The World Cup and Worker Justice

Pam Shearman |

This summer, I am working with Interfaith Worker Justice. I’m sitting here watching the World Cup, reflecting on our training this past week. It is amazing to watch these players put everything they have into their vocation. They have trained and dreamed of these coming weeks for years, maybe even for a lifetime. They raise their heads with pride as their national anthems are sung on the world stage. And what excitement when the ball soars just beyond the goalie’s outstretched hands and we hear, “GOOOOOOOOOOOOL!”

But not everyone wins. There are undercurrent of racial discrimination on some teams. Players and coaches are protesting that even in the heat and humidity of Manaus at the edge of the Amazon jungle, players can’t get a time out to adequately hydrate. The images of Brazil on the big screen are so beautiful (and I have been to Brazil many times and can attest that it is that beautiful), yet the favelas are never mentioned.

Estimates of the cost of the tournament are in excess of $11 billion. As a friend said, “They are building the infrastructure for the World Cup instead of building infrastructure for the population.” Transit workers responded with the time-honored tactic of declaring a strike. The strike followed strikes from the teachers unions, police unions, and bus unions. The police union is considering a strike. Sao Paolo’s labor court ruled that the strike was abusive. What’s this all “abusive” strike about? The Consumer Price Index rose more than six percent during the last year and workers need pay increases just to keep pace with the cost of living. Transit workers voted last weekend to temporarily suspend the strike, police stopped the protests and the games were on! But the issues for workers continue, both abroad and at home.

One of the key messages for IWJ is “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” As a Lutheran, reflecting on theft and worker justice, I remember that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther taught that “stealing is not just robbing someone’s safe or pocketbook but also taking advantage of someone in the market. In all stores…wherever business is transacted and money is exchanged for goods and services (Large Catechism).”

So what am I personally hoping to work for this summer (besides winning the ice cream bet I made on the outcome of the World Cup)? To support systems that help workers be competitive in today’s job market. To equip workers for their dream jobs with skills that will be transferable for a lifetime. To help ensure that workers who put in a full week’s work are paid a living wage. To provide compassionate spiritual support for those who work for greater justice in the workplace. Bottom line, I hope to invest in people. I believe that all results, including business results, are achieved through people. It just makes sense to invest in people, our most valuable asset on the soccer field or in any field.

Pam is a seminarian joining Interfaith Worker Justice this summer for clinical pastoral education, she will be reflecting each week on her experiences.