Developing a New Concept of Work

Work occupies a central position in our western cultures
  • It is an unavoidable element of our identity. Introducing oneself is based on what one person does – his/her job. Many people build most of their social links, relationships through work and the contrary is only true for the unemployed. Even the YCW’s identity depends on a professional aspect: young, Christians and workers.
  • It gives access or rights to health services, family subsidies for children, right to a pension, etc.
  • It determinates our situation in society, whereas, in the Middle Ages, it was birth that determined this situation. Aristocrats e.g. were not allowed to work (even not after having become poor) but would lose their position if they started to work. Today only a minority rejects work or only wants to work part-time, because they see another important dimension of life and feel threatened by the importance work may take in their lives.


There is a distinction to be made between: JOB – WORK – ACTIVITY:

JOB designs an institutionalised way of working, that gives an income and is done within the framework of a contract with given hours of work, description of tasks and responsibilities, level of salary…
WORK is a broader term. It means to do things (participants of meeting arranging the room for the given meeting) or to produce goods and services, but not linked to a job.
ACTIVITY means to be active, to do things. To eat is an activity. It is neither a job, nor work except for those who prepare the meal. To relax or play are activities, they may be a job e.g. if you organise games for children.
  • There is confusion between job and work. (E.g. mothers staying at home say they don’t work, meaning in fact they have no job) and social recognition is linked to having a job. In fact they do a job, but that is not recognised as such.
  • Another distinction to be made is that between a job and solvable job. When we make the balance of paid work we speak only about work linked to a salary – we live in a salary society. The salary society is the image of our countries and is in fact the result of the defence of the workers’ rights. Wage earners are better defended then the isolated, small independent and jobless people. But this salary society also hides growing minorities of people who will never have access to the conditions that we call human rights.
  • Alternatives: There is a possibility for jobs if we go beyond the traditional jobs and that give higher quality to our lives, e.g. to repair the effects of industrialisation, but there is no money for this kind of jobs. It would be wrong to believe that we could live in our modern society with less and less jobs. Moreover many human needs are being ignored or only little taken into account. Many jobs are possible if the decision makers decide to fund these sectors. Three examples:
  1. In our aging societies, health problems are increasing. The development and diversification of health care could allow to better take into account some illnesses worldwide. Research and exploring treatments of Aids make serious progresses. Africa is the first one to need these. Jobs are possible. But who will pay?
  2. Education and research are the pillars of the development of the societies and of the people. Nearly all the countries try to achieve same savings in this sector, even though schools and research centres play an important part, as well as youth organisations like YCW who knows what a huge task has to be carried with the young workers.
  3. Environment, already mentioned, is being taken more a more into account. But progresses are too slow. Relating development to environment, another conception of our relation to nature, the concern for healthy food, treating and recycling garbage, these are all possible sectors in which new jobs could be created.
  • What was characteristic of salary work was threatened. Time limited contracts and work for interim societies increase. People looking for asylum arrive in our society. These people are a very good labour force to carry out work that doesn’t come under labour conditions and we speak about undocumented work. But also others are in this situation.
  • People in prisons have the right to work, to carry out small tasks for which they do not need qualifications and are badly paid but prefer that than to be bored. Example: The introduction of new technologies has decreased the volume of jobs necessary for given productions. When these were hard or repetitive jobs (like in the coal mines or steel industry), this is positive, but it can be negative if the people have no other possibility to make a living. At the present time banks and super markets have the possibility to reduce their staff. Modern technologies scarify jobs. But are the sacked people useless?{mospagebreak}
The interest/benefit of working
  • Satisfaction through work: The first dimension in the concept of work is the satisfaction and the study dimension that young people bring in, in relation to work. Young people have liberty and are free and YCW should listen to their expectations. This satisfaction exists more or less for each situation of work. I considered my work in YCW satisfying, it was not easy but it was a challenge to develop capabilities that I wouldn’t have without this job. It is important to find out what satisfaction the work can give. It could be outside the work e.g. thanks to my job I can be in touch with other people. The degree of satisfaction in work is very important. Young people who are free remind us of this.
  • Identification through work: There is a distinction between identifying through work and building up my identity thanks to my job. If I identify myself to my job and tomorrow I lose it then in my own eyes I won’t exist anymore because all I was, I was it because of my work. This is what happens in retirement when the meaning of life came through the job and that is dangerous. To build up one’s identity thanks to the job is different.
  • To earn money through work: To consider work as being a means to earn money is what society wants us to think (also that this money is necessary to satisfy our needs, but often these are superficial ones, created by society), but YCW resists this. Our question is thus how are we, in our concept of work, going to resist this and why should we resist this? To reduce work to being a means to earn money is a way of increasing the gap between people because a certain kind of work only allows surviving, whereas other kinds of jobs allow living an easy and even luxurious life. If the only meaning of work is to earn money then we enter the logic of exclusion. Moreover, this identity goes with the identity of the consumer. But people saying money is not important must have big bank accounts to say such a thing.
  • Model of work: Nevertheless YCW says no to this kind of evolution (that regarding work only money is important) and rather tries to have work giving not only money but also recognition, possibility of relationships, opportunity to take over responsibility and elements allowing possibility to grow as a person.
  • Flexibility and identity: Young people are more sensitive to the interest of flexibility. For them, the idea of entering a company and doing the same job until the end of their lives is horrible. Flexibility is to overcome monotony in life. In reality the flexibility offered is not the multiplication of opportunities to self-development but an adaptation to the needs of the economy.{mospagebreak}

Proposals regarding new jobs

{mosimage}Is in work, satisfaction really important, the strengthening of one’s identity, and the fact of getting integrated or is it all about money and power as the labour market gets harder and harder? It’s difficult to transmit values regarding work.
The three dimension of a job: it gives money, it has a social aspect (making friends, to be integrated, part of the working society, recognised) and it builds part of one’s identity (to develop one’s skills and oneself).

What are the different kinds of jobs that can be created? What are the proposals?

Making work compulsory for unemployed to receive their benefits is a conception based on the idea that they chose not to work, which is not true.

Jobs could be created to restore the environment damaged in industrial areas. The problem is that there is not enough money to finance these kinds of jobs. European grants, public money should be used for that.

Services, care to people: hospitals are very expensive because of the important use of technology and its rapid evolution and because the specialists are very well paid. In order to avoid heavy costs for social security, health care at home was developed, services of nurses, families make it possible for people who before would have to go to hospital to remain at home with less costs. There is a creation of jobs and thus an economy for social security.


Life always depends on a balance of forces. At the time being, economy is the most dominant element. In the middle Ages it was religion, in the 19th century politics. But economy should be subjected to democracy and to politics.
We live in a world where work is a central point.

In ancient times, the free person would be one who could live without doing anything, only slaves had to work.

In the beginning of the industrial era there was a need of a maximum workforce in order to carry out the activities but people were not convinced of going to work in the mines, factories, etc. Therefore a stream of thought tried to create a culture of work based on Adam Smith thought that richness comes from work: if you want to be rich you should work. Now work is a fundamental value and has become a natural instinct.

At the end of the 19th century socialism was born and big thinkers said that the human being is built by work (I have become what I am through the work I have done). In society through my work I will have an impact. Most symbolic moment was the workers’ strike – this shows the power they have over the employers because those who depend on others are the employers. They depend on workers.{mospagebreak}
The current system - context
  • Alienation can work if the majority of the population thinks that the system that crushes the population exists for the good of the population. This follows the neo-liberalism rules of the 19th century philosophical system. We do not only have the right but a common obligation to resistance towards this system that says it’s for our good but in fact it’s only for a minority. We should not underestimate the enemy because it finds ways to get people. The Trade Unions struggled for having the representation of the workers getting info in the companies and the workers to express their opinions. A model was organised such as quality circles where workers decide if they do always the same tasks or change them or if they break and work longer or not, etc. However, on the number of cars they produce or their deadline, they have no decision-making power. Thus they only decide on details. Resistance to the system is never finished – it requires creativity and little ruptures. It’s necessary to provoke changes in quality but this doesn’t yet change the system. In our world even the alter-globalisation movements cannot leave the system but they have the project of the best resistances and need to continue to do this in the most intelligent way.
  • Security – each person needs a minimum of security, confidence, and trust in others to live socially. We take our security from 2 sources – one due to the juridical system of the country; the other is the social security (so that when I am ill and can’t work I will still have means to survive). The need of security is met because of what we put in common, such as laws. The other security is from the limits I set myself. Some city districts are closed by alarm systems, dogs, security guards etc. In this case rich people are locked in to protect themselves. This is the proposal of the extreme right – let’s find a security system that locks out those who are threatening, different from us. Many Christians also are attracted by the extreme right. There is a legitimate need for one’s security, YCW is with the first and struggles against the second.
  • The Christian Movements expressed the positive idea that through work the human being is collaborating with the Creator completing the creation. God worked six days and He didn’t have time to finish so we are continuing his work. We are the co-creators together with God. This idea spreads itself around the Movements and Cardijn was a big promoter of it.
  • Alternatives: Regarding basic income, a proposal was made: all citizens of 18 years of age or more have the right to a basic subsidy because they live in a given country. If the person wants, he/she can work and increase this basic income. This idea seems impossible and dangerous; impossible because nobody has been able to say how much this basic income would be. The highest amount mentioned was 400 Euro, but this is a challenge to live here with this amount. It’s dangerous because if we consider that everyone has an automatic right to it, it would be a reduction of young people with a consuming attitude. Some people would say 400 Euro is too much and that people have to be stimulated to work. Right wing governments would exclude non-citizens etc. For these reasons the workers’ Movement in Belgium is opposed to this idea.
  • Too much work – too little work: It is important to remember the role work can have in life and society.Today people die of two things: they work too much or too little. The reduction of working time is a way of sharing work and allowing everyone access to this dimension of life and not having someone to become a victim of this. To be cautious because in our countries a series of rights are linked to work and are not the same if you reduce the working time.
  • The informal economy versus economy in solidarity: Informal economy is the complete exploitation.We need what some people call an “economy in solidarity” that fulfils social needs (also of those who are excluded from society) with a diversified way of financing.
  • Work in the other continents: Many people in our countries think that “There (preferably in Africa), they only work for their food and than they stop. No wonder that these countries are under-developed. Can they be “civilised” if they haven’t understood that work is in the centre of life! In fact, many people in these countries have to work without status or contract and without recognition of their jobs. Children and youngsters in Latin America, Asia and Africa have to work outside of the usual working standards. Also these exploited people should have the right to work in dignity and be properly paid.
  • Work and women: When they introduce themselves, many women say that they don’t work, even though they don’t stop the whole day. They mean, they have no job, but they take care of a whole series of tasks that our patriarchal societies impose on women. They carry them out without salary and without social recognition.

CAJ Germany

KAJ Flanders

JOC Wallonie-Bruxelles

International YCW