The “dignity of work” is a Catholic idea. Here is the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops:
The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected–the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.
The Catholic Church roots its understanding of work using several scriptural passages, including:
- Genesis 2:15
God settles man in the garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it.
- Deuteronomy 14:28-29
The Lord blesses our work so that we may share its fruits with others.
- Deuteronomy 24:14-15
Do not withhold wages from your workers, for their livelihood depends on them.
- Isaiah 58:3-7
To observe religious practices, but oppress your workers is false worship.
- Jeremiah 22:13
Woe to him who treats his workers unjustly.
- Matthew 20:1-16
All workers should be paid a just and living wage.
- Luke 3:10-14
Practice integrity in your work.
- James 5:1-6
Those who become rich by abusing their workers have sinned against God.
Read more here.
Over at The Washington Post, Jenna Johnson shows how politicians of both parties use and have used the “dignity of work” as part of their political campaigns. For example, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown has made it a central theme of his potential presidential campaign. Here is a taste of Johnson’s piece:
As Democrats try to better talk about and to working-class voters — especially the white working-class voters who were key to President Trump’s unexpected win in 2016 — the phrase “dignity of work” keeps coming up. Brown says he has used the phrase and its idea throughout his entire political career; other Democrats, including former vice president Joe Biden, have as well. It’s a phrase deeply rooted in the Catholic Church’s teachings, and Brown’s aides say that in addition to those roots, he has long been inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s embrace of the sentiment. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops explains its message in this way: “Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected — the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.”
Republicans, too, have used the phrase. But in their case, it’s often invoked while calling for reductions to welfare benefits so that the poor are pushed to work harder and thus, the suggestion goes, gain dignity.
As governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker frequently spoke of the “dignity of work” as he and Republican lawmakers slashed the powers of public unions and gutted state welfare programs. He said in a statement last year: “We want to help those in need move from government dependence to true independence through the dignity of work.” In an op-ed last year, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue advocated further restricting access to food stamps — with the blessing of the president — and concluded: “This restores the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population, while it is also respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program.” And Trump has used the phrase in promoting apprenticeships over college degrees, saying in 2017: “There is dignity in every honest job, and there is nobility in every honest worker.”
Read the entire piece here. I like what Brown is doing here. If he can bring the religious roots of his labor views to the forefront, and reference them on the campaign trail, he might have a chance of winning some religious voters in the way that Hillary Clinton could not.