Slavery, profits and technology titans

Global “titans of technology” are forcing workers into a form of slavery, says Britain’s trade union leader Frances O’Grady.

Speaking to a two-day summit of Catholic and labour movement leaders at the Vatican last Friday, O’Grady said the world needs a new figure like Cardinal Manning.

(Manning was influential in setting the modern-day Catholic Church direction, advocated for social justice and helped settle the London dock strike of 1889.)

“He [Manning] didn’t just make moral pronouncements but rolled up his sleeves and tried to bring about a fair settlement to the dockers’ dispute,” O’Grady continued.

She called on Catholics to challenge the titans of technology.

She named some of them as including tech giants Apple, Facebook and Google.

O’Grady went on to say these three tech giants negatively impact workers by not paying their fair share of taxes.

They are joined by Uber and Amazon, who exploit workers, O’Grady claimed.

She says they are “washing their hands” of the employer-employee relationship.

“When I speak to those young workers of Sports Direct, McDonalds or Amazon, they feel pretty alone in the world.

“They are facing employers that are far, far more powerful than the dockers’ ones and need somebody to stand by their side and speak up for their rights.

“I would hope the Church can play a role.”

The Vatican meeting O’Grady was addressing was organised by Cardinal Peter Turkston, who leads the Vatican’s newly formed social action department.

The meeting’s aim was to hear testimony of injustices suffered by working people and to consider how trade unions and the church can work together to achieve greater social justice.

In an advance press release, O’Grady said she would speak of young people she has met.

“This year I met the ‘McStrikers’ – young fast-food workers at McDonald’s, stuck on low pay and zero-hours contracts.

“Their demands are the same as the dockers nearly 130 years ago. They want a fair wage, guaranteed hours and recognition of their trade union…”.

The press release continues:

“The church and the unions “share values of community, dignity and social solidarity … Together we can improve working lives and put dignity for working people ahead of market forces and freedom of capital.

“We can build a popular alliance for economic justice, in Britain and around the world.”

Pope Francis has spoken against social injustice throughout his papacy.

In 2015 he denounced “the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature.”

At that time, he called the unfettered pursuit of money “the dung of the devil”.



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