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Social services, Laudato Si’ and Jack Mundey’s legacy

  • 22 May 2020
In thinking through how social services can contribute to what society or the economy needs in light of the ramifications of COVID-19, Catholicism and communism are not two traditions that probably come to the mind for most. But for the kind of thinking that governance and leaders require to make good decisions in and beyond a time of crisis, there are people and concepts from each tradition that we can learn from. There is a contemporary synergy that has come to the fore in the past week between Catholicism and Communism, which is both challenging and invigorating — and we all should be paying attention.

On May 10th, Jack Mundey died, and obituaries and articles on his work, thoughts and achievements have been spread across the political and ideological media landscape. Self-described as someone who ‘joined the Communist Party in the 1950s and remained a member until it went out of operation in 1991’, a unionist and according to Meredith Burgmann ‘…an environmentalist before that term was even used’, he spoke eloquently, and put his life and actions in and on the line, linking the workers movement with the protection of public urban green spaces. He brought idealised concepts, written about by others, into concrete reality.

In 2011, at the 40th anniversary of the first of the Sydney ‘green bans’, he reminisced about what made them significant; ‘They weren’t about workers looking out for their own hip pocket, but for society in general. Yes, it’s our job to build, but we wanted to determine which buildings we built — we were concerned about the end results of our labor.’ Jack Mundey was talking about how things were interconnected, that there was a common good, that the environment was central to this common good, and that workers have power when they work together. He lived out that the health of our working conditions and the environment go hand in hand.

This week, 16th – 24th May has been claimed as Laudato Si’ week, a marker of five years since Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical ‘addressed to all people of good will’. Across its 180 or so pages it sets out the intimate connection between humans and their environment. Touching on labour, technology, consumption, politics, costs and power while seamlessly integrating the works of Popes across the ages, Laudato Si’ argues that the cry of the earth, and the cry of the poor, are one.