Pope champions role of labor unions

Pope Francis meets members of CGIL, Italy's largest labor union, during an audience at the Vatican Dec. 19, 2022. The banner in Italian says, "Work, Peace, Fraternity." (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) ─ Protecting the dignity of workers and promoting dignified jobs are the essential roles of a labor union, Pope Francis said when he met members of Italy's largest union.

"There is no union without workers, and there are no free workers without a union," the pope said Dec. 19 during an audience with the leadership and delegates from the Italian General Confederation of Labor, known by its Italian acronym, CGIL.

With about 5 million registered members, CGIL is Italy's largest labor union. It was founded in the late 1800s.

At a time when justice for workers seems threatened or about to disappear, the pope said, the job of unions is to emphasize the "value of work as a place of encounter" between an individual's personal vocation and his or her role in the family, the community and society.

"Working allows people to realize themselves, live fraternity, cultivate social friendship and improve the world," the pope said.

Pope Francis asked the union to put extra energy into several areas: workplace safety; equal pay for women and ending discrimination against pregnant women; greater job security for young workers; and better pay for people doing the most physically draining jobs.

Maurizio Landini, general secretary of CGIL, told the pope: "In 2022, people continue to die on the job. More than 1,000 people have died this year. Each day three people go to work and do not return home in the evening. This is a massacre and must be stopped."

The workplace deaths and injuries are a "defeat for society as a whole," Pope Francis said. "The idolatry of money tends to trample everything and everyone and does not cherish the differences" between people and profits, often focusing only on the number of workplace casualties and not on the people themselves.

The pope called for a "wise alliance" among the union, its members and employers to make sure people "care about the lives of employees" but also take safety regulations seriously.

Labor unions must be "a voice for the voiceless," the pope said, especially for workers who labor hard and yet still are unable to support their families.


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