Message for 2020 Labour Day
“Feed my lambs” (Jn 21,15)
Who are those holy people bathed in sweat while working at great risk to their own lives, whereas most people, fearing infection from COVID-19, keep their doors shut? One early morning, when most people slept, a man, carrying a bag of rice on his shoulder, breathed his last on his way to deliver it to an apartment without an elevator. Similar to bread that is transformed into the body of the Lord in the Eucharist, the delivery man’s life was offered in an effort to put daily bread on his family’s table. His difficulty breathing shows how society’s harsh working conditions can exhaust irregular workers and cause death by overwork.
We should not forget that the hard work of these irregular workers is fundamental to sustain our society’s development. Such workers often endure demeaning, undesirable work with low wages and difficult working conditions. The Lord burnt charcoal with his wounded hands to feed His disciples, and, even today, He continues to feed us through the wounded hands of poor workers who are members of His body (cf. Jn 21,1-14).
Amid the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, unlike in some other countries, there was no panic buying in Korea. Among the reasons for this was the tireless work of many, including delivery persons, who kept the wheels of society turning. Indeed, all men and women of our day are debtors to society of which they have become a part (cf. Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, n.195).
The heart-aching story of a call center employee, forced to work at a small and confined desk in order to provide for her family including a sick member, exemplifies the sad reality of low-wage employees. In Korea, there has been no improvement in the wages and status of call center workers, said a woman worker with keen insight: they are treated as poorly as factory workers were in the past. The poor working conditions of Cheonggyecheon Peace Market, a sewing factory fifty years ago, are recurring today in many areas but in more complicated ways.
The poor are the most vulnerable to all forms of ecological crises and disasters caused by human greed. Day laborers, irregular employees, self-employed workers and foreign workers are alienated and marginalized, making survival difficult. Let us recall Pope Francis’ repeated emphasis on how labor and employment are essential to human dignity. I ardently pray for workers, so that each and every one of them may be protected by society and embraced by the Church. Let us remember that a throwaway culture, in which people are discarded like disposable products, is more deadly than any virus.
Whenever a national emergency arises, the nationwide slogan of ‘Share the sufferings’ is preached again and again. However, the heaviest burdens always fall on poor workers who are already marginalized. The brutal logic of capitalism, sacrificing the poor to overcome economic difficulties, is the dictatorship of an impersonal economy and an new idol against which we have to struggle (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, n.55).
If irregular employees, farmers, women, and those with disabilities are excluded from the struggle, no labor movement can defeat the ruthless power of capitalism. May this crisis be an opportunity for us to free ourselves from closed group egoism and exclusivism, in order that we may rediscover true solidarity among workers and work towards the common good.
The Church, as mother, always shares the agony of poor and suffering workers and stands in solidarity with them. Our risen Lord Jesus Christ, the carpenter’s son, continues to be a friend of all workers in today’s world.
“Take courage, I have conquered the world” (Jn 16,33).
May 1, 2020
+ Constantine Bae Ki Hyen
Bishop of Masan
CBCK Committee for Justice & Peace