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