POPE JOHN PAUL II declares that it is his
church's duty to "call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work." It is conventional to say that a papal encyclical is above politics, but very frequently--and certainly in this case--it is an intensely political document addressed to many different kinds of listeners. Some are in rich countries, particularly this one. Some are in poor countries. Some are certainly in Poland.
For Americans, there is the passage on the obligations of the rich to the rest of the world. Here in Washington, the administration is currently trying to persuade Congress to cut off the main flow of foreign economic aid through the World Bank on the transparent grounds that the bank does not sufficiently believe in supply-side theories. The pope's encyclical conveys the thought that discontinuing foreign aid is not a morally acceptable way for a very wealthy country to balance its federal budget.
On the interesting subject of working women, the encyclical takes a position that is not far from that held by some feminists. It says that the work of raising families has great value, and that women who are mothers should not be subjected to economic and social pressures to take jobs. Not everyone will join the pope in his suggestion that custom and fashion have swung too far in favor of women's working outside their homes for wages. But his principle--that coercion is wrong--surely is the correct one.
Deliberately using the word "solidarity," the pope makes it clear that of the many audiences he addresses here the most immediately important is in Poland. His message to the Poles is that they have a fundamental right to form unions, but they've got to go easy. The Polish workers' Solidarity has a firm moral base as a labor union, but not as an opposition party.
The right to strike is legitimate, the pope says. But: "It must not be abused; it must not be abused especially for 'political' purposes." And essential public services must be maintained. John Paul II isn't talking about the American air controllers; he drafted the encyclical in May. He is trying to dissuade the Poles from the kind of explicitly revolutionary general strike that would guarantee Russian intervention.
In this complex and interesting statement, the pope has tried to speak to all of the working people he has seen on his long journeys through the world. But it is evident that he is thinking first of the Polish workers, and the dangers in which they and their new unions stand.