Mayday, the 1st May is International Workers Day and the feast day of Saint Joseph the Worker, Patron Saint of the Young Christian Workers Movement (YCW). In recognition of this important day YCW will celebrate a Mass in St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin on Wednesday, May 1st at 5:45 pm. The main celebrant will be Fr Eoin McCrystal, National Chaplain to the YCW Movement in Ireland. The theme of the Mass will be the dignity of work. During this celebration we will especially remember those who have lost their lives during the course of their work.
All are welcome to join us!
We look forward to seeing you there.
The YCW Team
Homily notes: Fr. Eoin McCrystal PP, Chaplain to the YCW in Ireland for the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, Pro Cathedral, 1st May 2013.
Exactly One hundred years ago, the streets surrounding this Pro Cathedral would have been buzzing with talk of industrial strife and the clamour for better conditions for workers. The Dublin lockout of 1913 started on 15 August and ended in January of 1914. The context for the dispute was the horrendous conditions that workers had to work under and also live in. Dublin workers were housed in those days in tenements with large families confined to individual rooms, living in slum conditions. Their working lives were most precarious; there was no such thing as health and safety, no such thing as sick leave, the working day was 17 hours long and union membership was not permitted. With pay at subsistence level, workers began to fight for union membership so that collective bargaining could be the means to bettering their conditions. This activism led by Jim Larkin, was strongly resisted by Dublin employers who in August locked out their Dublin employees for 6 months while shipping over workers from Britain and other parts of Ireland to take their place. The workers in the end returned to work in defeat but trade union membership grew steadily over the coming years so that by 1919 membership of the ITGWU exceeded the figure for the year 1913.
Thank God today, in the Dublin of 2013, the daily reality of workers bears no resemblance to that which their predecessors went through. Government enacted legislation over the past one hundred years now dictates the hours that can be worked, the health & safety conditions that must be in place, what is an acceptable way to be treated and even the manner in which you can be dismissed. The workplace has been wholly transformed in comparison to 1913 but that is not to say that there are not still challenges or abuses happening to today’s workforce.
We are living through difficult financial times and the continuing implementation of austerity measures has impacted deeply on everyone’s lives. Once again we hear murmurings of industrial unrest now that Croke Park 2 has been rejected. The burden of cuts and new taxes appears to fall unfairly on those who can least afford them. The unions appear to be gearing up for a fight and strikes, which have been absent from our society for many decades, are back on the agenda. And yet the person I feel most sorry for is the worker who is not a member of a union and who has to confront his or her employer personally each time they want to control the amount of hours they work or the salary reductions being forced upon them. Theirs is a very lonely furrow with little or no protection.
In contrast, the first reading that we heard this evening (Acts 2: 42-47) paints a beautiful picture of the early church living as a community in solidarity and communion with one another. It might be dismissed as a utopia, but at least they did actually live it. For us, it provides an ideal of how the Christian community should live, something to aim for. The temptation in the current environment is to fight solely for my own sectorial or personal interests to the detriment of the collective. Our concern must be for all of us to come through these difficult financial times together but most importantly, those who are weakest and most vulnerable in our society. That is ultimately the hallmark of a decent society.
Economists have for a long time now reminded us that World Markets are global entities and that reality came home to us very forcefully this day last week, with the collapse of the 8 floor factory building in Bangladesh. Planning permission had been given for 5 floors but then 3 floors were added illegally. The first signs of cracks in the building were noticed by workers on Tuesday of last week and they raised their concerns with management but were warned they must come into work the next day or else lose their jobs. As of today, the death toll from the collapse stands at 402, with 159 missing. The workers were employed in the clothing industry producing cheap clothes for Western society, including us here in Dublin, through the Penney’s and Primark outlets. As workers demanding respect and fair conditions for ourselves in Ireland, we cannot be indifferent to fellow workers around the world. If we see clothes at ridiculously low prices in our shops, we have to have to ask, “Who is suffering so I can get this product at that price?”
The annual feast of St Joseph the Worker calls on all of us to reflect on the dignity of work and of individual workers. May we not be found wanting or complacent in this regard.