The young worker faces life
These lectures are a sequel to the " Hour of the Working Class " which dealt with the problem of the world of work and its enormous responsibility to the world. The working class must know its responsibility and be able to carry it out, and for that is needed a working-class movement-a powerful, organic movement-able to make known and to carry out its mission. It must produce capable working-class leaders, apostles, missionaries-who will spread among their fellow-workers the doctrine upon which this responsibility is based. Unless this is understood, what follows will not make sense.
In what follows we dwell not so much on the working class as a whole, as on the individual young worker himself.
At the root of the Y.C.W. and of our whole conception of life, there is one great truth : that each young worker has here on earth a vocation, a personal mission to fulfil ; and each one must fulfil this mission through the ordinary acts of his daily life in his natural environment.
To be precise and concrete, what are the ordinary actions of each day? What does a young worker do each day ? He wakes up, gets out of bed, washes and dresses himself. He goes down to the kitchen, demanding his shoes, his tie, his work bag, and so on. He kisses his mother and sits down to breakfast. After that he goes off to work. He gets on a train or bus with some mates. He travels a certain distance. He arrives at his factory or office and stays there from nine until twelve. He has his dinner in the canteen or somewhere outside and then goes back to work. Eventually he goes home.
By such a day, by all the perfectly ordinary acts of every day, each young worker has a mission to fulfil. He must play his part, and he must do so as a person by knowing its value and by understanding its importance. No one can do it instead of him, just as no one can do his eating for him. He is indispensable.
The personal well-being of any young worker depends on all these ordinary actions of his every-day life. Whether he is happy or not will depend on whether he understands or does not understand the value of his daily actions. On these actions depend his present and future well-being-his people, his courting, his marriage, his children; and not only his own well-being, but t ' hat of his fellows as well, the salvation of the working class, and even God's plan.
But the young worker's role is not only human it is also divine. Each one takes the place of God; he is the image of God; he is like an agent or representative of God. If he will not carry out the mission that has been entrusted to him, Almighty God does not do it in his place. You might almost say that He cannot, because He made us free to carry out our part or not. It is because each one is a free agent that he is a responsible human person, and not a machine.
Therefore, because he has a divine mission to carry out here on earth, the young worker has a right to respect. That is true of the young worker in England, of the young worker in America, in Australia, Asia, or Africa. He has a divine dignity and a divine responsibility-even if at the moment it happens that he is a sinner like St. Augustine or Mary Magdalene.
What do the young workers themselves think of their dignity? They get up mechanically each morning, as if they were animals, and with no more thought than animals. For some of them it is a matter of bitter regret that they are only workers. They feel nothing but the burden of their working day and their working life ; they resent their position.
Young workers do not understand the dignity, the greatness, the mission of their personal work, nor the vocation, which their work is expressing. All they think of is enjoying themselves, going out with girls, going to the pictures or the dance hall. They live from day to day.
Who is to blame them? Can we say it is their own fault and they must get over it themselves as best they can? It is not their own fault. Left to himself, the young worker cannot possibly recognise his own dignity and fulfil his mission. He is incapable of understanding it with no one to help him and form him and uphold him.
It is not enough to bring up working-class children in Catholic schools and then send them off to work in a factory well away from home and school. Give them the best of Catholic education; if you neglect them afterwards, you will lose them.
It is essential to prepare them, to form them, and educate them. Before they are fourteen years old, they are too young; after they are 2,5, it is too late, for they are courting or married by that time. We must not abandon them just when all the problems of life are facing them. As soon as they are old enough to be formed, we must get them to recognise their problems and prepare them to face up to them.
In England about 400,000 children leave school each year and start work. There are twenty millions of them in the world, and all helpless. Not one of them is capable of understanding the grandeur and dignity of his life. Yet they are not criminals sentenced to a life of servitude, but the sons and daughters of God who have a magnificent, sacred, divine mission in their life and work.
Just as there are no priests without seminary training, and no monks or nuns without their noviciate, so there cannot possibly be young Christian workers without formation. Each one needs it, because he is a human person at the age of formation, when he must see his vocation and prepare for life. To leave it to themselves is a sin, not only against the young workers, but also against God. Their poverty does not lighten the gravity of the sin. The poorer the young worker is, the more he is cut off from his family, the more need he has of formation. To be in a position to give him that formation, one must help him, support him, love him, speak with him, give him friendship. They need that kind of formation, which will surround them, guide them, accompany them, shelter them, support them. It must operate not only in church or in the district, or at meetings, but also in the office or workshop, in the tram, in the train, in the bus, in all the problems of their working life where they need it.
The aim of the Y.C.W. is to make sure that each young worker will receive the formation, which he needs so much in his life and environment for all the acts of his daily life and in preparation for his future. The Y.C.W. is precisely this: a movement of young workers who, in and by and with young workers, in and by all the acts of their daily lives, form each other, support each other, help each other, love each other, and together prepare themselves for their future.
The first conclusion arising from this fundamental truth is that the Y.C.W. is for all the young people of the working class. The authentic Y.C.W. section is for each working boy or girl in the parish or district; not for ten or twenty out of 200; not for those only who have been at a Catholic school; not for those only who come to Church. It is a missionary effort for all without exception and the further they are away from the Church, the more they need the Y.C.W.
A missionary leaves family and country to go off to foreign lands to convert the pagan, but the Pope says, " Today there are pagans in every parish. You must be their missionaries." Today, working-class districts in particular are like real mission countries. In every parish the Church needs missionaries to convert the pagans. This is the work of the Y.C.W.
The second conclusion arising from this fundamental truth is that the Y.C.W. is by each young worker, and not simply for each young worker.
Who plays the principal part in the Y.C.W.? The leader? Is it a movement of leaders? The Y.C.W. is a movement of ordinary working boys and girls, and each working boy and girl, each member, each ordinary Y.C.W., must play a very active part in it.
If an ordinary member does nothing but sit through monthly meetings, and pay subscriptions, there is something wrong with the section. Sitting down is not a movement; a movement must move. A movement is a group of people who are in motion, on the move, with an impetus, dynamic, who are going somewhere, who want to get something.
Y.C.W. action is first the perfectly ordinary acts of everyday life. The Y.C.W. does not get up in the morning like anyone else. He knows why he is getting up. Even if he has a headache, he gets up bravely and proudly, because he knows that this day he has a mission to fulfil. He does not wash himself in the same way as other young workers, because he knows the value of his body. He does not go down to the kitchen as others do, demanding his boots. He is polite and helpful.
And so on through the various actions of his day. He is a ray of sunshine in his district. He is on the lookout to help people; he is amiable and civil; he is different from other young workers. The same on the bus or the train; among his mates; with the youngsters; with the girls. He is much more Y.C.W. in his district, than he is in the meeting where he comes only to learn, to review, and to plan.
He must be Y.C.W. in his own home, with his father and mother, with his brothers and sisters. The same holds good for where he works; when he puts on his overalls, when he gets his machine going, when he goes to wash himself, when he goes out for lunch, when he speaks to anyone. There it is that one sees the Y.C.W.- but he has to be taught how, and helped to become Y.C.W.
This transformation is important because it is a complete revolution. This is the true revolution, taking place in the daily life of each Y.C.W. No more talk of proletariat or proletarian!
This revolutionary transformation, greater than any ordinary revolution, comes about within each young worker who, thanks to the Y.C.W., is becoming Christian in the smallest of the actions of his everyday life. He is coming to understand little by little how many services he can render, how much love he can give, how he can truly take God's place. He must understand this, and he must make all the other young workers understand it too, for themselves, for their companions, boys or girls, for their surroundings, for all the working class.
The effect of their personal transformation is to make a revolutionary transformation also in their surroundings at home and at work. This personal effort of each young worker, each Y.C.W., changes life in factory, office, workshop, train, bus, trade union-in the whole working-class movement.
Each young worker must learn to understand this personal action, to transform his personal actions, to change them in such a way as to bring about in very fact the whole of the Y.C.W., not merely during meetings, but throughout all the hours of the day. Thus the Y.C.W. prayer becomes a fact: "Lord Jesus, I offer You-what? My meetings? No, my work, the struggles of my day, the pains, the joys of my day;" so that, thanks to my work, " Your kingdom may come in my factory, in my workshop, or in my office."
There is a second series of acts-those of the Movement itself, in which each ordinary member must share actively; preparing for meetings, inviting fellows to meetings, going out of his way to find others to come to the meetings ; being responsible for a contact on the train, the bus, the tram, in the factory; going to visit the sick ; all the achievements, the program, influence, contacting.
The time-honoured, essential, precise action of the Y.C.W. is recruiting. The Y.C.W. is essentially, continually, everywhere and before all else recruiting and winning. The act par excellence of the Movement is recruiting and winning. The principal act of any local section is to contact and win young workers, not so as to link them up with a few others into a little group, but to recruit more and more young workers who in their turn will get hold of their fellows.
The characteristic spirit of each Y.C.W. is the spirit of recruiting; the apostolic, missionary spirit, always turned out towards others, never turned in on himself. Contacting is the result of this missionary spirit. The Y.C.W. has no right to consider any fellow too bad or too difficult. There is no rule, which limits the number of members in any section. It is not the Y.C.W. spirit to be concerned only with maintaining present numbers; to recruit new members, only if there is a resignation, or if an order to recruit goes out from Headquarters. That is the way to lose the essential and fundamental spirit of' the Y. C. W.
The Y.C.W. wins new members for the Mystical Body of Christ, in order that the Mystical Body may grow ever larger and may gradually reach the size of humanity itself, and that the Mystical Body and humanity may truly become one and the same thing.
Getting new members must go on continuously and everywhere in all the environments of life; but getting new members. is not just putting a new name on the register and affiliating a. new member. That is only a moment somewhere in the middle of recruiting, preceded by any amount of Y.C.W. contact, friendship, companionship, and support.
Registration is, in fact, a reciprocal promise. The new member makes his promises and the local section promises in return to, take care of the new member, to foster and help him. He will not be left alone again or by himself; there will be someone who will pray for him, look after him, shelter him.
The subscription of an ordinary member is a small gesture by a young worker who, of his own free will, for love of his fellow-workers, can make this sacrifice of giving part of his own money which he might have spent on himself. He does this, because he has grasped the importance of supporting and encouraging his fellow-workers.
The value of this small sum is unprecedented. How much pocket money does a young worker get each week? How much can a working girl afford to spend on herself, when she goes out .on a Sunday? To measure the value of this free-will offering, you must look at it from this point of view.
It is the deliberate and personal nature of the act that is so important. We must not hesitate to ask and get it from each working boy and girl. Some people think that busying oneself for the emancipation of working youth means nothing more than getting them better wages and decent conditions of work. It means more than that; it means getting the young workers themselves to make a gesture, a personal sacrifice to free themselves, to form themselves, without always taking everything from someone else.
The danger today is that institutions are trying to substitute themselves more and more for the workers. The greatest, danger of all is that trade unions or the State should take over the worker lock, stock and barrel. People need more foresight -and a greater sense of responsibility. They no longer form the habit of doing things, which cost them something, the acts of a person.
This is the true meaning of the Y.C.W. subscription. To pay is to do something that costs something. It is out of respect for the working boy or girl that we ask it of them. It is because we know that they can be emancipated; because we do not want them to remain proletarians. We want to raise them; but we shall raise them only insofar as we teach them not to take but to give. " It is better to give than to receive," Our Lord said. Young workers must learn that.
It is no objection to say that the young workers will not be able to understand. There are plenty of YCW's paying: subscriptions and they are not more intelligent than the average young worker or above his level. Sometimes we slight the young worker by not taking him into our confidence. Among the young workers are priceless treasures for the Church, of zeal, of the spirit of sacrifice, of working-class vocations, missionaries, religious, priests; but on one condition, that you can form them by a precise and patient training.
This cannot be simply the training that they get from parents, priests, teachers, who, in spite of all they can do, are above their heads and on a different plane. It must be training from one of themselves, an equal who is always with them, who is friend and confidant. Priests, parents and teachers must reinforce this training; but no one in the world can replace the personal influence of another young worker.
In everyday life and its environment, the Church and Our Lord need what the Pope calls the principle and immediate apostles of the workers. There is a chain of apostles: the immediate neighbour, close at hand; the foreman and adult workers ; then parents, priests, bishops, and the Pope. The chain is the means by which the divine influence is exercised on each young worker. Break the chain, and almighty God becomes, as it were, powerless.
From every point of view, this influence and training is important, and the subscription is a test of it. These days, they talk a lot about tests for measuring intelligence and capacity. The subscription is the test, which measures the manner in which we have understood the emancipation of working youth.