Business Matters

Two saints on blue-collar work

I have time and again written about the need for a change in mentality among parents and their children, that the occupations of farmers, carpenters, electricians, mechanics, plumbers, and other blue-collar workers who engage in a great deal of manual effort should attract many of our high school graduates.

This is especially true now that the K-to-12 curriculum can be tweaked so that the last two years of senior high school can be transformed into preparations for vocational or technical jobs that will be in great demand as the Philippines experiences a “manufacturing renaissance.” We have to convince many of our Filipino youth (and their parents) that they can make a lot more money by acquiring these useful skills than taking a college course that will lead them nowhere. The problem is that for decades since the end of World War II, a cultural bias against manual work, based on feudalism, has victimized several generations of Filipinos.


We have to pray to St. John Paul II to rid our society of this feudalistic mindset. In his trail-blazing social encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), he made a clear distinction between the objective and subjective senses of work. Objectively, work can be classified according to the varying degrees of technological sophistication and contribution to satisfying human needs. But subjectively, all work has equal value in the sense that it is a human being who works.

As St. John Paul II wrote: “The ancient world introduced its own typical differentiation of people into classes according to the type of work done. Work which demanded from the worker the exercise of physical strength, the work of muscles and hands, was considered unworthy of free men, and was therefore given to slaves. By broadening certain aspects that already belonged to the Old Testament, Christianity brought about a fundamental change of ideas in this field, taking the whole content of the Gospel message as its point of departure, especially the fact that the one who, while being God, became like us in all things devoted most of the years of his life on earth to manual work at the carpenter’s bench. This circumstance constitutes in itself the most eloquent ‘Gospel of work,’ showing that the basis for determining the value of human work is not primarily the kind of work being done but the fact that the one who is doing it is a person.


The sources of the dignity of work are to be sought primarily in the subjective dimension, not in the objective one.”

Of course, this does not mean that all work should have the same economic value or must be remunerated equally. As St. John Paul II continues: “This does not mean that, from the objective point of view, human work cannot and must not be rated and qualified in any way. It only means that the primary basis of the value of work is man himself, who is its subject. This leads immediately to a very important conclusion of an ethical nature: however true it may be that man is destined for work and called to it, in the first place work is ‘for man’ and not man ‘for work.’ Through this conclusion one rightly comes to recognize the preeminence of the subjective meaning of work over the objective one.”

Another modern saint said practically the same thing several decades before  Laborem  Exercens was written. In the book “Christ is Passing By,” St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei and whose feastday we celebrated on June 26, already referred to the inherent dignity of all human work: “It is time for us Christians to shout from the rooftops that work is a gift from God and that it makes no sense to classify men differently, according to their occupation, as if some jobs were nobler or of less significance than others.  Work, all work, bears witness to the dignity of man, to his dominion over creation. It is an opportunity to develop one’s personality. It is a bond of union with others, the way to support one’s family, a means of contributing to the improvement of the society in which we live and to the progress of humanity.”

As early as 1928, St. Josemaria started to preach the sanctifying value of any kind of human work. Let this Christian doctrine be another basis for us to reform the minds of many of our young people to willingly embrace blue-collar work that will be a way of supporting their families and contributing to the economic progress of Philippine society.

Bernardo M. Villegas ([email protected]) is senior vice president of the University of Asia and the Pacific.

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TAGS: bernardo m. villegas, Business Matters, education, K-to-12 curriculum, opinion, Opus Dei, Religion
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