Friday, 16 November 2012

On exploitation of the workforce

by St.Nicodemos the Hagiorite

For foremen, sitting idle and doing no work at all, make acquisitions and gains from the toil and sweat of their apprentices and colleagues, whereas those poor and hapless folk who do work remain in deprivation. The proprietors of estates daily exhaust the unfortunate farmhands who work their fields and vineyards, exploiting them inhumanly with interminable and intolerable chores; they use their bodies as though they were irrational animals or, to put it better, insensate rocks; they regard them as bought servants and slaves and behave towards them with greater harshness than did Pharaoh towards the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt,[69] becoming new taskmasters and inhuman tyrants towards those poor folk. And the worst evil that they do to them is this, that after the farmers have threshed the crops and put the wine and the oil into the presses, the owners of the fields come along and, not content with receiving their share of the field and the vineyards, while leaving the rest to the farmers, in addition to this they take from their fruits and take also the interest of the money that they have lent to the farmhands; or else they give them a low price and themselves take all of the fruits. Hence, there remain neither a few crops on the threshing-floor nor a small amount of wine or oil on the presses for the poor labourers to take to their houses to nourish their wives and children. Instead, these hapless men toil for the entire year, working, contending wit the cold of the winter and the heat of the summer, sowing, reaping, threshing, digging, pruning, harvesting, and treading; much later on, the poor wretches return to their homes empty-handed, dejected, grief-stricken, and anguished. Oh, what bestial inhumanity this is! Oh, what greater injustice can there be than this_ How, then, are those unhappy men to govern their households? How are they and their wives to sustain themselves? How are they to console their children when they cry and clamor, groaning from hunger? God be gracious unto us!

For this reason the great Chrysostomos was right to call such proprietors of fields and vineyards more unjust than all other men and harsher than any barbarians, saying:
Who are they? Those who possess fields and reap the wealth that comes from the earth. And what could be more unjust than this? For if one were to examine how they treat their wretched and misearble labourers, he would see them to be more savage than barbarians. For upon those who are wasting away with hunger and toiling throughout their lives they both impose constant and intolerable payments, and lay on them laborious tasks, and they treat their bodies like asses or mules, or rather like stones.[70]
For this reason the same Chrysostomos was right to call the poor labourers who suffer the aforementioned evils more pitiable than all men, saying: "What could be more pitiable than this, when after having toiled throughout the winter, and being worn out from frost and rain and lack of sleep, they depart empty-handed, and even in debt?"[71] For this reason, with every justification, after all of this the same golden John exclaims with perplexity and astonishment that for these evils and injustices that landowners do to their labourers Heaven should shudder and the earth tremble: "Wherefore, it is meet to adduce the Prophet and to say, 'Be astonished, O Heaven, and shudder, O earth.'[72] To what great brutality has the human race been carried away!"[73] And in truth, Heaven ought to shudder and the earth tremble on account of this exceeding wickedness on the part of landowners; for they become murderers, shedding blood and disipating the lives of their poor farmhands. Indeed, they take from them the food that they were going to live on, as the wise Sirach declares:
The bread of the needy is the life of the poor: he that defraudeth him thereof is a man of blood. He that taketh away his neighbour's living slayeth him; and he that defraudeth the labourer of his hire is a blood-shedder. [74]
Again, he says:
My son, defraud not the poor man of his living....Make not an hungry soul sorrowful; neither provoke a man in his distress...Reject not the supplication of the afflicated; neither turn away thy face from a poor man. [75]

Hieromonk Patapios (ed. trans.), On Christian Morality by St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite, Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies: Belmont, MA 2012pp.242-3

[69] Exodus 1:8-14
[70] "Homily LXI on St. Matthew," §3, Patrologia Graeca, Vol. LVIII, col. 591.
[71] Ibid.
[72] Cf. Jeremiah 2:12
[73] "Homily LXI on St. Matthew," §3, Patrologia Graeca, Vol. LVIII, col. 592.
[74] Ecclesiasticus 34:21-22
[75] Ecclesiasticus 4:1-4

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