Pope Francis Receives Left-Wing Trade Union for the First Time
CGIL, one of Europe's largest left-wing trade unions, received in audience by Pope Francis.
(Rome) An unusual premiere took place yesterday in the Great Audience Hall of the Vatican. Pope Francis received the leadership and a large delegation of the left-wing trade union CGIL in a special audience.
The Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro (CGIL), General Italian Trade Union Confederation, was founded in 1944 by the communists, socialists and Christian democrats united in the struggle against fascism and its National Socialist allies, i.e. the forces that were to determine Italian post-war policy until 1992. When the Stalinist, strictly Moscow-oriented Communist Party (PCI) wanted to use the CGIL and the alliance after 1945 to turn Italy into a Soviet republic, the trade union unity that still exists in the German-speaking world today collapsed. In 1948/1950, the Christian trade unions and those socialists who wanted to escape the close embrace of the Communist Party separated from the CGIL and founded their own trade union confederations, the Christian CISL and the socialist UIL. In the political fragmentation, other trade union confederations were added. However, the three leagues confederated and were granted by the state the exclusive right to conduct collective bargaining.
From 1948 at the latest, the CGIL was the trade union of the communists and the popular frontists. Anyone who was a union member did not have to be a party member. But those who wanted to become politically active had to do so in the Communist Party. Dissent was not tolerated. In the troubled 70s, when the turn to the left seemed possible, non-orthodox leftists tried to take over the Christian trade union in order to lead it into a popular front with the communists and thus prepare the establishment of a "people's democracy".
The CGIL now has 5.5 million members (CISL 4.1 million, UIL 2.2 million). The largest non-Confederate union today is the UGL, founded in 1996 with 1.8 million members, which is close to Matteo Salvini's Lega and Giorgia Meloni's Fratelli d'Italia.
While the CISL always maintained good contacts with the Christian Democrats and the Church, the CGIL stood on the anti-Church barricades. All socio-political struggles against the natural order were supported by the CGIL propagandistically, financially and on the streets, especially the legalization of the killing of unborn children. Most recently, it has called for discrimination against doctors who, for reasons of conscience, refuse to assist in abortions.
The Italian Communist Party underwent some metamorphoses from 1991 onwards when, after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it changed its name to the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), then to the Left Democratic Party and finally to the Democratic Party following the US model. (PD). The latter is a joint project of the former communists and the former left wing of the Christian Democrats. At the trade union level, however, no rapprochement had so far been shown because of the strong Christian trade union.
Under Pope Francis, whose embrace of the political left is well known, new alliances are emerging, as was the case yesterday with the first large audience for the hard-left trade union CGIL, which is still the trade union rallying point of the radical left.
In his extensive criticism of abuses in the world of work to the detriment of workers, Pope Francis managed to address the "pandemic years" without finding a word of comfort for the incredible harshness with which the Italian governments at the time forced entire professional groups such as doctors, medical personnel, police, military, teachers to "vaccinate" with an experimental genetically modified preparation or were suspended without salary. Francis also did not find a word about the fact that the Italian state imposed a fine on all over 50-year-olds who did not "get vaccinated" (the payment of which was suspended by the new government until June 30, 2023) and excluded them from the world of work.
Why the Pope is silent on this is obvious: because he himself had introduced these hardships even more radically for the employees of the Vatican State and the Holy See. Measures that have not yet been repealed. Why Francis, however, partly imitated these radical measures, and partly anticipated them, is still unclear.
Here is the full translation of his address to the leadership and the numerous delegation of the General Italian Trade Union Confederation CGIL:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
I welcome you and thank the Secretary-General for his words. This meeting with you, one of Italy's historic trade union organisations, invites me to renew my attachment to the world of work and, in particular, to the people and families who are struggling the most.
There is no union without workers, and there are no free workers without unions. We live in a time which, despite technological progress – and sometimes precisely because of this perverse system called technocracy (cf. Laudato Si', 106-114) – has somewhat disappointed expectations of justice in the field of work. This requires, first and foremost, a new beginning in terms of the value of work as a place where personal vocation and social dimension meet. Work enables man to realize himself, to live in brotherhood, to cultivate social friendships and to improve the world. The encyclicals Laudato si' and Fratelli tutti can help to follow educational paths that provide reasons for commitment in today's world.
Work builds society. It is a primary experience of citizenship, in which a community of destiny is born from the commitment and talents of each individual; this community is much more than the sum of the various professional abilities because everyone is recognized in relation to others and for others. And so the fabric of "democracy" is brought to life day by day in the ordinary web of connections between people and economic and political projects. It is a fabric that is not woven at the desk in some palaces, but with creative diligence in factories, workshops, farms, trade, crafts, on construction sites, public administrations, schools, offices and so on. It comes "from below", from reality.
Dear friends, when I recall this vision, it is because one of the tasks of the trade union is to educate in the meaning of work and to promote fraternity among workers. This educational concern must not be missing. It is the salt of a healthy economy capable of making the world a better place. In fact, "the human price is always an economic price, and economic ills always demand a human price. Stopping investing in people in order to get a greater immediate return is bad business for society" (Laudato si', 128).
In addition to training, it is always necessary to point out the distortions of work. The culture of waste has crept into economic relations and has also penetrated the world of work. This is the case, for example, where human dignity is trampled underfoot by gender discrimination – why does a woman have to earn less than a man? Why send a woman away as soon as you see that she is getting "fat" in order not to pay for maternity leave? It manifests itself in the precarious situation of youth – why do people have to postpone their life decisions because of the chronic precariat? – or in the culture of redundancy; and why are the most demanding jobs still so poorly protected? Too many people suffer from unemployment or unworthy work: their faces deserve to be heard, and they deserve the commitment of the trade unions.
In particular, I would like to share with you a few concerns. Firstly, the safety of workers. Your Secretary-General has spoken about this. There are still too many deaths – I see them in the newspapers: every day there is someone – too many mutilated and injured people at work! Every death at work is a defeat for society as a whole. We should not only count them at the end of each year, but remember their names, because they are people, not numbers. Let us not allow profit and man to be equated! The idolatry of money tends to trample on everything and everyone and not appreciate differences. It is about educating us to take care of workers' lives and educate us to take safety rules seriously: only a wise alliance can prevent those "accidents" that are tragic for families and communities.
A second concern is the exploitation of humans as if they were performance machines. There are violent forms, such as the "caporalato"1 and the enslavement of workers in agriculture or on construction sites and other workplaces, the coercion of workers into grueling layers, the downward play in contracts, the disregard for motherhood, and the conflict between work and family. How many contradictions and how many wars between the poor take place around work! In recent years, the number of so-called "working poor" has increased: people who, despite working, are unable to feed their families and give them hope for the future. The union – listen carefully – is called upon to be the voice of the voiceless. They have to make noise to give a voice to the voiceless. In particular, I would like to commend you for taking care of young people, who are often forced into precarious, inadequate, even slave-like contracts. I thank you for any initiative that promotes an active labour policy and protects human dignity.
In addition, during these pandemic years, the number of those quitting their jobs has increased. Young and old are dissatisfied with their profession, the climate in the workplace, the forms of contract and prefer to quit. They are looking for other options. This phenomenon does not mean disconnecting, but humanizing work. Here, too, trade unions can take preventive action by focusing on the quality of work and helping people find a job that better matches their talents.
Dear friends, I invite you to be "guardians" of the world of work, creating alliances and not sterile contradictions. People thirst for peace, especially at this historic moment, and everyone's contribution is fundamental. Peace education, even in the workplace, which is often marked by conflict, can become a sign of hope for all. Also for future generations.
Thank you for what you do and will do for the poor, the migrants, the infirm and disabled, and the unemployed. Don't forget to also take care of those who do not join the union because they have lost faith and make room for youthful responsibility.
I entrust you to the protection of Saint Joseph, who knew how beautiful and laborious it is to do his work well and how satisfying it is to earn bread for the family. Let's look at him and his ability to educate through work. I wish you all and your loved ones a peaceful Christmas. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady protect you. And if you can, please pray for me. Thank you!
Text/Translation: Giuseppe Nardi Image: Vatican.va (Screenshots)
Trans: Tancred firstname.lastname@example.org
1 "Caporalato" in Italian means migrant workers who work irregularly in agriculture, often earn only half of the regular helpers, but have to work longer.