The challenge of a new world

This document was compiled and written in 1994 as the report of a meeting of young workers from “Post-Industrialised Countries”. Although it is unsigned, it is certainly largely if not totally the work of Hugh O’Sullivan and is therefore presented here.


Is YCW’s method of ROLWA out of date in post industrial society? 





1. Family and social life 

2. Work situations

3. Cultural pressures 

4. Political pressures 

5. Values in society 



In Taiwan: 

In Hong Kong: 

In Japan: 



The starting point of “ROLWA” is our action 

What to review: 

Why work situations have special importance? 

The ROLWA process: 

The “See” section 

The “Judge” section 

The “Act” section 



Someone invented the first engine – and this changed the world. Before this happened most people lived in villages. They worked on farms or in small workshops with hand held tools. The invention of engines changed all this. 

Engines made mass production of goods possible. Workers using hand held tools in small workshops could not compete. They had to leave their villages and migrate to live close to the big factories. 

This picture is very familiar to people in many Asian countries today. Young Asian workers also leave villages to live in cities, near factories. They work long hours for little wages. They live in horrible conditions. 

But today many countries are facing a new reality. The early problems of industrialisation have largely disappeared in Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Young workers in these countries are experiencing very different problems. 

We feel that these problems are new and that few people are really seeing them or talking about them. We feel that they are very important for the young workers who are experiencing them. We believe that they are a challenge for the YCW and all workers movements today. 

They worked long hours for very little wages. They lived in horrible conditions. Employers seemed to forget that workers were persons They treated them like animals or machines. 

In August 1994, ASPAC IYCW organised a meeting of the YCWs of Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan. This publication is based on what happened at that meeting. 



We live in some of the most densely populated areas of the world. Our homes and living areas are very small. There is little room for personal space – for places to be on your own and do your own thing. 

Our culture teaches us to have great respect for elders and parents. But in today’s world the people with power are those with knowledge and money. Young workers are financially independent. They know more about technology than their parents. This has put great pressures on family relationships. 

The organisation of work adds to these difficulties. Many of us are working in part time and casual work and shift work We work long hours and also work overtime. When we finish work we are very tired and not wanting to spend time with our families. It is difficult to have common time together with our families. 

Recreation is another cause of isolation. Because of the difficulty of finding common recreation time with our friends we organise recreation on our own – in computer games, pachinko parlors or watching videos. We lose the ability to be part of a community. We lose the ability 

to talk about our life at any deep level. We become alone and isolated. 


The most common problem is the feeling of being too busy and under great pressure. Yet we are supposed to belong to developed societies that have made laws about reasonable working hours. Why is it that we feel so “pressured”? 

Most workers feel some insecurity in their employment. Work is organised internationally – under conditions of great competitiveness. Manufacturers look for means of producing more cheaply. They move their factories to countries where labor is cheaper. 

They “restructure” or “rationalise” production. This results in fewer workers and more pressure for those who remain. The fear of losing employment makes workers work harder to compete with one another. 

Many workers come under pressure to do some form of unpaid overtime work. Sometimes this results from the pressure of unreasonable “targets” and “deadlines”. The workers are unable to do the work in the ordinary work time – so they continue to work overtime. 

If they want to be paid for this work, they have to demand it. Often employers make them feel that they only worked overtime because they were too slow. To demand overtime makes diem seem an unprofitable employee and so liable to lose their job. 

In our societies, employers are often seen as “elders” and “father of the family”. Workers are willing to do extra work to please the boss. The boss rewards this work by praising the worker, or by giving a “red pocket” (a gift of money in a red envelope). These things look like “gifts” but mostly they are of less value than payment of just overtime. 

The continual restructuring of work places and the introduction of new technologies demand new qualifications and new skills. Workers come under pressure to do new courses. The time spent to do this and often the cost of the course are the responsibility of the worker. This means that many workers have to do “overtime” in evening classes. 

Another important issue is isolation in the work place. In the past many young workers would work together on a production line. They worked together and shared common problems. It was easy to see who was the “enemy” in their work problems. But now there are so many different sectors and so many different types of work. 

Many workers work alone. Often a young worker has only a few older workers working with them. It is difficult to unite to talk about problems and to take some action. 

It often happens that workers form small groups – especially in offices and the service sector. If you do not belong, it is difficult to get into these groups. Often these groups fight and compete with one another. 


We live in societies that have long cultural traditions. These traditions affect many things – for example, the place of women in society, the respect for elders, the time, the place and the person you will marry etc. Many of these traditions came from another age and a different type of society. 

We are not able to live some of these traditions in our work places – but we come under pressure to live them at home. This gives us two different standards. It results in a “generation gap” between young workers and their parents and elders. It also results in many situations of conflict within families. 


Hong Kong was for 150 years a territory of Great Britain. During these years Hong Kong people did not have voting power or any real participation in political processes. Then the decision was made that Hong Kong return to China. 

The Hong Kong people were not consulted about this. Many fear that 1997 will be “the end of the world as we now know it.” The result is that they live only for the present – they do not know how to plan for future in the years after 1997. 

A million main-landers fled from China to Taiwan in 1949. For many years, until recently, Taiwan was under martial law. The people did not have power in political process. They were not allowed to form labor unions. The people were educated to obey and not to question. 

In general we can see that our education system aims to serve the needs of employers rather than the persons being educated. It is a conservative system aimed at getting people to conform rather than to question. It is based on a spirit of competition to better one’s personal position. 

Many seem to have lost the power to make judgements themselves. They just follow others. From an early age young people are taught to compete and to strive to be better than their peers. Rewards are given for individual excellence rather than for community building. 


Many young workers become very individualistic, isolated, selfish and self centered. Their lives are filled with material things. They are interested in how to use money. They want to have things and they feel they are better people and more important when they have more. 

Many young workers feel that they are powerless. They feel that many decisions are being made for them – decisions that affect them deeply – but that they are not being consulted or even informed. They feel resentment and angry about this – but feel that they have no power to change it. 

Many young workers also feel fearful because they believe there is no security in their lives or employment. They start to live only for today. They laugh at others who commit themselves to any sort of public service. 


“In 1991 Hewlett Packard computer company was ranked 17th in market share and was not meeting its profit and growth objectives. By 1993 it had moved to 11th place and had increased its sales of personal computers from 70,000 to 600,000. How did they achieve this? 

By reducing staff by 40% and cutting plants from 12 to two. Products were designed to be easier to build and maintain. The number of screws in the computer went from 50 to zero. Assembly rime dropped from 25 minutes to four. 

I toured the area where the circuit boards are made. The employees are all totally driven by the pursuit of excellence. They are all managers, all totally responsible for quality. They are involved in finding ways to improve the product or to speed up manufacturing without loss of quality. (Q.C.). They use just-in-time (J.I.T.) strategies to keep inventory to a minimum. 

Successful companies keep up to date in part by alliances and joint ventures. They move fast to use new manufacturing technologies. The best performers reduce cost structure by 12 % annually while boosting revenues by 22%.” 

“Hong Kong Standard” June 2, 1994. 


We see also many signs of hope within our society. Many people feel that society is sick. Many try to find a means of escape. We see people who turn to drugs, people who migrate to escape their problems and people who look for some deeper meaning in life by joining fundamentalist religions. 

These are not adequate responses – but at least they show that people are dissatisfied with society’s values today. 

On a deeper level we find young workers who are interested in finding deeper meaning in life. Many feel a great emptiness in modern society. Some give up high salaries for more meaningful work. Some take action to build change in society. Some strive to take a more participative voice in political life. Some oppose materialism and make options for a more simple life style. 


It is more than 200 years since the invention of the steam engine. The process of industrialisation has been developing throughout these years. What is so new about the situation facing post industrialised countries today? 

Mechanisation of work also was a process. People learned to use wind and water in wind mills and water mills. No doubt this had a big impact on labor. But the invention of the steam engine was such a big step that it revolutionised human work. We believe that a similar thing is happening today. 

Industrialisation has had 3 stages – a beginning, a middle and a modern stage. 


The beginning stage technology was labor intensive. This means that the machine did a small part of the job, but workers did most of the work This meant that the price of the articles was high. The workers often could not afford to buy the things they were making. 


In the middle stage technology developed – it became less labor intensive. Henry Ford tried and succeeded in making a car that the workers could afford to buy. The workers conditions and life improved. 

Of course it was not only new technology that did this. The workers’ movement had struggled to achieve this. New technology made it more possible. 


In the modern stage there are many developments. 

1.Technology has now become capital intensive. This means that the machine does most of the work and the workers are fewer. Much of this is due to the invention of the micro chip. It has resulted in an over abundance of labor and so unemployment for many.

2. New strategies of organising work have put great pressure on workers, and divided and weakened the power of the workers. I am thinking of strategies like part-time and casual work, “quality control” (QC) and “Just in time” (JIT) manufacturing strategies, and “horizontal integration” and “job enlargement” restructuring. 

3. Transnational companies have become so powerful that national governments compete with one another to offer them more profits – at the expense of the workers of the world.

4. There has been a great rising of neo-liberalism and monetarist philosophies. Governments sell public companies to private investors. Trade treaties are organised with the slogans of free trade, private enterprise, banning of all restrictions etc. Labor rights, wage agreements and unions are being destroyed. 

These are some elements that make the situation of the workers of post industrialised countries “new”. We believe that we should study these questions more deeply, study the effects they are having on workers, -and work to ensure that workers can participate equally in decision making of the future. 

Is Post-Industrialised Society YCW a workers movement? 

The YCW began as a movement of young workers from the “working class”. Mainly it organised young factory workers – though it is interesting to note that the three founding members were not factory workers. 

Today the question “Who belongs to the working class?” is not so clear. It is also true that many YCWs in our countries no longer face the material poverty of the young workers in those factories. 

There is a further problem: The word for “worker” in the Chinese language means “factory worker”. Many Chinese speaking YCWs do not want to be called “workers” because they do not work in factories any more. 

And so the question can be asked: 

“Is YCW In Post Industrial Society Really A Workers’ Movement?” 

For Cardijn, the “first truth” of the YCW was his belief in the dignity and possibilities of every person, everybody was created to DO something in life – to participate and to contribute. 

But young workers were not given this dignity and respect. They were not able to participate. Cardijn believed that the main cause was die industrial revolution and the way that employers used the power given them by the invention of the machine. 

The power of capital and the abuse of that power continues to today. It is felt by the young factory workers in the countries of the third world. But it is also felt by the young workers of the post industrialised countries who face the problems we have outlined above. 

We are young people who want to contribute and participate in society. We often feel excluded and not respected. The main cause is the new way of organising work. We want to organise and overcome our problems. We want to find an answer to how to live full human lives in this new society. Yes, we are a workers movement.



It is unfortunate that the word we use for “review” in our Mandarin language is a “bad” word. This means that it sounds very formal and judging. Young workers do not like to do this. The word makes them feel under pressure. The result of this is that often we do review I but we do not use the name. 


The members arrive at 8pm. For about 30 minutes we chat informally sharing about our life and what we have been doing. Then the formal part of the meeting begins. Mostly we have a topic that has been chosen for this night. 

The topics are about things that affect the life of young workers – e.g. relationships at home, how to be more confident, problems of our YCW group, events and issues etc. Members share their thoughts and experience. Sometimes we have a speaker to explain more deeply about the subject. Sometimes we organise some action, sometimes we do not get that far. After the meeting we continue to share informally. 


The members become good friends. They do form a small community. They share their ideas and problems with one another informally before and after the formal meeting. They deepen their values 8c they take actions in their daily life. 

In the formal part of our meeting the topics chosen challenge us to think about important things in our life. We deepen our thoughts about these things. We share experiences. Young workers are formed in being young worker leaders. 


Many of our members do not know well or believe deeply about the value of ROLWA. We probably do our best ROLWA informally at the beginning and the end of our meetings. 

But most members do not think this is ROLWA or even really a part of the YCW meeting. They sec it rather as sharing between friends. The sharing of personal things is often only done with one or two special friends – not the whole group. Often the result of sharing is support rather than challenge. 

When we discuss the topic, often we do not go very deep due to lack of time. We find that members have so many different views and it is difficult for the chairperson to keep the members talking about one topic. Often members openness and trust are low and they do not want to share about personal things. 

Some have the attitude that this part of the meeting is too serious and they do not want to think deeply. Often we do not arrive at concrete action. Sometimes the group does not have a secretary – so there is no follow up on planned action. 



Our groups meet weekly and we have a chairperson and a secretary in each group. The main part of our meeting is the ROLWA. The members share about their daily life at work and in their families. They talk especially about the problems they are facing. 

For example, I was unhappy at my work place and wanted to change jobs. The group analysed my reasons for wanting this. They pointed out that conditions of work in most places are very similar. They asked me: “Why not stay and try to change this situation?” 

Sometimes we begin the ROLWA by talking about a topic instead of asking the members to tell us about their problems. Two members prepare the topic before the meeting. This means that we can go more deeply in discussing this issue. 

Sometimes we organise to make our ROLWA more informal. We do the ROLWA in a public place – in a park, or during an outing, or during a shared meal in a restaurant. We find that this makes members more relaxed and able to share. 

Our ROLWA helps us to analyse our problems. Each member can give their view about each problem. They give their experience of how they look at this problem in their lives. Listening to many ideas gives objectivity about the problem and a way to move forward. 

ROLWA helps the members to develop and grow. It gives them ability to analyse their situation, to grow in awareness, and to participate in society. It helps to build community and shared values about life. ROLWA builds trust, relationships, community, reflection about life, and it helps us with our problems. 


It is difficult for all the members to attend each week because of pressures of work, study and family duties. Some members are at different levels of experience. 

This means that they do not understand ROLWA so well and do not have the same trust in the group. This weakens the whole group. We find that we spend too much time talking about our “group plan” and our “national plan”. This means that there is not time enough for proper ROLWA. 

Often members do not prepare well for ROLWA. They are not clear what to talk about – so sometimes some do not share. We also have the problem of people not keeping to the topic. 

Sometimes the leader does not prepare well and there is a lack of follow up of action. Often we feel that we can do the SEE and JUDGE part but it is difficult to organise ACTION or to do it. 



The member has to prepare a report to present at the meeting. The members ask questions to clarify and deepen the review. They discuss this and come up with some action. 


The whole evening is spent in reviewing one person’s life. The review is prepared by the chairperson and the person to be reviewed. This ensures that the review concerns important things in that person’s life. 

The person is asked to prepare what their aspiration or hope is in the face of the situation they face. This ensures that they have made a commitment in their mind about their values and decision of what they want. 

In Japan our groups meet every week. The meeting is a ROLWA meeting and we have a chairperson and secretary. We feel that ROLWA can only take place when members are committed to it and to putting trust in the other members. 

That is why it is difficult to do ROLWA immediately with new members. However we do have some good experiences of doing that also. 

We do not start with a topic or an individual problem of a member usually. We usually only review one person’s life each meeting. The subject of the review is the whole life of that person. 

Before the meeting the chairperson will meet with this person to prepare for the review. The two of them will discuss situations of life in the light of the person’s aspiration. 


It is difficult to have ROLWA with new members. Some do not want to participate if they don’t do the action. Older members have experience and values and method. New members only slowly come to understand this. 

Overtime work and studies make regular meetings difficult. Also there are problems with attitudes. Young workers want to have a good image at work and want to get promoted. 

And so they get caught up in the web of working unpaid overtime, not questioning things etc. They do not want to get involved and only slowly do they develop and change their values. 


The participants of the meeting split into groups to do a “practice ROLWA”. There were, of course, difficulties in doing this, we had to spend time for translation. The members had very different backgrounds and experiences. There was no rime for preparation. 

After the ROLWA they went back into the same groups and evaluated their practice ROLWA. Then we met in plenary session to share about the things that we had learnt and the questions we wanted to discuss. 


“The role of the leader is very important. This is not a role of pushiness. It demands formation and experience. In ROLWA we follow a path towards action. In our ROLWA today we did not get that far. 

This depends a lot on the skill of the leader. The chairperson needs to control time well. He/she needs to summarize and show direction regularly.” 

“Our chairperson was good – hut perhaps was too active in asking questions without pushing others to ask questions. So we expect a chairperson to be clear- minded and keep people on the topic. 

He/she should be well prepared and should understand all members condition of participation (especially to watch out for those who do not talk).” 

“Differences in background and language made communication difficult today. There were many questions asked of the person. 1 began to wonder, Does he feel threatened? He said, No. We need to respect the feelings of the person. Sometimes goodwill and enthusiasm results in hurting the person we are trying to help.” 


The chairperson needs to: 

1. Control direction and time

2. Ensure that all are participating

3. Ensure the person is respected. 

This is a role that demands formation, experience and skill. Perhaps we should organise some training for chairpersons in our movements? 



“The SEE section was done well and deeply. But it became to wide that we could not concentrate on so wide a topic. This happens a lot in our ROLWA. If we only get to SEE in a meeting what do we do at the next meeting – start another review or follow up this one?” 

It seems that there is no easy answer, A lot depends on how much preparation is done before the review on “what to review”. It also depends on the skill of the chairperson in being able to give direction and get the group to concentrate on one aspect. 

There should always be action planned. But this action does not need to be the whole answer to the problem. For example, in a situation about injustice at the work place, we could challenge the person to get a copy of the relevant labor law before the next meeting. 


“The person who shared did not share so clearly and our questions did not always help. We could see our judgements already in our questions.” 

“We asked about the person’s aspiration in the face of the situation they were facing – but there was not a clear answer. This often happens because the person cannot see clearly what he/she should do. There are 2 good values to choose between. They cannot choose both because they clash with one another.” 

“Other people made judgement without listening to the person being reviewed. We should give time for the person to make their own judgement after listening to others.” 


“We asked the question, What do you want to change? – but the question was not answered. So we did not get a clear long term objective. This made it difficult to arrive at a short term objective. Perhaps we should have had more order in our process.” 

“We decided on action – but it was not clear if the person accepted our ideas. How can we organise to make good action? We know from experience that we can often do a good SEE and JUDGE but it is difficult to arrive at ACTION.” 

“If no action then ROLWA is only a sharing. We only had time for SEE and JUDGE – no time to organise any ACTION in our group today.” 



The starting point of ROLWA is the review of our ACTION. That is what the ROLWA Document says in it first sentence. That is what Cardijn said in his writing and speeches. This means that we do not start with a problem or a situation. We start with our ACTION. 

Some people will say, “But I don’t do any action.” This is because they have the wrong idea about what we mean by ACTION. By action we mean the ordinary everyday things that a person does. 

Cardijn writes: 

“What are the ordinary actions of each day? What does a worker do each day? He wakes up, gets out of bed, washes and dresses himself. He goes down to the kitchen and gets bis shoes and his work bag. 

He kisses his mother and sits down to breakfast. After that he goes off to work. He gets on a train or a bus with some mates. He travels a certain distance. He arrives at bis factory or office and stays there from 9.00 until 12 00. He has dinner in the canteen and then goes back to work. Eventually be goes home.” 

The way that we do these ordinary things is important. The use we make of the opportunities of every day is important. The way that we react to all the things that are happening around us in our ordinary life is important. 

Why is it important? It is important because we can make a difference by the way that we act. Already, every day, we do make a difference to the lives of those around us – either good or bad. 

It is important also because we are supposed to make a difference. Every person’s life has a purpose. We come into contact with people every day. We experience things every day. We are supposed to be people who participate in life, who act to build a better world. 

This is the purpose of our existence. Someone says to you, “Thank you for being here today. You made a big difference.” We feel happy. We feel fulfilled. 

Sometimes something important happens around us in our daily life – and we do nothing. At our ROLWA meeting we want to talk about this important issue or problem. But the starting point is our action. What do we do? 

We tell the members of our group, “I want to talk about something important. Today this important thing happened and I did nothing. I want to review my action. 

Was doing nothing a good response?”. 


Some participants said that one problem we have in ROLWA is that people do not know what to review. Because of this they come to the meeting unprepared. And so they do not want to participate fully in the the meeting. Why is this? 

I once went to a YCW meeting in another country. In this country the language of the people is a different language from the language used in meetings. I did not have a translator so I could not understand what they were saying but I will tell, you what 1 saw. 

The young workers all came into the meeting very active and alive. They greeted one another and the conversation was very enthusiastic and interested. This went on for about 30 to 40 minutes. And then the chairperson called for them to start the meeting. 

The whole atmosphere changed. They came to the table. They began to speak in the other language. Every thing became formal. The chairperson had to work to make them participate.

I think that we have all seen things similar to this in our own countries. But this is not the YCW. Probably what these young workers were doing before the meeting was better ROLWA than what they did in the meeting. 

Does this mean that ROLWA is only sharing about your life? This question has been raised many times. I think it has been answered well. 

Someone from Taiwan said, 

“To share with friends is different from ROLWA. You can use ROLWA with only two persons – but the emphasis of ROLWA is community and communication. Also ROLWA is not something you do only once – it is a continuing process. The advantage of a group is many opinions and backgrounds and the core of Christian inspiration.” 

Someone from Hong Kong said, 

We also share this problem. Sometimes it seems that ROLWA is just sharing. People sometimes just want to share their emotions. This is not enough. So the starting point must not just be our feeling. We must see what caused it. But ROLWA should be about our own self, not others.” 

What then should we review? We should start with our action, our life, things that are happening to us, things that are important and that affect us. Starting from our own life and action we will see the links that this has with a wider situation that we are also part of. 

This is what we should be reviewing. But among all the many situations affecting young workers, situations at the work place have a special importance. 


Work is central in our lives. 

A young person leaving school faces a whole new life. The most important question is, “What shall I do as my work?”. We all hope that work will be a happy place – that co workers will work together as a team. 

We hope that the boss will be easy to work with and that the work will be fulfilling and worth while. We all hope that there will be security in the job, opportunities for promotion and sufficient wages to be able to live happily. 

Probably for the next 50 years of our life we will spend most of the active time of our life at work. Even our holidays will be times of rest – to prepare for more work. 

If we are truly happy in our work, we will probably have a happy life. If we are truly unhappy in our work, then probably the whole of our life will be miserable. Work therefore is a most important subject for our review. 

Work is central in our problems. 

There is another reason. Cardijn believed in the value of every young worker – but he saw that employers seemed to treat them like animals or machines or tools of production. 

He saw that the main reason for the terrible oppression of young workers was the way that work was organised. He saw that this had to be changed in order to liberate the young workers. 

The problem still exists today. Pope John Paul, in his letter “On Human Work” wrote that work and work problems are probably the central cause of the injustice and social problems of the whole world. 

It is therefore very important that YCWs study and grow in awareness and action concerning the situations they face in their work places. 

Why We Sometimes Have Difficulty To “See”

Some participants also said that a problem they have with ROLWA is that people do not want to share personal things. They feel that ROLWA is too serious and too formal. Why is this? 

Perhaps it is partly because of the society that we live in. Young workers often do not work in a team any more but do individual work. They are isolated. Often they do not see the boss at all. They hear his orders from others. 

This society makes them individualistic and self centred. They have difficulty in believing in their value as a person. Employers often tell them that their employment is not secure – that they can easily be replaced. 

But when they come to a YCW meeting, the members see them and their situation as important and challenge them to take action. Is it any wonder that they feel threatened? 

Perhaps it is because the group is not yet sufficiently a community. No one is going to open up and talk about personal things unless he/she feels that what they say is going to be respected. There must be trust and confidence in the group. 

Japan Experience 

In Japan there is a group who have difficulty in organising a fixed time to meet because some of their members must work some overtime. How do they organise their meeting? 

The meeting is held in a worker’s house. The people who finish work on time come to the house and begin to prepare supper. As other arrive they join in this work. During this time they share with one another about what they have been doing. Finally all arrive and they sit and eat together. 

After the meal is over and the washing up done they can start the meeting. The meeting begins in an atmosphere of relaxation and confidence because of the meal they have shared and the sharing they have done. It is a good method. 

Hong Kong Experience 

In Hong Kong they have found that it is a good method to hold their ROLWA sometimes in a public place. Perhaps they go on a picnic and hold a ROLWA somewhere along the way. Sometimes they share a meal in a restaurant and hold the ROLWA there. 

Some Conclusions 

It is important to find ways to share with one another outside the meeting. We must find ways for the members to become real friends, trusting one another with a real community spirit.

Perhaps we YCW leaders of YCW lack some understanding or some skills to do ROLWA properly. 

Someone said that it often happens that when we begin to review we get caught up in the SEE section and people start changing the subject. Sometimes we talk a lot but never arrive at any action. 

Sometimes we do the judge section for the person without asking them what they believe. How does the person we are talking about feel then? Perhaps they decide that they will not share anything personal again. 

When this happens, the leaders have a responsibility to talk to the person after the meeting or perhaps to ring them during the week. Also we perhaps need some more formation for chairpersons to help them with the skills necessary to run the meeting well. 


Those with little experience often think of ROLWA as a method to deal with one individual problem or situation. Those who have more experience, know that it is not like that. 

ROLWA is a way of life – a way of thinking, and especially a way of acting. ROLWA groups become communities. They share many situations together. They know how one another think, their strengths and weaknesses, and they have shared a lot about values. 

People who are beginning in a ROLWA community have to reach that same stage. In both Hong Kong and Taiwan the YCW sometimes prepare and discuss a topic at their meeting. 

They say that members find it easier to discuss general topics without talking so personally about themselves. It is a good method to begin to share ideas and values and to build community. But perhaps it is better to call it a topic and not to call it ROLWA. 

The document “Review Of Life and Worker Action” explains well the process of ROLWA. The following “Nine Questions” are a summary of the ROLWA document and a practical method to use. 


Q 1. What Exactly Happened? 

If you want to review something, you should prepare a way to make it interesting and understandable to all the members. You should be able to tell other members why this is important to you. 

Japan YCW asks members to prepare also a question: What is your aspiration in this situation? This question helps other members to see your valuesand why this situation is so important for you. 

Q 2. What Are The Causes Of This? 

There are two types of causes – immediate causes and deeper, structural causes. For example: 

“I could not go to my brother’s party because I had to work overtime.” 

This is the immediate direct cause. 

“We have to do overtime became of unreasonable targets. The bosses try to get more work out of us than we can do. They try to get us to work longer hours without paying us more”. 

These are deeper structural causes. 

It is good also to ask whether we are partly to blame . For example: “Do you have to work overtime? Does labor law not protect you ? Are you just too afraid to speak up? 

Q 3. What Are The Consequences Of This 

Question 3. is too often neglected. Again we should look at immediate consequences (My family was angry with me) and deeper consequences. 

(‘Overtime work is preventing me from’ building deeped relationships with my family. J am becoming isolated in the family). 


Q 1. What Do You Think About This? 

Q 1. asks all members to give their reaction to the situation 1 what they think about the situation. 

The ROLWA document says: 

“It is important that everyone expresses his/her thoughts. 

The easy way out of relying on someone else who ‘knows more’ is of no value. 

It is necessary to make an effort to think – to make use of your thinking ability. 

This is how we will develop both our critical ability and our sense of responsibility.” 

The answers to this question could be: 

“I think your parents were right to get angry. Family celebrations are important.” 

“I think parents should understand the sorts of pressures that we young workers have at work.” 

“I think you should tell the boss that you won’t work overtime.” 

“I think you should be careful not to lose your job.” 

Q 2. What Do You Think Ought To Be Happening? 

This is an “aspiration” question. “How would you like things to be?” It is an important question to avoid the situation of just complaining about what is wrong. We have to see what is our solution. 

So if a member says, “I think your parents were right to get angry”, we would ask. Does that mean you think that family always comes before work?” 

To the person who said, “I think you should be careful not to lose your job,” we say, 

“Does that mean that you think that we should do anything the boss asks?” 

Q 3. What Does Your Faith/Belief/Values System Say About This? 

Q 3. challenges the answers we have made to the first two questions. It is very easy to become self centred and selfish. It is very easy to try to be “practical” and take the easy way out without challenging our actions by wider and deeper values. 

During the second world war the Germans declared war on the Jewish people. Many Jews were sent to concentration camps where they were used as human guinea pigs for medical research. Many of them were killed in gas chambers. 

Ordinary German people were given jobs where they had to do these outrageous things. Many felt that they could not be blamed for what they did because they had to obey orders. 

Similar things happen today. We live in a society that is controlled by a certain system. Sometimes that system is very wrong – e.g. the caste system in India today. We need this question to challenge the values and the system we live by. 

For Christians the question could be well replaced by, “What do you think Christ would do if He were in this situation?” As YCWs we take Christ’s lite and message and His project of liberation as the central core of our inspiration.


Q 1. What Do You Want To Change (Long Term Objective)? 

Q 1. reminds us of what Cardijn called the YCW Solution. There are many different methods for solving peoples’ problems For example: If you can not get enough money to live on in your job – do some study and get a better job. If the boss is bad at work – leave and find another boss. 

The problem with these solutions is that the problem is not solved. The young worker escapes his/her present situation but what about those who are left behind? What about those who will take their place? 

The YCW solution is not to escape from the problem but to try to solve it. We believe that a young worker faced with a problem has the responsibility not to run but to face and try to solve the problem. 

The answer to the question should be specific. It should be an answer that the person involved is convinced would solve the problem. Eg No more compulsory overtime. Workers have the right to refuse to work overtime without being penalised for this. 

Q 2. What Could You Do Now? A Step Towards Achieving Your Aim (short term objective)? 

The answer to Q 1. is a solution – but it does not say how to go about achieving this solution. Sometimes it will be a long process and we are not sure of success. However we begin the action by taking an action that will be a step towards that solution. 

The action we decide on should have certain qualities. It should be: 

1. An achievable action: It must be something that the person knows that they could do – it is not impossible to achieve. 

2. A courageous action: Commitment and formation are achieved by committed and courageous action. 

3. A worthwhile action: The action should be something that the person believes is a step forward. If this action in done and if it is successful, then some progress has been made. 

And so we would not choose as our action: That the chaplain find our about labor law on compulsory overtime. But we might choose: That the young worker go to the union and find out what labor law says. 

Q 3. Who Could You Involve In Your Action? 

Q 3. reminds us of the YCW saying: “A good leader never acts alone.” We should always be trying to build community of people in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces as well as in our group. 

How can we involve others? Perhaps another member of the group would like to accompany the young worker when he/she goes to the union. 

Perhaps we could suggest that the young worker also discusses this problem and what he/she has learnt about labor law with the co-workers. 

All of this is a first step. The action will be reported at the next meeting. The group will reflect about what has been achieved and new action will be decided upon. 


The YCW method of ROLWA is not based on the situation of factory workers in 19th century Europe. It is based on human nature – on the deepest meaning of human life. 

Joseph Cardijn had a great vision of the dignity and worth of every person. Each has something unique to offer. Every person must be respected and given freedom to participate and contribute with dignity. 

A terrible contradiction to this vision existed in his time. Young workers in the factories were compelled to live and work in inhuman conditions. And so Cardijn founded the YCW. 

The YCW from its many years of experience learned how to organise young factory workers. It continues to do this work very effectively today, in the countries of the third world. 

But today there are also many workers (in the more developed countries) who do not work in factories. Most of them do not live the material poverty of their brothers and sisters in third world countries.. 

Instead they live another sort of poverty. They are “co-opted” into the system. They accept materialistic values. They compete with one another to gain some advantage. They become alone and isolated. 

Many have lost the fundamental human need of a community to support them. They live lives of intense pressure and busy-ness. Others live the boredom and bitterness of unemployment. 

Young workers face these contradictions in their work lives. Young workers must find the solutions. As in Cardijn’s time this will demand awareness, reflection and action. 

It often happens that those who live a new era fail to see what others, who can look back, see clearly. This must not happen to us today. 

The ROLWA method of growing in awareness, reflection and taking action for change is our answer to the exciting challenge of the new work revolution in post industrial society. 

– Hugh O’Sullivan