4.3.1 From Rerum Novarum to Laborem Exercens

Back to 4.2.8

Unit 4 Contents

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All the five planks that RN articulated and the more-or-less coherent vision they generated have been basic in Catholic Social Teaching ever since.  If you understand RN, you are half way to understanding CST overall!

This section of the unit (4.3) is devoted to reading John Paul II’s encyclical on human work, Laborem Exercens – and if you stick with it you will have read the whole of this challenging document after a few hours of study.  While it is quite a difficult text if you come to it cold, the text on screen will introduce and give commentary on it.  I hope this will enable clearer understanding.

In my assessment at least, Laborem Exercens (LE) gives a compelling analysis which, 30 years after it was published, continues to have profound implications for how work should be understood, organized and experienced.  It is worth getting to grips with.

LE is divided into chapters and we shall work through them in order.  Here are their headings:

I. Introduction

II. Work and Man

III. Conflict between Labour and Capital in the Present Phase of History

IV. Rights of Workers

V. Elements for a Spirituality of Work

Of these chapters, II and III are especially important, because it is here that John Paul articulates his critique of both Marxist socialism and neo-liberal capitalism and his alternative vision of humanity and work.

A lot changed in working life in the 90 years between RN and LE.  At the start of the latter, John Paul draws attention to ongoing rapid such changes: the information technology revolution was just beginning.

We are celebrating the ninetieth anniversary of the encyclical Rerum Novarum on the eve of new developments in technological, economic and political conditions which, according to many experts, will influence the world of work and production no less than the industrial revolution of the last century. There are many factors of a general nature: the widespread introduction of automation into many spheres of production, the increase in the cost of energy and raw materials, the growing realization that the heritage of nature is limited and that it is being intolerably polluted, and the emergence on the political scene of peoples who, after centuries of subjection, are demanding their rightful place among the nations and in international decision-making… (#1)

If you wish to find out more about changes in the working life during the twentieth century, the following optional readings give a way into this.

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Optional readings (9pp)

In the UK, a body called the Work Foundation did an enquiry into ‘Good Work’ during 2010.  The first reading is a short paper written for this by Richard Donkin, author of an earlier book called Blood, Sweat and Tears: The Evolution of Work.  His short paper notes some of the main shifts in working life of recent decades and looks into the future.  It is accessible as a pdf.

Good Work Commission, Provocation Paper 1:

Richard Donkin, ‘Work Futures’

A huge change in working life during the twentieth century was increased participation of women in work outside the home.  There is (at the time of writing) an informative entry on this at Wikipedia – see especially secs 2 and 3 on the history of that shift.

Wikipedia entry, ‘Women in the Workforce’

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End of 4.3.1

Go to 4.3.2 Laborem Exercens: preface and introduction (##1-3)

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