The Inherent Right to Earn a Living

Some human rights are so basic that pretty much everyone understands them without any further explanation, more like what is called a postulate in geometry. For those who have forgotten their high school geometry, the postulates are the things that do not need to be proven, the clearly obvious or self-evident assertions that form the basis for proving other assertions (what are called theorems). For example, "Through any two points, exactly one straight line can be drawn." This is something that we just "know" through experience. Apart from that, if nothing is accepted without proof, then we really can't prove anything, because one has to start somewhere.

One of the reasons we often hear about "right to work" laws in more conservative states is because the proponents of such laws know that it wouldn't sound as great if we called them "Crush the Unions" laws. Not everyone would agree with the concept of crushing unions, even many of those who oppose some of the tactics of unions as well as those who understand the sad reality that as sources of power, many unions become corrupt. A great many people, however, do agree with the thought that someone should not have to join or support any organization in order to get a job, and those who oppose union shops or closed shops wisely adopted the phrase "right to work," because they know that the phrase suggests something that most people just "know" without really having to explain it. (See our previous essay, "2020 or 1984?" to see why controlling the language helps control the debate.)

How is it today, then, that suddenly throwing common sense and inherent human dignity to the four winds, we have taken the inherent right of millions of human beings to earn an honest living and provide for themselves and their families from them, not just for a limited time in a narrowly defined circumstance, but indefinitely! To deprive someone of the right to work at all is a grave injustice under any circumstances, regardless of the so-called "emergency" that may precipitate such an act. To deprive someone of the right to work in such a way is no more just or good or honorable than pulling food out of the person's mouth and scolding him for attempting to satisfy a basic human need-- a need common to all human beings. To declare one or another's job as "non-essential" is an insult to a person's dignity that only a government official or rich person would have the contempt to do. It's actually the sort of elitist attitude that led to the election of Donald Trump (remember Hillary Clinton's remark about the "deplorables.")

If we need a reminder about how important this is, let's go back to 1891 and Rerum Novarum, the landmark social encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII. From number 7 (indicating that it was a basic principle that appeared early in the 64-paragraph document and required little introductory explanation): "Man's needs do not die out, but forever recur; although satisfied today, they demand fresh supplies for tomorrow. Nature accordingly must have given to man a source that is stable and remaining always with him, from which he might look to draw continual supplies. And this stable condition of things he finds solely in the earth and its fruits. There is no need to bring in the State. Man precedes the State, and possesses, prior to the formation of any State, the right of providing for the substance of his body. [emphasis added]

We need to consider this carefully when we hear government officials being unwilling to commit to an end to the current madness. It would be evil enough if they did this for a week or two, but when they talk about this going on for months, and when they do it without any regard beyond lip service for the devastating and lasting economic consequences (which hurt human beings, not rocks or trees or the climate), they need to be called to account. We can only pray that if it is not done soon, it will be done at the polling booth, again, assuming we ever have a normal election again. The way things are going now, the prospects of a clean election this year are not promising.

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