Laborem Exercens (On Human Labor)
September 14, 1981
Issued by Pope John Paul II on the ninetieth anniversary of Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum, Laborem Exercens expands and reshapes the corpus of twentieth century Catholic social teaching, calling for a renewed understanding of labor's role in human life. Tied intimately to human dignity and vocation, it is through labor that humans participate as co-creators with God and fulfill their intrinsic dignity as persons. John Paul emphasizes that labor must focus on the laborer, rather than only at the task performed, as the latter leads towards an instrumentalization of persons. John Paul forcefully argues that persons have a right to work, not merely a duty, and that all further rights (to unionize, to be paid a living wage, to participate in economic decision-making) are based upon this fundamental right to labor. The encyclical remains relevant for its insistence that human dignity and social justice take priority over capital.