By BART HARRINGTON
The recent report that the workers of the International Property Developers (Industrial) Ltd. were claiming that, following their "sit-in", the Government's action in acquiring the factory to set up another experiment in worker-participation in management, was in accordance with Papal teachings, may have surprised many. It should not, however, have surprised Catholics. But it did.
Yet for over 70 years the great social encyclicals have been like voices crying in the wilderness with, unfortunately, few listeners and even fewer doers.
In fact so few Catholic leaders have emerged with fire in their bellies for what Pope John said in Mater et Magistra is "an integral part of the Christian conception of life", that what is surprising is that any body of workers which includes Catholics should have referred to the Papal teachings at all.
Successive Popes have clearly outlined the principles upon which should he based solutions to the neverending problems, that modern industrialism continues to throw up. An "official" policy has emerged which, alas, seems to be unknown or known only very imperfectly by the "officials".
Because at times terminology similar to that of the ultra-Left may be used, because to be associated with worker movements
tends to destroy the respectable image we, as a Church, have seemed keen to develop in the eyes of the establishment, it has almost appeared as if some of the social encyclicals would he on the Index, if it still existed.
It is essential at this time of industrial unrest to look at some of these teachings and to consider how far Mr Wedgwood Benn's actions in Glasgow with the former Scottish Daily Express employees, at Meriden with the Triumph motor-cycle factory, and now at Kirkby, fulfil the claim made by some of the leaders in the latter place, that they comply with basic principles of social action advocated in Rerum Novarum (Leo X111, 1891), Quadragesimo Anno (Pius XI, 1931), Mater et Magistra (John XXIII, 1961), Pacem in Terris (John XX III, l 963) and Populorum Progressio (Paul VI, 1967).
Encyclicals are, of course, human documents and are influenced by the circumstances of their times. That is why they need to be brought up to date from time to time and why one may appear to modify a predecessor.
However, there has not been any need to modify the pervading principles which Leo XIII stated clearly that wages must take into account workers' families, the financial state of the business and the economic welfare of the whole people: that workers had the right to work and to form associations for their defence and welfare.
Pope John repeated this in
Mater Magistra: ". . remuneration cannot be made to depend on the state of the market. It must be determined by the laws of justice and equity. (Nurses, hospital workers, teachers, please note.)
Or again, in the same encyclical, when considering differentials between types of employment: in economically developed countries relatively unimportant services and services of doubtful value carry a disproportionately high rate of remuneration, while the diligent and profitable work of whole classes of honest, hard-working men gets scant reward." (Pop stars, footballers, please note.) However, the current debate in the popular press
concerns workerparticipation. This is what Pius XI said in 1931, a period of crisis in economic affairs not all that dissimilar to the present when the first signs of the upheavals of the end of the decade were clearly appearing: "We should modify the wage contract by elements taken from the contract of partnership so that wage-earners and other employees participate in the ownership or the management or in some way share in the profits."
Pius XII returned to the theme of partnership in .a later Christmas message: "The small and average
sized undertakings in agriculture, in the arts and crafts and in commerce and industry, should he safeguarded and fostered by granting them the benefits of the larger firms by means of co-operative unions, while in the larger concerns there should be the possibility of moderating the contract of, work by one of partnership.'
Pope John had no doubt at all about it in Mater et Magistra: "But we are in no two minds as to the need for giving workers an active share in the business of the company, be it a private or a public one. Every effort must he made to ensure that the company is indeed a true community of persons, concerned about the needs, activities and the standing of each of its members."
The benefit of such partnership had been foreseen in 1891. "Men always work much harder and more readily when they work on that which belongs to them." While it is obviously not possible for all workers to own in a full sense the whole of the companies they work for, the opportunity for them to take part in ownership and to be actively involved in management should not be denied to them if only for the increased productivity it points to.
How much better industrial relations would be today if it were more of a universal practice? Pope John refers to it again in Mater et Magistra: "It is therefore high time that these public
authorities and institutions bring the workers into their discussions and those who represent the rights, demands and aspirations of the working classes, and not confine their deliberations to those who merely represent the interests of management,"
Catholics should not then be alarmed by the relatively small developments at Meriden, Glasgow and Kirkby. What should alarm us is that crises had to occur and acrimony to develop before such experiments were inaugurated and that the leadership for them and in them should have had to come from below with fears that it might fall into hands guided by principles not generally acceptable to Christian workers. (I have no knowledge that that has occurred; I express a fear only, but am pleased to report that some of the Kirkby leaders are Catholics.) We should also be seriously considering what we have done or rather not done about the advice given us in the encyclicals — what sort of debate have we initiated as a church, why is it that the word encyclical is synonymous in both Catholic and non-Catholic minds with the pill and birth control? Does that show where our priorities lie?
There are of course many Catholics who will oppose Slate intervention on the lines now being considered as a dangerous extension of
its power and as a breach of the important principle of subsidiarity. They will quote Pius XI's deprecation of the injustice and "grave evil and disturbance of right order for a larger and higher association to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower societies."
However, Mater et Magistra looked at the different conditions which had evolved in the 30 years since 1931 with increasing State intervention brought about freely by men themselves. Pope John affirmed: "It can never be right for the State to shirk its obligations of working actively for the betterment of the condition of the working classes.
"There can hardly be any more basic betterment than the provision of jobs at an adequate rate "determined by the laws of justice and equity." In the same encyclical he said: "State and public ownership of property is very much on the increase today. This is explained by the exigencies of the common good which demand that public authority broaden its sphere of activity."
No Pope has changed the substance of Pius XI's view in Quadragesimo Anno that public ownership of productive goods is justified especially those which "carry with them a power too great to be left to private individual's without injury to the community at large."
TO BE CONCLUDED