Young workers side by side

Warning: this post is really just an excuse for a nostalgic trip down memory lane!!

I know that, liturgically speaking, today is Divine Mercy Sunday. I'm also aware of a certain beatification going on in Rome... But you see, today is, first and foremost, May 1st: and because as a teenager I joined the Young Christian Workers (YCW), for me, May 1st will forever be St Joseph the Worker - our patron, and an excuse, today, to reminisce.

The YCW was born in the factories and workshops of Belgium, almost 100 years ago - dehumanising, exploitative places, where young workers lost whatever faith they had had at school. It became, and still is, a movement of education through action based on the real experiences of its members. From the outset, young workers have been trained to assume responsibility, take personal and collective actions to rectify unjust situations and become leaders - all underpinned by faith formation and core values. It gave - and continues to give - young workers a sense of their own dignity and pride, as well as their potential and power, individually and collectively.

By the time I joined, most UK members worked in offices rather than factories, but unjust issues still abounded. Equal opportunties and health and safety were rudimentary, and so with equal enthusiasm we collectively tackled sexism, and supported Linda in her long-drawn out campaign for firedoors (the details of which I have completely forgotten; I can only recall that it lasted for years, required a terrier-like tenacity throughout - and that she got them in the end!)

The YCW taught me to "see, judge, act" - a methodology I met again three decades later when working in a "popular education" project in a Mexican shanty town. The example and encouragement of my friends spurred me into becoming a NALGO shop steward: within two years I was departmental Senior Steward and Convenor, and then two years after that I became a full-time NALGO employee. (That job, incidentally, featured strongly in my journey into religious life). Rampant Thatcherism had fuelled my growing involvement in politics, but it was the YCW which gave me that first push into workplace engagement.

We had some good times. We organised rallies and public meetings, attended study events, socialised, had fun, romances and even some weddings... and yes, we also managed to have a positive impact on our workplaces. Those fire doors were not our only achievement! There was a shadow side, of course: as with any mass movement, we had internal rows and wrangles which have left their souring mark on some of my memories. But on the whole it was good: we were trained and taken beyond our normal lives and Tooting to other places and possibilities. Three decades on I am still good friends with some of my fellow ex-members, and meeting any ex-YCW/YCS gives a strong sense of a shared experience, whatever their age or background.

It was all part of the gloriousness of youth. And so today I find myself singing the old YCW song, an unashamedly militant, idealistic anthem, set to a rousing, thumping tune. I recall a few people found it embarrassingly OTT and didn't like being comrades, but I have always enjoyed that song, and am supplying the first two verses below. So if there are any ex-YCW/YCS out there who can remember the tune - or even the other verses - please do sing along, in memory of fire doors, facts of the week, review of life and simply being young, energetic and ready to conquer all the world!

Rouse up, rouse up young workers all
Throughout the world a voice resounds
'Tis Christ the Worker's trumpet call
To win for him our youth, our towns
Stand steadfast comrades for your rights
Your work, your dignity, your pride
Come march along, we'll conquer all the world
Young workers, side by side
In this, our native land we find
A mighty standard which we greet
His blood-stained cross round which entwined
Behold, a golden ear of wheat
Stand steadfast comrades...


  1. Linda said...
    I have just typed up a comment and thought I'd posted it, but it seems to have got lost in a black hole that is cyberspace; so never one to give up (the fire door saga comes to light again); I have never forgotten the important part that the YCW and the teachings of Cardijn had in my life.

    Thanks for the memories!


  2. It was fantastic to meet you yesterday and as a member of the movement today it was so interesting to hear about your experiences!

    YCW National Secretary

  3. I was really pleased to meet you and Phil too, and to see how people who are passionate and committed are leading the movement into the future, especially with all the difficulties young people currently face.

  4. I typed the words of the ycw song on google in hopes of finding the tune, and came upon this webpage. A very old typed page with the lyrics fell out of a book that belonged to my mother in law, Katherine Murphy who was active in the ycw movement of the 40's and 50's here in New York. she died 2 years ago and suffered with alzheimers for over 13 years, leaving behind a wealth of books, journal entries and artifacts like the one I encountered this morning. today we were helping our 14 year old with her assignment on writing about her favorite heretic (close to her) and we suggested she consider her grandmother. with the young people occupying wall street right now (700 were arrested last night) I feel compelled to learn this tune before my own visit this week. Can you furnish a link to the score or a common hymn or song name the tune might be from?

  5. JB: Alas, the tune lives on in my head but I don't have a songsheet, and I couldn't find one on the internet for this post. You could try asking the current YCW, though. When I met the UK national team by chance recently they mentioned having found some old books in cupboards. You can contact them via

    And please, if you have the words to verse 3 let me have them: I can only recall they began "this symbol..." and ended "they workers, of his love are signs"

    Delighted your daughter is learning about and honouring her grandmother's activism... maybe one day she'll follow in her footsteps..?

  6. At last I found the tune for the YCW anthem someone wanted on this blog. Some Malaysian has used his own words and changed the lyrics but the tune is the same. Hope this is useful to you.


    1. Hi Ruben. Could you post the link for the Malaysian so I can listen to the tune? Thanks in advance.

  7. My atheist brother found himself singing this, so we ended up in chorus singing this on Video call. Further research from YCW comrades unearthed the following
    (verse 3)
    That symbol of our hope and faith
    Its arms around his cross entwined
    The sufferings that for us awake
    They, workers of his love are signs

    4.Our task to help all those we know
    to think and speak and act like Christ
    Through him it can be done and so
    The standard of his cross we hoist.

  8. Great - sounds like you thoroughly enjoyed yourselves. It's such a rousing tune, and I recall verse 3 was especially stirring stuff.


Post a Comment