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Next City: When It Comes to Stealing Money From Workers, Businesses Are More Savvy Than Ever

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From Next City:

by Oscar Perry Abello

About a 30-minute subway ride from Times Square, Queens’ Flushing neighborhood doesn’t have massive skyscrapers or semi-nude street performers — but it is an important center of the national fight against wage theft.

“There were a lot of workers who were coming out about wage theft in the Flushing area, but employers are very well-organized,” says Sarah Ahn, an organizer at the Flushing Workers Center, which opened a few years ago. “They threatened workers who speak up with blacklisting or other crazy forms of retaliation, sometimes even using physical violence.”

Wage theft includes not paying for all hours worked (overtime too), paying below minimum wage and withholding benefits. While it occurs at all levels of the income ladder, low-wage workers suffer the most from it by far. According to one study, employers in New York City are stealing nearly a billion dollars a year in wages from low-income workers.

As of August 2013, New York State’s Department of Labor had a backlog of more than 17,000 open wage theft cases, more than three times as many as in 2008. Three-quarters of open wage theft cases had been open for more than a year.

Without organizing workers across shops, across different industries, it’s hard for them to get anywhere with wage theft cases, Ahn says. Enforcement mechanisms have yet to catch up with employers in today’s economy of transient workers, independent contractors, and small retail or other service-sector businesses. “I think employers got very savvy about how to get away with wage theft, compared to not too long ago,” she adds.

As a result, workers are losing, even when they’re winning. There are at least $125 million in unpaid wage theft judgments and court orders in New York State, according to a report released earlier this year.

Read the full article from Next City.

The New York Times: Labor Board Says Contractors’ Workers Can Bargain With Parent Company

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From The New York Times:

by Noam Scheiber

WASHINGTON — The National Labor Relations Board in Washington on Thursday made it substantially easier for unions to bargain for higher wages and benefits, opening the door for organized workers at fast-food chains and other franchises to negotiate with corporations like McDonald’s and Yum Brands, rather than with individual restaurants, where they might have a harder time achieving their goals.

“This is about, if employees decide they want to bargain collectively, who can be required to come to the bargaining table to have negotiations that are meaningful,” said Wilma B. Liebman, a former N.L.R.B. chairwoman who wrote a crucial dissent in a 2002 case on the subject.

The ruling, which may eventually be challenged in court in a variety of individual disputes, changes the definition of a crucial employer-employee relationship that had held in some form since the 1980s. Now, a company that hires a contractor to staff its facilities may be considered a so-called joint employer of the workers at that facility, even if it does not actively supervise them.

A union representing those workers would now be legally entitled to bargain with the upstream company, not just the contractor, under federal labor law.

“The ruling is especially important because sometimes the contractor is such a small entity, it exists on such a shoestring, that you have to get the lead firm to the table,” Ms. Liebman said.

In the case, the N.L.R.B. held that a company called Browning-Ferris Industries of California was a joint employer of workers hired by a contractor to help staff the company’s recycling center. But the ruling could apply well beyond companies that rely on contractors and staffing agencies, extending to companies with large numbers of franchisees.

“The decision today could be one of the more significant by the N.L.R.B. in the last 35 years,” said Marshall Babson, a lawyer who helped write the brief for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the case and who was a Democratic appointee to the labor board in Ronald Reagan’s presidency. “ Depending on how the board applies its new ‘indirect test,’ it will likely ensnare an ever-widening circle of employers and bargaining relationships.”

Read the full story from The New York Times.

The Nation: Longer Hours, More Stress, No Extra Pay: It’s Not Just Amazon, It’s the Modern Workplace

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From The Nation:

by Bryce Covert

By now many of us have read The New York Times’s insider account of the brutal workplace culture at Amazon’s corporate offices. We already knewabout what it’s like to work in Amazon’s warehouse centers: boiling heat, impossible production demands, and frequent firings of the temporary workforce. For the white-collar workers, demands are also high, if of a different nature: staff regularly cry at their desks, are shamed for taking time off for cancer treatments, and so often work during weekends and vacations that they develop ulcers. Failure to respond to a late-night e-mail comes with a reprimand. One employee recounts that her fiancee had to come to headquarters every night at 10 pm and call her repeatedly to get her to leave.

The Times article also includes stories from employees who profess to simply love working at that grueling pace. They are motivated by “thinking big and knowing we haven’t scratched the surface on what’s out there to invent,” as one retail executive put it. “This is a company that strives to do really big, innovative, groundbreaking things, and those things aren’t easy,” the company’s top recruiter said.

Our culture of work has so infiltrated our collective psyche that we like to think that we’re putting in long hours and responding to e-mails on the weekends because we’re devoted and ambitious. This is what journalist Miya Tokumitsu has skewered repeatedly in her writing: the “do what you love” ethos—the idea that we should all seek work that we’re emotionally devoted to, not sticking with just for a paycheck—that demands unending passion and therefore unending work, even if those long hours don’t actually mean we’re getting more done.

But while some employees call it a choice to put in long hours, it’s hard to see how that can really be true—for anyone. It would be one thing if Amazon were simply selecting for a small slice of the American workforce that truly wants to put in 60-hour or more weeks and neglect personal lives (and health). Yet a follow up Times piece pointed out that extreme work cultures aren’t limited to Amazon’s headquarters, but also show up at places like Netflix and Goldman Sachs. That’s because, the author writes, the financial reward for landing a job at those companies is so huge that each one attracts many more people to each slot than could possibly get it, “leading to the brutal competition that plays out at companies where only the best are destined for partnerships or senior management positions.”

But Amazon, Netflix, and Goldman Sachs are just the extreme end of the way all of our workplaces are heading: toward longer hours, higher demands, data to track it all in real time, and no extra pay to reward for all the stress. And we got here in large part because ours is an era marked by a low point in workers’ power.

Read the full article in The Nation.

IWJ Executive Director Rudy Lopez on a big victory for home care workers

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Lolita Lledo (center) with former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis (right), a champion for home care workers.

From the Huffington Post

by Rudy López

We live in a nation where millions of people are in need of care to get through the day. Whether they are in the twilight of their life or a victim of illness or a life-changing accident, Americans across the country depend on home care workers to make their lives better. These caregivers perform vital tasks like feeding and bathing their clients, cleaning and cooking, and providing much needed companionship. Today, there are about 2.5 million home care workers and the field is expected to grow by 70 percent in just the next five years as more and more individuals get to the age where they require assistance.

Unfortunately many home care workers don't receive fair payment for their work nor do they receive respect for their services. The original Fair Labor Standards Act did not include home care workers. Across the country, home care workers and their allies started organizing to petition the Department of Labor (DoL) to change the regulations to include home care workers. The Pilipino Workers Center of Los Angeles and Associate Director Lolita Lledo was one such group working to make sure those who care for the elderly and individuals with disabilities in their homes, would be granted the same labor protections as all other workers. Finally, in 2013 the DoL made the change to protect home care workers. It was a huge win. However, the victory was short lived. Soon after the DoL's ruling, a district court judge ruled that the DoL did not have the authority to make those types of changes. However, the resilience and courage of home care workers to keep pushing finally paid off. This month, a Washington, DC court ruled in favor of the DoL's protections for home care workers.

We celebrate the DC Court of Appeals' decision to extend basic wage protections to those who care for sick and elderly members of our family and community. As people of faith, we are called to stand with the most vulnerable members of society, including the ill and infirm and those who care for them. All labor has dignity, especially when it enhances the well-being of the sick among us. Protecting the rights of home care workers is to defend the dignity of not only the worker, but the patient as well.

Although the court's ruling is a big step forward for a workforce that is 90 percent female, home care workers continue to struggle for better wages and working conditions: nearly 40 percent of the entire workforce relies on some form of public assistance to make ends meet. Communities of faith throughout the country stand in support of home care workers, remembering Deuteronomy 24:14-15, "Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin." Many other verses in holy books from faith traditions across the globe share these same values.

Pope Francis, who will be visiting the US on a three-city tour in September, has spoken very clearly on the matter, saying that "there is no worse material poverty, I am keen to stress, than the poverty which prevents people from earning their bread and deprives them of the dignity of work." We expect to hear more on the subject of income inequality and worker justice when the Pope addresses Congress during his visit to Washington, DC. The Pope's visit will leave us with a great opportunity: the opportunity to do some real soul-searching and ask some hard questions. "Are we living our values through our public policy?" "Are our values in the right place?"

As Senator Paul Wellstone once said, "After all, our values are only our values if we are willing to stand up for them." I know Lolita Lledo and organizers like her are standing up for the values they believe in. How about you, America? Will you stand with home care workers?

Huffington Post: Labor Secretary Tom Perez To Join The Fight For $15

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From the Huffington Post

by Dave Jamieson

WASHINGTON -- Fast-food workers who are hoping to raise the minimum wage will find an ally in the Obama White House this week, with Labor Secretary Tom Perez traveling to Detroit on Tuesday to show his solidarity with the so-called Fight for $15.

"I'm proud to stand with the Fight for 15 movement," Perez told The Huffington Post. "And it really is a movement. It's for shared prosperity."

The union-backed Fight for $15 and its allies have roiled the service sector with intermittent strikes over the past three years, demanding a $15 wage floor and union recognition. The sight of large-scale protests has helped spur vast increases in the minimum wage in cities and states around the country, most recently in New York, where the state's wage board moved to set a $15 minimum for fast-food workers.

Perez' support of the workers shouldn't be read as an endorsement of a federal $15 wage floor -- the White House and Labor Department instead back a $12 proposal recently put forth by Congressional Democrats -- but the labor secretary said he views the Fight for $15 as a model for how workers can boost wages by banding together.

"People are increasingly understanding that they're taking it on the chin at work," Perez said. "If you battle your boss alone, it's a heck of a lot harder to succeed. But when you work in concert with fellow workers not just in your workplace but across sectors, that's how you succeed."

Perez plans to meet with Detroit workers from various fast-food chains as well as officials from the local branch of the AFL-CIO labor federation on Tuesday. Labor unions, and in particular the Service Employees International Union, have been instrumental in the fast-food strikes and local wage campaigns, pumping money and organizational support into them.

President Barack Obama has occasionally made a point of acknowledging the recent successes of fast-food workers in his economic speeches, but Perez' trip to Detroit may be the White House's clearest endorsement yet of the Fight for $15 campaign. The labor secretary's trip dovetails with a summit the White House will host in October around the concept of "worker voice," where officials plan to highlight the value of collective action in the workplace, including including ways that don't formally include labor unions and contracts.

That would presumably include the Fight for $15. Although backed by unions, the campaign so far has not unionized any fast-food restaurants. Instead, its success has come most explicitly through legislatures and the ballot box. While a $15 minimum wage seemed practically inconceivable not long ago, it is fast becoming the law in liberal cities such as Seattle and Los Angeles. Many states have rushed to pass more modest but still significant raises, with amajority of states now having a higher minimum wage than the federal level of $7.25.

Read the full article from the Huffington Post.

As minimum wage rises, some restaurants abandon tipping

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

If you've ever worked in a restaurant, you know that working for tips is an anomaly in the American workforce. Tipping puts the onus of paying a decent wage to waitstaff on the customer, as most servers are exempt from the minimum wage and instead are subject to "tipping minimum wage" -- usually less than $3 per hour.

What's more, in many high-end restaurants, tipping creates a huge pay disparity between those who work in the "front of the house" serving customers and those who work to prep, cook, and clean the restaurant.

The rising minimum wage in many states and municipalities have caused some restaurants to reconsider the tipping economy. According to an article in The New York Times, some restaurant owners are getting rid of tipping and instead implementing a surcharge of around 20% to each customer bill and splitting that money among the entire staff. 

What do you think about some restaurants moving away from tipping? We'd love to hear from both restaurant staff and consumers in the comments below. 

In These Times: The Real War on Families: Why the U.S. Needs Paid Leave Now

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TAKE ACTION FOR PAID PARENTAL LEAVE >>

From In These Times:

by Sharon Lerner

Leigh Benrahou began laying plans to have a second child almost as soon as she had her first, a daughter named Johara, in 2011. Benrahou, 32, wanted to time the next birth so that when she returned to work, her mother, who works at an elementary school and has summers off, could babysit. Most importantly, Benrahou wanted to spend as much time as she could with her new baby while also keeping her relatively new job as the registrar at a small college.

While her husband, Rachid, 38, earns enough at a carpet cleaning company to cover their mortgage and food, without her paycheck they’d be forced to live close to the bone. And if she quit her job, Benrahou, who has a masters in nonprofit management, would take a big step backward in what she hoped would be a long career in higher education.

So Benrahou, who has wavy dark blond hair, blue eyes and a tendency to smile even through difficult moments, set about what may be the least romantic aspect of family planning in the United States: figuring out how to maximize time with a newborn while staying solvent, employed and, ideally, sane.

Only in America

Most people are aware that Americans have a raw deal when it comes to maternity leave. Perhaps they’ve heard about Sweden, with its drool-inducing 16 months of paid parental leave, or Finland, where, after about 9 months of paid leave, the mother or father can take—or split—additional paid “child care leave” until the child’s third birthday.

But most Americans don’t realize quite how out of step we are. It’s not just wealthy, social democratic Nordic countries that make us look bad. With the exception of a few small countries like Papua New Guinea and Suriname, every other nation in the world—rich or poor—now requires paid maternity leave.

Paid parental leave frees mothers and fathers from choosing between their careers and time with their infants. For women, still most often the primary caregivers of young children, this results in higher employment rates, which in turn translates to lower poverty rates among mothers and their children.

Research shows that paid leave can also be a matter of life and death for children. By charting the correlation between death rates and paid leave in 16 European countries, Christopher Ruhm, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Virginia, found that a 50-week extension in paid leave was associated with a 20 percent dip in infant deaths. (The biggest drop was in deaths of babies between 1 month and 1 year old, though mortality of children between 1 and 5 years also decreased as paid leave went up.)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 13 percent of U.S. workers have access to any form of paid family leave, which includes parental leave and other time off to care for a family member. The highest-paid workers are most likely to have it, according to BLS numbers, with more than 1 in 5 of the top 10 percent of earners getting paid family leave, compared to 1 in 20 in the bottom quartile. Unionized workers are more likely to get benefits than nonunionized workers.

What do the rest of American women do without a law that guarantees this basic support? Some new mothers who don’t get paid leave quit their jobs, which can leave them desperate for income and have serious consequences in terms of work opportunities and lifetime earnings. Others may choose not to have children (though it’s impossible to definitively quantify how the difficulty of integrating work and childbirth factors into those decisions). And some try to stitch together their own paid leaves through accumulated vacation time and personal days, or through independently purchased insurance policies.

The best-laid plans

Though her employer doesn’t offer paid leave, Benrahou figured she’d create her own, taking time away from work through the Family and Medical Leave Act, which entitles new parents to up to 12 weeks off, unpaid. She knew all about the law’s loopholes—that, for instance, it only applies to workplaces that have at least 50 employees. Hers did; she wouldn’t have taken the job if it hadn’t. She knew, too, that she had to have worked for her employer for at least 12 months to qualify. That part was trickier.

She had started her job in February 2014, which meant that she wouldn’t qualify until the following February. She counted back nine months from then and got to May, but then, to be safe, tacked on another two months in case the baby came early, so: July. That’s when she and Rachid would start trying for a second.

Then there was money. Reluctant to lose 12 weeks of income, Benrahou decided to opt into her employer’s disability insurance policy, paying roughly $40 a month into the plan so she could receive 60 percent of her salary for up to six weeks of her maternity leave, plus an additional $1,000 toward the cost of her hospital stay. She would also save up her two weeks of annual paid vacation time.

Numbers crunched and policy purchased, Benrahou went off birth control on schedule in July and became pregnant within a month. But her carefully laid plans started to go awry in her 20th week, when she was diagnosed with placenta previa, which can result in early delivery. Despite some bleeding and cramping, and several brief hospital stays that used up her sick days, Benrahou stuck to her plan, working as much as possible after her diagnosis in order to save her precious vacation time. But, in late December, her water broke. Though her due date was April 1, Leigh Benrahou gave birth by C-section on Christmas Eve—too soon to qualify for FMLA leave or any payoff from her disability insurance.

Ramzi Benrahou was born at 26 weeks and just over 2 pounds. Knowing that 20 percent of babies born at his gestational age don’t survive, Leigh spent the first hours after the delivery singularly focused on her tiny son’s survival. He needed oxygen, since his lungs weren’t fully developed. And, when he was whisked away for medical attention, Benrahou had to attend to another crisis: She was the mother of a very sick baby, and her carefully constructed paid maternity leave had disintegrated. So, freshly stitched up and still groggy from anesthesia, she spread out her medical fact sheets, insurance policy papers and lists of phone numbers on her hospital bed and began to grapple with her new reality. Though her college was on winter break, which put off her return by about a week, Benrahou realized she’d have to go back to work when classes resumed on January 6, less than two weeks after giving birth.

Read the full article from In These Times.

TAKE ACTION FOR PAID PARENTAL LEAVE >>

BREAKING: Owner of Brooklyn cleaning service arrested for wage theft

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

Imagine working 27 hours in a row and not being paid a dime. That's just what happened to one person in Brooklyn who was part of a group of workers who were recruited to clean houses in late March and early April.

The owner of the cleaning service, the ironically-named Samuel Just, was arrested and arraigned today, facing charges of wage theft to the tune of $4,500.

Terrific work by IWJ-affiliate Workers Justice Project for bringing this injustice to light.

Here's more from the New York Daily News:

A businessman was busted Thursday for failing to pay five day laborers who worked more than 24 hours straight.

 

Samuel Just, 21, runs a cleaning business called Just Clean on Myrtle Ave. in Bedford-Stuyvesant and allegedly picked up five workers to clean houses between March 25 to April 3 in preparation for Passover.

 

"This defendant allegedly preyed on vulnerable people seeking employment, then cheated them out of their hard earned wages," said Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson.

 

A man, who drove the vehicle to pick up the workers at the intersection of Division St. and Marcy Ave. in Williamsburg, and four women were not consistently paid the promised $10 to $14 per hour, or overtime, prosecutors said.

 

One of the women, owed $2,300, allegedly worked 27 hours straight during Passover and did not get paid.

 

Just allegedly told the workers they should not have worked that long, and if checks were given they bounced, sources said.

 

He owes them more than $4,500 in back wages, officials said.

This is a breaking story. We'll have more as the story develops.

Pope Francis' latest speech is a must-read

2 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From News.va:

Pope Francis spoke Thursday evening at the World Meeting of Popular Movements, taking place in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

The World Meeting of Popular Movements, organized in collaboration with Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, brings together delegates from popular movements from around the world.

Below, please find the full text of Pope Francis’ address for the World Meeting of Popular Movements:

Address at Expo Fair
Santa Cruz de la Sierra

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Good afternoon!

Several months ago, we met in Rome, and I remember that first meeting. In the meantime I have kept you in my thoughts and prayers. I am happy to see you again, here, as you discuss the best ways to overcome the grave situations of injustice experienced by the excluded throughout our world. Thank you, President Evo Morales, for your efforts to make this meeting possible.

During our first meeting in Rome, I sensed something very beautiful: fraternity, determination, commitment, a thirst for justice. Today, in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, I sense it once again. I thank you for that. I also know, from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace headed by Cardinal Turkson, that many people in the Church feel very close to the popular movements. That makes me very happy! I am pleased to see the Church opening her doors to all of you, embracing you, accompanying you and establishing in each diocese, in every justice and peace commission, a genuine, ongoing and serious cooperation with popular movements. I ask everyone, bishops, priests and laity, as well as the social organizations of the urban and rural peripheries, to deepen this encounter.

Today God has granted that we meet again. The Bible tells us that God hears the cry of his people, and I wish to join my voice to yours in calling for land, lodging and labor for all our brothers and sisters. I said it and I repeat it: these are sacred rights. It is important, it is well worth fighting for them. May the cry of the excluded be heard in Latin America and throughout the world.

1.

Let us begin by acknowledging that change is needed. Here I would clarify, lest there be any misunderstanding, that I am speaking about problems common to all Latin Americans and, more generally, to humanity as a whole. They are global problems which today no one state can resolve on its own. With this clarification, I now propose that we ask the following questions:

Do we realize that something is wrong in a world where there are so many farmworkers without land, so many families without a home, so many laborers without rights, so many persons whose dignity is not respected?

Do we realize that something is wrong where so many senseless wars are being fought and acts of fratricidal violence are taking place on our very doorstep? Do we realize something is wrong when the soil, water, air and living creatures of our world are under constant threat?

So let’s not be afraid to say it: we need change; we want change.

In your letters and in our meetings, you have mentioned the many forms of exclusion and injustice which you experience in the workplace, in neighborhoods and throughout the land. They are many and diverse, just as many and diverse are the ways in which you confront them. Yet there is an invisible thread joining every one of those forms of exclusion: can we recognize it? These are not isolated issues. I wonder whether we can see that these destructive realities are part of a system which has become global. Do we realize that that system has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature?

If such is the case, I would insist, let us not be afraid to say it: we want change, real change, structural change. This system is by now intolerable: farmworkers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable … The earth itself – our sister, Mother Earth, as Saint Francis would say – also finds it intolerable.

We want change in our lives, in our neighborhoods, in our everyday reality. We want a change which can affect the entire world, since global interdependence calls for global answers to local problems. The globalization of hope, a hope which springs up from peoples and takes root among the poor, must replace the globalization of exclusion and indifference!

Today I wish to reflect with you on the change we want and need. You know that recently I wrote about the problems of climate change. But now I would like to speak of change in another sense. Positive change, a change which is good for us, a change – we can say – which is redemptive. Because we need it. I know that you are looking for change, and not just you alone: in my different meetings, in my different travels, I have sensed an expectation, a longing, a yearning for change, in people throughout the world. Even within that ever smaller minority which believes that the present system is beneficial, there is a widespread sense of dissatisfaction and even despondency. Many people are hoping for a change capable of releasing them from the bondage of individualism and the despondency it spawns.

Time, my brothers and sisters, seems to be running out; we are not yet tearing one another apart, but we are tearing apart our common home. Today, the scientific community realizes what the poor have long told us: harm, perhaps irreversible harm, is being done to the ecosystem. The earth, entire peoples and individual persons are being brutally punished. And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called “the dung of the devil”. An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.

I do not need to go on describing the evil effects of this subtle dictatorship: you are well aware of them. Nor is it enough to point to the structural causes of today’s social and environmental crisis. We are suffering from an excess of diagnosis, which at times leads us to multiply words and to revel in pessimism and negativity. Looking at the daily news we think that there is nothing to be done, except to take care of ourselves and the little circle of our family and friends.

What can I do, as collector of paper, old clothes or used metal, a recycler, about all these problems if I barely make enough money to put food on the table? What can I do as a craftsman, a street vendor, a trucker, a downtrodden worker, if I don’t even enjoy workers’ rights? What can I do, a farmwife, a native woman, a fisher who can hardly fight the domination of the big corporations? What can I do from my little home, my shanty, my hamlet, my settlement, when I daily meet with discrimination and marginalization? What can be done by those students, those young people, those activists, those missionaries who come to my neighborhood with their hearts full of hopes and dreams, but without any real solution for my problems? A lot! They can do a lot. You, the lowly, the exploited, the poor and underprivileged, can do, and are doing, a lot. I would even say that the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands, through your ability to organize and carry out creative alternatives, through your daily efforts to ensure the three “L’s” (labor, lodging, land) and through your proactive participation in the great processes of change on the national, regional and global levels. Don’t lose heart!

2.

You are sowers of change. Here in Bolivia I have heard a phrase which I like: “process of change”. Change seen not as something which will one day result from any one political decision or change in social structure. We know from painful experience that changes of structure which are not accompanied by a sincere conversion of mind and heart sooner or later end up in bureaucratization, corruption and failure. That is why I like the image of a “process”, where the drive to sow, to water seeds which others will see sprout, replaces the ambition to occupy every available position of power and to see immediate results. Each of us is just one part of a complex and differentiated whole, interacting in time: peoples who struggle to find meaning, a destiny, and to live with dignity, to “live well”.

As members of popular movements, you carry out your work inspired by fraternal love, which you show in opposing social injustice. When we look into the eyes of the suffering, when we see the faces of the endangered campesino, the poor laborer, the downtrodden native, the homeless family, the persecuted migrant, the unemployed young person, the exploited child, the mother who lost her child in a shootout because the barrio was occupied by drugdealers, the father who lost his daughter to enslavement…. when we think of all those names and faces, our hearts break because of so much sorrow and pain.  And we are deeply moved…. We are moved because “we have seen and heard” not a cold statistic but the pain of a suffering humanity, our own pain, our own flesh. This is something quite different than abstract theorizing or eloquent indignation. It moves us; it makes us attentive to others in an effort to move forward together. That emotion which turns into community action is not something which can be understood by reason alone: it has a surplus of meaning which only peoples understand, and it gives a special feel to genuine popular movements.

Each day you are caught up in the storms of people’s lives. You have told me about their causes, you have shared your own struggles with me, and I thank you for that. You, dear brothers and sisters, often work on little things, in local situations, amid forms of injustice which you do not simply accept but actively resist, standing up to an idolatrous system which excludes, debases and kills. I have seen you work tirelessly for the soil and crops of campesinos, for their lands and communities, for a more dignified local economy, for the urbanization of their homes and settlements; you have helped them build their own homes and develop neighborhood infrastructures. You have also promoted any number of community activities aimed at reaffirming so elementary and undeniably necessary a right as that of the three “L’s”: land, lodging and labor.

This rootedness in the barrio, the land, the office, the labor union, this ability to see yourselves in the faces of others, this daily proximity to their share of troubles and their little acts of heroism: this is what enables you to practice the commandment of love, not on the basis of ideas or concepts, but rather on the basis of genuine interpersonal encounter. We do not love concepts or ideas; we love people... Commitment, true commitment, is born of the love of men and women, of children and the elderly, of peoples and communities… of names and faces which fill our hearts. From those seeds of hope patiently sown in the forgotten fringes of our planet, from those seedlings of a tenderness which struggles to grow amid the shadows of exclusion, great trees will spring up, great groves of hope to give oxygen to our world.

So I am pleased to see that you are working at close hand to care for those seedlings, but at the same time, with a broader perspective, to protect the entire forest. Your work is carried out against a horizon which, while concentrating on your own specific area, also aims to resolve at their root the more general problems of poverty, inequality and exclusion.

I congratulate you on this. It is essential that, along with the defense of their legitimate rights, peoples and their social organizations be able to construct a humane alternative to a globalization which excludes. You are sowers of change. May God grant you the courage, joy, perseverance and passion to continue sowing. Be assured that sooner or later we will see its fruits. Of the leadership I ask this: be creative and never stop being rooted in local realities, since the father of lies is able to usurp noble words, to promote intellectual fads and to adopt ideological stances. But if you build on solid foundations, on real needs and on the lived experience of your brothers and sisters, of campesinos and natives, of excluded workers and marginalized families, you will surely be on the right path.

The Church cannot and must not remain aloof from this process in her proclamation of the Gospel. Many priests and pastoral workers carry out an enormous work of accompanying and promoting the excluded throughout the world, alongside cooperatives, favouring businesses, providing housing, working generously in the fields of health, sports and education. I am convinced that respectful cooperation with the popular movements can revitalize these efforts and strengthen processes of change.

Let us always have at heart the Virgin Mary, a humble girl from small people lost on the fringes of a great empire, a homeless mother who could turn a stable for beasts into a home for Jesus with just a few swaddling clothes and much tenderness. Mary is a sign of hope for peoples suffering the birth pangs of justice. I pray that Our Lady of Mount Carmel, patroness of Bolivia, will allow this meeting of ours to be a leaven of change.

3.

Lastly, I would like us all to consider some important tasks for the present historical moment, since we desire a positive change for the benefit of all our brothers and sisters. We know this. We desire change enriched by the collaboration of governments, popular movements and other social forces. This too we know. But it is not so easy to define the content of change – in other words, a social program which can embody this project of fraternity and justice which we are seeking. So don’t expect a recipe from this Pope. Neither the Pope nor the Church have a monopoly on the interpretation of social reality or the proposal of solutions to contemporary issues. I dare say that no recipe exists. History is made by each generation as it follows in the footsteps of those preceding it, as it seeks its own path and respects the values which God has placed in the human heart.

I would like, all the same, to propose three great tasks which demand a decisive and shared contribution from popular movements:

3.1       The first task is to put the economy at the service of peoples. Human beings and nature must not be at the service of money. Let us say NO to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service. That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth.

The economy should not be a mechanism for accumulating goods, but rather the proper administration of our common home. This entails a commitment to care for that home and to the fitting distribution of its goods among all. It is not only about ensuring a supply of food or “decent sustenance”. Nor, although this is already a great step forward, is it to guarantee the three “L’s” of land, lodging and labor for which you are working. A truly communitarian economy, one might say an economy of Christian inspiration, must ensure peoples’ dignity and their “general, temporal welfare and prosperity”.[1] This includes the three “L’s”, but also access to education, health care, new technologies, artistic and cultural manifestations, communications, sports and recreation. A just economy must create the conditions for everyone to be able to enjoy a childhood without want, to develop their talents when young, to work with full rights during their active years and to enjoy a dignified retirement as they grow older. It is an economy where human beings, in harmony with nature, structure the entire system of production and distribution in such a way that the abilities and needs of each individual find suitable expression in social life. You, and other peoples as well, sum up this desire in a simple and beautiful expression: “to live well”.

Such an economy is not only desirable and necessary, but also possible. It is no utopia or chimera. It is an extremely realistic prospect. We can achieve it. The available resources in our world, the fruit of the intergenerational labors of peoples and the gifts of creation, more than suffice for the integral development of “each man and the whole man”.[2] The problem is of another kind. There exists a system with different aims. A system which, while irresponsibly accelerating the pace of production, while using industrial and agricultural methods which damage Mother Earth in the name of “productivity”, continues to deny many millions of our brothers and sisters their most elementary economic, social and cultural rights. This system runs counter to the plan of Jesus.

Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment. It is about giving to the poor and to peoples what is theirs by right. The universal destination of goods is not a figure of speech found in the Church’s social teaching. It is a reality prior to private property. Property, especially when it affects natural resources, must always serve the needs of peoples. And those needs are not restricted to consumption. It is not enough to let a few drops fall whenever the poor shake a cup which never runs over by itself. Welfare programs geared to certain emergencies can only be considered temporary responses. They will never be able to replace true inclusion, an inclusion which provides worthy, free, creative, participatory and solidary work.

Along this path, popular movements play an essential role, not only by making demands and lodging protests, but even more basically by being creative. You are social poets: creators of work, builders of housing, producers of food, above all for people left behind by the world market.

I have seen at first hand a variety of experiences where workers united in cooperatives and other forms of community organization were able to create work where there were only crumbs of an idolatrous economy. Recuperated businesses, local fairs and cooperatives of paper collectors are examples of that popular economy which is born of exclusion and which, slowly, patiently and resolutely adopts solidary forms which dignify it. How different this is than the situation which results when those left behind by the formal market are exploited like slaves!

Governments which make it their responsibility to put the economy at the service of peoples must promote the strengthening, improvement, coordination and expansion of these forms of popular economy and communitarian production. This entails bettering the processes of work, providing adequate infrastructures and guaranteeing workers their full rights in this alternative sector. When the state and social organizations join in working for the three “L’s”, the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity come into play; and these allow the common good to be achieved in a full and participatory democracy.

3.2.      The second task is to unite our peoples on the path of peace and justice.

The world’s peoples want to be artisans of their own destiny. They want to advance peacefully towards justice. They do not want forms of tutelage or interference by which those with greater power subordinate those with less. They want their culture, their language, their social processes and their religious traditions to be respected. No actual or established power has the right to deprive peoples of the full exercise of their sovereignty. Whenever they do so, we see the rise of new forms of colonialism which seriously prejudice the possibility of peace and justice. For “peace is founded not only on respect for human rights but also on respect for the rights of peoples, in particular the right to independence”.[3]

The peoples of Latin America fought to gain their political independence and for almost two centuries their history has been dramatic and filled with contradictions, as they have striven to achieve full independence.

In recent years, after any number of misunderstandings, many Latin American countries have seen the growth of fraternity between their peoples. The governments of the region have pooled forces in order to ensure respect for the sovereignty of their own countries and the entire region, which our forebears so beautifully called the “greater country”. I ask you, my brothers and sisters of the popular movements, to foster and increase this unity. It is necessary to maintain unity in the face of every effort to divide, if the region is to grow in peace and justice.

Despite the progress made, there are factors which still threaten this equitable human development and restrict the sovereignty of the countries of the “greater country” and other areas of our planet. The new colonialism takes on different faces. At times it appears as the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain “free trade” treaties, and the imposition of measures of “austerity” which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor. The bishops of Latin America denounce this with utter clarity in the Aparecida Document, stating that “financial institutions and transnational companies are becoming stronger to the point that local economies are subordinated, especially weakening the local states, which seem ever more powerless to carry out development projects in the service of their populations”.[4]  At other times, under the noble guise of battling corruption, the narcotics trade and terrorism – grave evils of our time which call for coordinated international action – we see states being saddled with measures which have little to do with the resolution of these problems and which not infrequently worsen matters.

Similarly, the monopolizing of the communications media, which would impose alienating examples of consumerism and a certain cultural uniformity, is another one of the forms taken by the new colonialism. It is ideological colonialism. As the African bishops have observed, poor countries are often treated like “parts of a machine, cogs on a gigantic wheel”.[5]

It must be acknowledged that none of the grave problems of humanity can be resolved without interaction between states and peoples at the international level. Every significant action carried out in one part of the planet has universal, ecological, social and cultural repercussions. Even crime and violence have become globalized. Consequently, no government can act independently of a common responsibility. If we truly desire positive change, we have to humbly accept our interdependence. Interaction, however, is not the same as imposition; it is not the subordination of some to serve the interests of others. Colonialism, both old and new, which reduces poor countries to mere providers of raw material and cheap labor, engenders violence, poverty, forced migrations and all the evils which go hand in hand with these, precisely because, by placing the periphery at the service of the center, it denies those countries the right to an integral development. That is inequality, and inequality generates a violence which no police, military, or intelligence resources can control.

Let us say NO to forms of colonialism old and new. Let us say YES to the encounter between peoples and cultures. Blessed are the peacemakers.

Here I wish to bring up an important issue. Some may rightly say, “When the Pope speaks of colonialism, he overlooks certain actions of the Church”. I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God. My predecessors acknowledged this, CELAM has said it, and I too wish to say it. Like Saint John Paul II, I ask that the Church “kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters”.[6] I would also say, and here I wish to be quite clear, as was Saint John Paul II: I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.

I also ask everyone, believers and nonbelievers alike, to think of those many bishops, priests and laity who preached and continue to preach the Good News of Jesus with courage and meekness, respectfully and pacifically; who left behind them impressive works of human promotion and of love, often standing alongside the native peoples or accompanying their popular movements even to the point of martyrdom. The Church, her sons and daughters, are part of the identity of the peoples of Latin America. An identity which here, as in other countries, some powers are committed to erasing, at times because our faith is revolutionary, because our faith challenges the tyranny of mammon. Today we are dismayed to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus. This too needs to be denounced: in this third world war, waged peacemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.

To our brothers and sisters in the Latin American indigenous movement, allow me to express my deep affection and appreciation of their efforts to bring peoples and cultures together in a form of coexistence which I would call polyhedric, where each group preserves its own identity by building together a plurality which does not threaten but rather reinforces unity. Your quest for an interculturalism, which combines the defense of the rights of the native peoples with respect for the territorial integrity of states, is for all of us a source of enrichment and encouragement.

3.3.      The third task, perhaps the most important facing us today, is to defend Mother Earth.

Our common home is being pillaged, laid waste and harmed with impunity. Cowardice in defending it is a grave sin. We see with growing disappointment how one international summit after another takes place without any significant result. There exists a clear, definite and pressing ethical imperative to implement what has not yet been done. We cannot allow certain interests – interests which are global but not universal – to take over, to dominate states and international organizations, and to continue destroying creation. People and their movements are called to cry out, to mobilize and to demand – peacefully, but firmly – that appropriate and urgently-needed measures be taken. I ask you, in the name of God, to defend Mother Earth. I have duly addressed this issue in my Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’.

4.

In conclusion, I would like to repeat: the future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change. I am with you. Let us together say from the heart: no family without lodging, no rural worker without land, no laborer without rights, no people without sovereignty, no individual without dignity, no child without childhood, no young person without a future, no elderly person without a venerable old age. Keep up your struggle and, please, take great care of Mother Earth. I pray for you and with you, and I ask God our Father to accompany you and to bless you, to fill you with his love and defend you on your way by granting you in abundance that strength which keeps us on our feet: that strength is hope, the hope which does not disappoint. Thank you and I ask you, please, to pray for me.

FOOTNOTES

[1] JOHN XXIII, Encyclical Mater et Magistra (15 May 1961), 3: AAS 53 (1961), 402.

[2] PAUL VI, Encyclical Populorum Progressio (26 March 1967), 14: AAS 59 (1967), 264.

[3] PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 157.

[4] FIFTH GENERAL CONFERENCE OF THE LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN BISHOPS, Aparecida Document (29 June 2007), 66.

[5] JOHN PAUL II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa (14 September 1995), 52: AAS 88 (1996), 32-22; ID., Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (30 December 1987), 22: AAS 80 (1988), 539.

[6] Bull of Indiction of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 Incarnationis Mysterium (29 November 1998),11: AAS 91 (1999), 139-141.