The perception of staging strikes from an ecclesiastical point of view

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The perception of staging strikes from an ecclesiastical point of view

By Fr. Dr. Rif’at Bader

Staging strikes as a method of resolving disputes between workers and employers “is recognized by Catholic social teaching as legitimate in the proper conditions and within just limits”. This was reported in the Pope John Paul II message issued in 1981 titled, “Laborem Exercens” (On Human Work).

The Pope was at the time coming from Poland when the Catholic Church had a long history of supporting labor and trade unions particularly Solidarnoś, which greatly influenced the political life in Poland when it was founded in 1980 as the first independent union to be recognized in a Communist Warsaw Pact country.

Based on the teachings of the Church, there is a fundamental right to form associations with other people as workers have the right to form unions which play an important role in the protection of the rights of workers and are thus an “indispensable element of social life”. Yet, unions are not to “struggle against” the other side, but are called upon to work “for the just good” and should be marked by cooperation with social, professional, and governmental departments.

According to the teachings of the Church, a strike is legitimate when all of these five conditions are met, namely every other method for the resolution of disputes has been ineffectual; it is necessary to obtain a proportionate benefit; it is peaceful; the goal is directly related to working conditions; and the goal is in accord with the common good. In addition, it must never be forgotten that when essential community services are in question, they must in every case be ensured, if necessary by means of appropriate legislation.

In 1992, the Vatican issued a book on the catechism of the Catholic Church. The book contains an explicit statement which says: “Recourse to a strike is morally legitimate when it cannot be avoided, or at least when it is necessary to obtain a proportionate benefit. It becomes morally unacceptable when accompanied by violence, or when objectives are included that are not directly linked to working conditions or are contrary to the common good.” (Article 1436)

It is to be noted that the social catechism of the Catholic Church-- including those concerning work, workers, trade unions, strikes and other measures, even those concerning political disputes--always urges resorting to negotiations and dialogues rather than clashes and conflicts, whether armed or otherwise.

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