International Workers‘ Day and the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker
Dear Kolping sisters and Kolping brothers,
There is hardly anyone among our roughly 400,000 Kolping members who can live on this earth without working. Many have worked into old age, many still have their working lives ahead of them.
People working in their jobs, caring for their families and for others, and doing voluntary work keep our world running and help to secure our very existence, our survival. Since every human being has to work in order to make a living, human work is rightly expected to meet the standard of “decent work”. And yet, all too often, it does not meet that standard. Every day, people suffer and die from working conditions that fail to respect their dignity, and millions of people are deprived of their fair wages. And we all know: This is by no means a new but a very old phenomenon. Let us remember what Blessed Adolph Kolping himself wrote about the industrial workers of his time, about starvation wages and disrespect for human dignity – in 1848:
“Nowadays, the majority of workers, even if they have a job, often do not earn their daily bread. Wages have declined year after year; as competition increased, prices dropped, the factory owner was left with the burden, and finally the workers bore the brunt of it. He who is at the bottom bears the burden. I was shown, among other things, fabrics that three or four years ago still brought ten to twelve Silbergroschen in wages, whereas now only four to five are paid for them. It would be interesting to compare the wages for the most diverse types of products of the last ten years; one would end up with a scale of people’s happiness. How often does a family tire itself out for the whole week after a long, dreary struggle and yet people hardly know how to earn two or three thalers, which under the prevailing circumstances are a mere pittance.
And sometimes the workers are treated in an outrageous manner, not so much by the masters themselves as by their subordinates. And the worker tolerates, suffers, remains silent, if he does not want to tighten more firmly the noose which the unfortunate conditions have thrown around his neck, if not to suffocate him. Everyone who has had experience in such matters knows that factory courts are not adequate to deal with such issues. I say it again: Our modern industry is marked by a clever, cold egoism, unsurpassed in the world, which, like a machine, exerts a tyranny on masters and servants, more palpable than ever before. Indeed, the tangible reality puts sharp weapons into the hands of certain enemies of humanity.”
(Adolph Kolping, Letter from the Wupper, April 1848; Original: Rheinisches Kirchenblatt 5 (1848))
In many countries, good work standards have evolved fundamentally since 1848, and people are protected by law from life-threatening exploitation. But even in societies that pride themselves on high labour standards, we continue to see structural disregard for occupational safety, minimum wages and co-determination. The standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which KOLPING INTERNATIONAL has consistently been involved with, are not really enforced in many places in the world.
What motivated Adolph Kolping in his time to bring his work to life is also a mission for us today: Let us stand up against exploitation and violation of human dignity. Let us call on the governments in our countries to protect working people and let us not be forced into an international race to the bottom, where companies only invest where labour is cheapest. Let us remain faithful to Adolph Kolping’s mission. Let us not allow the “noose”, as he calls it, to tighten around the necks of working people when their wages are too low to support their families.
On May 1st, we, Kolping sisters and Kolping brothers, stand together with all those who fight for a fair world of work. We stand together with trade unionists, we stand together with entrepreneurs who create value together with their employees and pay fair wages, we stand together with all those who have lost loved ones to inhumane working conditions.
May 1st reminds us of Adolph Kolping’s mission. Let us, with God’s help, live up to this mission, asking for his blessing and the protection of Saint Joseph.
Kind regards and Treu Kolping,
Msgr. Christoph Huber, General Praeses
Dr. Markus Demele, General Secretary
Karin Wollgarten, Managing Director