Issue date
24 Nov 2017

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady will today (Friday) deliver a speech at the Vatican as part of a two-day meeting of Catholic and labour movement leaders.

Catholic teaching through papal encyclicals has commended trade unions, highlighting their importance as “a mouthpiece for the struggle for social justice, for the just rights of working people,” (Laborum Excercens, John Paul II).

The meeting will hear testimony on the injustices suffered by working people. It will consider the structural reforms needed to the global economy to put human dignity before markets and capital. And it will be an opportunity for trade unions and the Catholic Church to share ideas in order to achieve greater social justice for working people and their families.

Frances will warn of the harm done to UK workers by inequality and corporate power, including tax avoidance by new ‘titans of technology’ like Apple, Facebook and Google, and worker exploitation by firms like Uber and Amazon. And she will call on the Catholic Church and trade unions to continue their historic association to build an alliance for economic justice.

She will address the economic justice challenges the world faces, saying:

“Inequality, conflict and climate change are threatening the peace and prosperity of the world. Technological change is concentrating wealth at the expense of working people. And our schools and hospitals suffer from rich corporations not paying a fair share of taxes.

“New global titans of technology now have wealth and power beyond our imagination. And many workers have become slaves to an app, with employers washing their hands of any notion of an employment relationship. We must offer hope that there is a better way.

“We must challenge the very values on which our economies run. The market should be our servant, not our master. Value cannot be measured in monetary terms alone. And individual greed must not triumph over the common good.”

She will encourage Catholic leaders to continue their history of supporting workers who take action to uphold their rights, saying:

“The Catholic Church and trade unions have a shared history in Britain. In the 19th Century, Cardinal Manning supported striking dockers who demanded a pay rise, minimum hours and the right to a union voice. He called the refusal of employers to negotiate with their workers a ‘public evil’.

“This year I met the ‘McStrikers’ – young fast food workers at McDonald’s, stuck on low pay and zero-hours contracts. Their demands are the same as the dockers nearly 130 years ago. They want a fair wage, guaranteed hours and recognition of their trade union. They need a modern-day Cardinal Manning.”

She will ask Catholic leaders to work with trade unions, saying:

“The Catholic Church and trade unions both understand that much more can be achieved together than alone. We share values of community, dignity and social solidarity, values that bind us together as workers, citizens and human beings.

“Together, we can improve working lives and put dignity for working people ahead of market forces and freedom of capital. We can build a popular alliance for economic justice, in Britain and around the world.

“So speak out and support the courageous workers who stand up against injustice. Call on your congregation to join a union. And encourage Catholic employers to do the right thing and recognise trade unions.”

Editors note

- The Vatican’s International Meeting of Trade Unions is led by Cardinal Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for promoting Integral Human Development. It will take place from 23-24 November. The full title for the meeting is Work and Labour Movement at the Centre of Integral, Sustainable and Inclusive Human Development: Why does the labor world remain key to development in the global world? The plenary session at which Frances O’Grady will speak is on Friday 24 November, and is titled ‘Labor movement strategies to build a global and local society more fraternal, inclusive, just and egalitarian’.
- Journalists wishing to observe the meeting can apply for temporary accreditation here: http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/accrediti/pubblico/accredito/form-accredito-temporaneo.html
- The meeting follows a speech by Pope Francis to Italian trade unions in June 2017, at which he said “The capitalism of our time does not understand the value of trade unions, because it has forgotten the social nature of economy, of business. This is one of the greatest errors.” An English translation of the speech can be found here: https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2017/june/documents/papa-francesco_20170628_delegati-cisl.html
- Commendation of trade unions was given in Populorum Progressio, an encyclical from Pope VI in 1967 on the ‘Development of Peoples’: http://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_26031967_populorum.html
- Laborum Excercens, an encyclical from John Paul II in 1981, included a section on the ‘Importance of Unions’: http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091981_laborem-exercens.html
- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.6 million working people who make up our 50 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.