the overall
economy. In exchange for their willingness to work in difficult jobs
with little pay and few benefits, they are often mistreated and abused.
To address this serious problem, there should be serious consideration
of a general amnesty for those workers who come to the U.S. fleeing
oppression and destitution and who make significant contributions to our
As we celebrate Labor Day and observe the Jubilee Day for Workers, we
should also remember election day comes in two months. "As Catholics, we
can celebrate the Great Jubilee by recommitting ourselves to carry the
values of the Gospels and church into the public square. As citizens, we
can and must participate in the debates and choices over the values,
vision, and leaders that will take our nation into the next century."
(Faithful Citizenship) Let us use the campaign to raise the ethical and
moral questions surrounding the dignity of work and the rights of
workers and to lift up the call to economic justice in our nation and
It is worth remembering on this Labor Day—this Jubilee for Workers—that a
person is more valuable for what she or he is than for what they have,
for the work they do rather than for what they possess. We must join
together—workers and employers, entrepreneurs and union leaders,
tradespeople and policy makers—to build a society that respects each
person and their work. This is our continuing challenge and our
necessary work as we begin this new millennium.