Part II of Chapter VI on Human Work of the Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine highlights “The prophetic value of Rerum Novarum.”
268. Rerum Novarum is above all a heartfelt defence of the inalienable dignity of workers, connected with the importance of the right to property, the principle of cooperation among the social classes, the rights of the weak and the poor, the obligations of workers and employers and the right to form associations.
The orientation of ideas expressed in the Encyclical strengthened the commitment to vitalize Christian social life, which was seen in the birth and consolidation of numerous initiatives of high civic profile: groups and centres for social studies, associations, worker organizations, unions, cooperatives, rural banks, insurance groups and assistance organizations. All of this gave great momentum to labour-related legislation for the protection of workers, above all children and women; to instruction and to the improvement of salaries and cleanliness in the work environment.
Part III of Chapter VII on Economic Life of the Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine also makes reference to the benefits of cooperation and cooperatives.
339. All those involved in a business venture must be mindful that the community in which they work represents a good for everyone and not a structure that permits the satisfaction of someone’s merely personal interests. This awareness alone makes it possible to build an economy that is truly at the service of mankind and to create programmes of real cooperation among the different partners in labour.
A very important and significant example in this regard is found in the activity of so-called cooperative enterprises, small and medium-sized businesses, commercial undertakings featuring hand-made products and family-sized agricultural ventures. The Church’s social doctrine has emphasized the contribution that such activities make to enhance the value of work, to the growth of a sense of personal and social responsibility, a democratic life and the human values that are important for the progress of the market and of society.
343. Economic initiative is an expression of human intelligence and of the necessity of responding to human needs in a creative and cooperative fashion. Creativity and cooperation are signs of the authentic concept of business competition: a “cumpetere”, that is, a seeking together of the most appropriate solutions for responding in the best way to needs as they emerge. The sense of responsibility that arises from free economic initiative takes not only the form of an individual virtue required for individual human growth, but also of a social virtue that is necessary for the development of a community in solidarity. “Important virtues are involved in this process, such as diligence, industriousness, prudence in undertaking reasonable risks, reliability and fidelity in interpersonal relationships, as well as courage in carrying out decisions which are difficult and painful but necessary, both for the overall working of a business and in meeting possible set-backs”.