Who Owns Our Jobs Anyway?

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Every day, we go to work to earn money to sustain our needs. We wait every month for our respective salaries. When we don’t get to land a good job, our salaries are usually small. That’s not all—they are deducted by stuff such as social security and taxes.

Starting employees—in my observation—are usually unhappy with their salary. Job stability is low. Employees would have to quit and find another job with better pay. They would work overtime, compromising their health and security. To get better pay, they would have to climb the corporate ladder. (But as far as I’m concerned, there are hundreds of other employees who wish to do just that.)

The funny thing about this is that though our reason for working is to earn money, we do not actually own our jobs; that is, we are not actually working for ourselves—we are working for whichever firm or corporation we are in—at the mercy of getting paid well.

Before we move on, we first have to see that the Social Doctrine of the Church regards work as something which is necessary:

Work is a fundamental right and a good for mankind, a useful good, worthy of man because it is an appropriate way for him to give expression to and enhance his human dignity.[1]

Take note that as what is stated above, work is something which would have to enhance man’s dignity. This would also have to mean that work or labor is not something which is supposed to undermine man.

Now the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church also has more to say on work and labor:

The relationship between labor and capital also finds expression when workers participate in ownership, management and profits.[2]

This dictates that according to the Church’s standards, one has to take into consideration that employees and workers also have the rights to become owners. The truth behind why workers work is for them to own those which they need. In short, workers work for ownership, and not just for salary or for the company they’re in.

Pope Pius XI, in Quadragesimo Anno, spoke of labor and ownership:

Workers and other employees thus become sharers in ownership or management or participate in some fashion in the profits received.[3]

He also recognized the problem of the concentration of ownership among a few:

In the first place, it is obvious that not only is wealth concentrated in our times but an immense power and despotic economic dictatorship is consolidated in the hands of a few, who often are not owners but only the trustees and managing directors of invested funds which they administer according to their own arbitrary will and pleasure.[4]

Did you catch that? Pius XI spoke against a sort of dictatorship in the workplace, by those who invest in publicly traded stocks. These people are technically not owners in the strictest sense of the word. And what about the workers and the employees?

Bl. John XXIII, in his own papal encyclical Mater et Magistra, reiterated Pius XI’s view:

In this connection, as Our Predecessor [Pius XI] clearly points out, it is advisable in the present circumstances that the wage-contract be somewhat modified by applying to it elements taken from the contract of partnership, so that “wage-earners and other employees participate in the ownership or the management, or in some way share in the profits.”[5]

He also wrote the following:

Experience suggests many ways in which the demands of justice can be satisfied. Not to mention other ways, it is especially desirable today that workers gradually come to share in the ownership of their company, by ways and in the manner that seem most suitable. For today, even more than in the time of Our Predecessor, “every effort must be made that at least in future a just share only of the fruits of production be permitted to accumulate in the hands of the wealthy, and that an ample sufficiency be supplied to the workers.”[6]

Pius XI and Bl. John XXIII saw the problem quite well: Workers do not actually get to participate in management and ownership. In other words, as what I have stated earlier, workers do not actually own their jobs, contrary to what is taught by our social doctrines.

Now jobs should be considered as something which is of our own possession. Nobody else should own our jobs but ourselves. Jobs, to a lot of us, may be means for ownership—but people do not usually take into consideration that in order for our jobs to be beneficial for us, we also have to have ownership over them. Do we own our jobs in this present day in time?

The question of [job] ownership is seldom asked by those part of the now servile state. Perhaps the fact that the state is actually servile has been preventing workers from raising such a question. With the rising unemployment rates and the decrease in job security, do we still see the possibility of a society of worker-owners?

Job creation is undeniably one of the most essential aspects of the political economy. With work and labor, we wouldn’t see violent riots brought about by Occupy movements throughout the world. However, with firms limiting employment to a number which they deem only necessary for them, not everyone can actually have jobs these days. More people would be unemployed and outraged.

Far from what Pius XI and John XIII suggested, there seldom is—as a matter of fact—a collective or collaborative effort among workers, who participate in management and ownership, in most firms these days.

In this time of crisis, both the employed and the unemployed are suffering the consequences brought about by this system which concentrates ownership among a few. Without employees being able to participate, there would be no job ownership among them.

And such is why I raised the original question: Who owns our jobs anyway?

Comments are very much welcome.

Jared blogs regularly at Verum NocetThe Distributist League of the Philippines and his personal blog, The Secular Catholic.


[1] Compendium Social Doctrine of the Church 287

[2] Ibid. 281

[3] Quadragesimo Anno, Pius XI sec. 65

[4] Quadragesimo Anno, Pius XI sec. 105

[5] Mater et Magistra, John XXIII sec. 32

[6] Ibid. sec. 77

Jared Dale Combista

Jared Dale Combista

Iconoclast, interested in economics, history, philosophy, Catholicism and a whole lot of other stuff.

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One Response

  1. Very provocative. I would like to make it clear, that workers have the right to “become” owners, not a right to be owners. There is two methods which this is a possibility, buying stock and starting their own company. Violently protesting is not one of them.

    Second, trustees and managing directors are not necessarily those who own (owners) stocks in companies, they usually don’t own anything. But, those that invest in stocks for those who own the stock or are owners. These trustees are being paid to maximize profit for the actual owners, yet that denies the dignity of the individual because it attempts to cut the just wage of the individual to the lowest wage possible. Taking a just or fair profit (like Proctor and Gamble, J&J, Sony, Microsoft, Disney, &c. have done) and respecting the dignity of the person is much better. Usually makes for a better company, happier customers, happier workers, and the company usually lasts longer when profit isn’t first or attempted to be maximized.

    Want a clear example, check out casinos. Back when the mafia ran Vegas as long as what was coming in was bigger than what was going out, everyone is happy. Now, these MBA’s try and maximize profit per foot of space, and the quality of casinos and how much each player brings to the casino has dropped and we have seen more people lose their casinos than when Vegas first started.*

    * Not counting being indited for crimes and fraud.

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