Hidden Histories: The YCW movement in the German Democratic Republic


The files concerning the YCW in the German Democratic Republic are now safely stored at KADOC

We all know the images of Germans wielding hammers and chisels, hacking away at the wall that had kept them separated from each other. 32 years ago to this day, on the 9th November of November 1989, the Berlin wall fell. Not only did it end the partition of Berlin, it also set in motion the crumbling of the Eastern Bloc and signified the end of the Cold War that had divided Europe and the world for the previous four decades. The historical significance of this day can hardly be exaggerated.

Hence, today is an excellent occasion to talk about an intriguing find in the IYCW archives. Among the numerous boxes containing country files, we came across two boxes that had ‘Eastern-Germany’ written on them. The boxes are filled with handwritten papers, often lists of members or very concise reports. What was the story of these documents? Was there a YCW in the German Democratic Republic? And, if so, how did the archive boxes make it safely to Brussels?

Interview of Marlyse Thommen, a former international YCW leader, by Sam Kuijken from KADOC in Leuven

A History of Representing the Youth Across the World

Since the year 2000 we celebrate the International Youth Day on the 12th of august, aimed at drawing attention to issues faced by youth across the globe. On the occasion of the 2021 International Youth Day, KADOC searched the IYCW-archives to highlight some ways in which IYCW has drawn attention to youth.

The IYCW is not only an organization of youth, but also an organization for youth. Since its conception, it has not strived for improvements in the life conditions of young workers but also for representation of young workers and youth in general. The archives show that the International Youth Day was preceded by several festivals, gatherings and federations which brought youth to the attention of the world. In many of these, the International Secretariat played an important part even before it had developed into the IYCW.

Solidarity: from ‘dry Sundays’ to International Solidarity Campaigns

Pic Joc haiti

Solidarity is a crucial idea within the IYCW and a quick glance at the archives reveals this. Throughout the years countless letters, bulletins and emails contains the words “in solidarity” instead of a more generic salutation. However, the IYCW also understood that solidarity is more than words alone. It has always encouraged solidarity through action, not only from national YCW’s to their compatriots, but also between various YCW’s around the globe. The many International Solidarity Campaigns coordinated by the International Secretariat are a result of a long tradition of solidarity. Although most were undertaken in support of the victims of dictatorships, military regimes and other forms of repression such as Apartheid, there was solidarity towards the victims of natural disasters as well. For this blog article, KADOC collaborated with the JOC d’Haiti in order to shed a light on how solidarity was turned from thought to practice. 

One of the first responses of the IYCW to a natural disaster was after the 1960 Valdivia-earthquake in Chile, which is still the strongest earthquake ever recorded. The first detailed account of what happened reached the IYCW in the form of a letter written to Cardijn by Wim Verbakel, a Flemish Jocist who helped expand the YCW in Chile. He estimates that In the region south of Concepcion, around 40% of the homes were in ruins, as well as numerous other building such as factories and the YCW central.  The magnitude of the earthquake was massive, for he also reports that the water level in several lakes had dropped around 10 meters and that five new volcanoes and several lakes had formed. Soon bound to leave for a voyage to Africa, Cardijn rapidly printed Verbakel’s account into a circular. He stated that there was only one response to this crisis: ‘a dry Sunday (without drinks and frivolities)’. In addition to fasting, members were encouraged to donate to Cardijn’s personal account with the mention ‘for Chile’. He himself had already pledged 10 000 franks.

International Day of the Domestic Worker: A look at the Brazilian YCW and the problem of domestic workers

A map of the countries who have ratified ILO convention 189 and those who have turned it into policy

Domestic workers have always formed a significant group of the Brazilian workforce. According to the National Household Sample Survey (PNAD) conducted by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) in 2020, there are 4.5 million domestic workers, 12.8% of which are aged 14 to 29. Women represent more than 92% of the people engaged in domestic work, of which more than 65% (3 million) are black women. The typical domestic worker is a young unschooled woman originating from the countryside or an impoverished urban area. Working hard and long hours from a young age onwards, earning very little money in return, these young women all too often remain unschooled and unable to escape the tangles of unregulated domestic work. Given this precarious situation, it is no surprise that domestic workers have been a focal point for the Brazilian YCW (JOC Brasileira) ever since its foundation. On the occasion of the International Day of Domestic Workers, KADOC lets the IYCW archives and the Brazilian YCW speak about the issue of domestic work in Brazil.