The Jeunesse ouvrière chrétienne (Christian Working Youth[i] (CWY)) is a popular education movement that allows for youth to collectively organize themselves in building a more just world[ii]. Their arrival in Quebec goes as far back as 1932[iii]. In order to contain the turmoil caused by the economic crisis, it helped the distressed and those left to their own devices by the system. From its beginning on the Quebec Providence scene, the CWY has led investigations into the conditions of workers in order to incite the government to put in place social programs such as unemployment insurance. Since then, they haven’t stopped fighting for the improvement of the living and working conditions of Quebec’s youth. The CWY thus represents a historical actor for social and political awareness for the working class.
In 1986, to financially support the activities of CWYers, a foundation was established, one that is called the Fondation JOC (CWY Foundation). This latter distinguishes itself in Quebec’s philanthropic ecosystem. Its religious and social philosophy gives place to an uncommon philanthropic model. In fact, it shows several characteristics that we rarely find in other foundations: they have an approach based on social justice, they are imbedded in a social and religious movement, they take on a political vocation and they are interested in problems of the working world. In a nutshell, several traits of the foundation contribute to its particular character. To throw some light on this foundation, we interviewed Mr. Pierre Viau, president of the CWY Foundation.
G.P.: What was your path within the CWY before your arrival at the presidency of the foundation?
P.V.: Myself, I am a priest by profession. In 1973-1974, I was living in Gatineau, near Hull. There was a CWY in that area, but it wasn’t very strong. At that period, there were bishops that were more leftists; now it’s rather quiet … There was Bishop Proulx that would tell me: “Well! I would like you to do some CWY, so hang out where the youth are, go meet the young workers”. He knew very well that they weren’t going to church. So I hung out in bars and taverns a lot. I did that a lot! Youth that were on unemployment insurance were often found in parks in the summer or shopping malls in the winter. So I would sit there, and after seeing me there often, people started talking to me. This is how I started CWY groups in Gatineau.
Also, as it is a national movement, well, sometimes, there were meetings with youth from Valleyfield, Black Lake, Thetford, Quebec, Montreal, Chicoutimi. And they’d all go to Montreal. They would come to what we called the Central. It’s a large building and that is where we held our meetings. As I was very involved in the movement, I was asked to become the national responsible adult, with other youths, for all of Quebec; which I did for five years.
Then, the movement also being international, there were continental offices: in the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia. The CWYers of South America came here and wanted me over there. I accepted and left for Bogota for the continental CWY, which was a coordination of national movements. It was stronger than today…
When I came back from Bogota, I started to collaborate with a journal that doesn’t exist anymore, that was called Vie Ouvrière[iv] (Worker Life[v]). It was a Christian journal in link with the CWY. The Movement of Christian workers[vi] (MCW) was involved as well – it’s a worker movement with a leftist Christian tendency, but not necessarily Marxist. People were saying how there should be a chronicle in the journal on the changing face of immigration. I didn’t know anything about it, but I decided to do it; and so I went rummaging around.
That is how I restarted getting involved here when I got back from Bogota. Afterwards, the CWY asked me to be one of the rare people – because there are hardly any left – to be an adult accompanier. We were two who accompanied the three or four youths who were the national responsible members in charge of Quebec’s CWY. And then, I realized how complicated it had become … Because I saw that youth’s reality was not at all how it was in the past. Not at all!
D.G.P: Indeed, the CWY has been present for a long time in Quebec and the face of Quebec society has profoundly changed. What has changed in today’s youth’s reality and affects the CWY?
P.V.: Everything! Personally, when I was at the CWY, in the 60s, there were no students at the CWY. It was only workers or those on unemployment insurance. Then there was an evolution with the famous on-call jobs, like hours being cut at McDonald’s. Then there were many who studied and worked at the same time. In my time it wasn’t like that at all: you worked and you worked. It wasn’t good jobs, it was factory work. Back then, we grouped youth together by area of work: the social-insurance youths together, the factory workers together, the office workers together, etc. So we grouped together youth that were living common realities and they started up actions. Sometimes, it seemed like nothing, but fighting to have toilet paper in the factory, we’ve seen it happen. And then people had to fight, make sure there was no visible leader, if not they’d get fired. They had to develop strategies.
Today it’s “work” and “studies”, so it makes finding moments to meet for the youth very complicated. They all have impossible schedules, it makes no sense! And it really, really, really, complicates the CWY’s organizational work. Therefore, the reality of youths has changed a lot and the movement must take that into consideration. If we didn’t consider it, the movement would have died a long time ago. But it remains complicated, very complicated. Everything is precarious. Personally, when I was in the CWY, it wasn’t so insecure. Everything is insecure now, even romantic relationships.
But we can’t blame it on the youth. It’s society that made them what they are, it isn’t their fault. But it creates big problems. For example, if you want to survive in this context, a long-term culture or mentality doesn’t exist. They have a short-term mentality.
D.G.P: Does the CWY manage to adapt? How do they do it?
P.V.: Yes! They adapt. First of all, only having “pure” Quebeckers, that time is over. The CWY includes Blacks, Latinos, Asians … Before it wasn’t like that. It was mostly Catholic French-Canadians. They didn’t go to church but they were all baptized Catholics. Now it’s no longer that at all. Which poses a challenge because it’s called CWY: youth, that’s fine! Worker, that’s no longer the trend…they’ll more likely say “young workers”. And, Christian, well, it bothers the youth. They know the movement has Christian values, but going to the length of telling people that they’re Christian…Oh my God! It could seem “outdated” for some.
The primary goal of the movement it to transmit the values of the CWY so that youth become responsible of what it is they are living. The CWY is a movement of action. It is not a movement of sitting and praying. It’s a movement of action with the method of ‘See, Judge, Act’: First you see if others are living the same reality as you. Then you judge if that reality makes sense or not, and why that is so. And the third step: “what do we do? What do we do this week or in two weeks?” So the youths develop through action.
From now on, the movement participates in a lot of coalitions. For example, in Montreal, there exists a group for the defense of paperless immigrant rights and the CWY is present. The 1st of May, at the International Worker’s Day, there isn’t much anymore, but they are still there anyway. What else do youths do when they get together? There are some who do self-reflection exercises. They are all in debt, so they reflect on being in debt. They will do get-togethers for collective cooking. That works! Sometimes, they’ll do theatre. They don’t have any vacation these people. They are no longer enough to group themselves by sector. They will do, for example, camping rallies. One weekend, they’ll all take an unpaid weekend off together, they have fun, and at the same time they take the time to reflect on the right to vacation time. It creates links between youth that come from elsewhere. Now, it’s stuff like that that they do. So the CWY has changed yes, but it is mostly youth that have changed.
D.G.P: Under what circumstances was the CWY Foundation created? What is its function regarding the CWYer movement?
P.V.: How did the Foundation come to be? It started in 1986 while I was over in South America. The CWY had a significant three-floor office in Ville Saint-Laurent and they decided to sell it to buy a smaller one, which brought along a good-sized amount of money for them. The foundation served to protect the CWY because the Church didn’t like it very much; they looked down on it a little. When I say the Church, I mean the authorities. To avoid the Church putting a hand on the CWY’s nest egg, those in charge of the CWY and previous CWYers slyly created the CWY Foundation with the amount received from the sale of the building on Décarie. They bought another house close to here on Montsabré.
The foundation was thus created from the income generated by this sale. It is also financed thanks to an annual fundraising campaign. The donors are mostly past members of the CWY, a few religious communities too, but not many, before there were more. So that is how the Foundation came to be. And there aren’t 300 people at the general assembly. A foundation doesn’t attract crowds. Nonetheless, we have members, I would say around forty of them. Anyone who adheres to the three-four objectives of the mission can ask to become a member, and we obviously accept. But they don’t come running; it’s not a metro station. But these people, they grow old and die. There are some quite elderly people.
In fact, the foundation, is a way to continue financially contributing for those who want to remain involved in the CWY. However, it is decreasing, as people are dying. The old members leave us and are no longer there to give. So we must adapt to the reality that the campaigns are decreasing. We might collect 60 000$ annually. It isn’t zero, but we don’t give 60 000$ to the CWY every year, never. It will decrease again this year; I doubt if we will even reach 45 000$. Angèle for example is very generous, but she’s 95 years old!
D.G.P.: How does the foundation adjust itself regarding the decrease in income coming from ex-CWYers?
P.V.: The first way is with the foundation’s building, where the CWY’s offices are. We rent out offices in there to other movements of catholic action: the CWM (Christian Worker Movement), the CSY (Christian Student Youth), which was on Brébeuf Street. Their national office is now with us on Montsabré. Not too long ago, a youth that was launching a small software company was asking us for an office for a start-up. So we rented him an office, meaning that there are more ins-and-outs. And we will most likely rent out for two other projects. We do this because it gives us extra income. Thus, we are looking to maximize the building and the offices that belong to the CWY. It allows us to compensate a bit, but not as much.
The second aspect that we’re looking to adjust is to better monetize the management of our assets. Before I arrived, it was a very conservative financial management. I told them that it wasn’t working: “a responsible investment policy exists, so we will apply one”. That’s what we’re working on right now, it’s not done yet. We want our assets to bring in more than the 1 or 2% that we’re getting now: which is ridiculous. We are the trustees of a fund and we have to operate it! You see, it wasn’t a tradition for the people who were on the Board to understand finance. Personally I know a little about it, because of RRSE (Group for Corporate Social Responsibility[vii]). It won’t be me who manages that, I don’t know enough, but I know it can work in another way.
Now things are moving, moving a lot, because a few portfolio managers are signatories of PRI[viii], and we are putting pressure on our members to push their portfolio managers to become signatories. Personally, if someone isn’t a signatory of the PRI, we won’t take them. And if they aren’t, do they intend to become one? You have to push, it’s a form of activism. This year, that’s what we’re in. We’re profoundly getting up-to-date.
D.G.P.: What does the CWY Foundation mainly finance?
P.V.: So, we only finance a part of the CWY’s wages, and not full-time wages. There are five employees at the CWY, all part-time because they’re also studying. The CWY has other sources of funding; they don’t only have the Foundation. They are financed by the Quebec government. They are financed by certain religious communities and also by the Assemblée des Évêques du Québec (Quebec Assembly of Bishops), but they are constantly decreasing their contributions.
So that’s it, the CWY is still there, but they are not strong. Will they become stronger? I have no idea. The Foundation is made to help the CWY, period. We can’t help other groups. It’s exclusively the CWY. Personally I’d like for it to change a little, but it’s not happening yet. I would like for us to help movements and groups that are similar to CWY, that resemble them, but aren’t part of it. Because I do know of such a group of a dozen youths. It’s not CWY, there’s a social dimension, slightly activist, but not in the same way. It’s more about self-development, taking charge, becoming a leader in society. They have good ideas! They want to express themselves through music and poetry.
The other day they were looking for money for a project and I proposed financing them to the Board. There was a discussion, but it didn’t pass.
D.G.P.: You were saying that the foundation is a member of RRSE. What does your work within this group and in the socially responsible investment movement consist of?
P.V.: At the RRSE, we mostly give training to our members – we do three or four meetings per year – and we make some dialogue, but we get others to do it now. Before we were two, the other one took care of the research and dialogue while I worked on member relations. We worked with Bâtirente for our dialogues with companies, the pension plan of CSN employees. When we celebrated the 10 year anniversary of the RRSE, we were proud of the work that was accomplished, but I must add that we had to ask ourselves where the group would be in another ten years. We had to find a way to transmit the intuition at the origin of RRSE to society.
From there came the idea of founding a company called Aequo. Wow! How much time did I spend on that? First, we had to convince the members to build an alliance with the union. Not easy! For a few it was the Devil, and they were against it.
Oh my god! How many information sessions did we organize in Quebec, on the South Shore and in Montreal to convene people and try to convince them. RRSE and Batirente are shareholders in equal parts in the company. The religious communities put a lot of money into the creation of Aequo.
But RRSE can’t make dialogue, they are not shareholders, it is the members that are shareholders. So I have to manage all of that. For example, we sent a letter to Alimentation Couche Tard. It is Aequo who is speaking in the name of the shareholders, but they have to agree for it to be sent. We did a round of the members, there were seven or eight who were shareholders and they all accepted to say yes to the letter. And we have three committees made up of volunteers: the Energy committee, the Mining committee – because the mining industry, they make a mess everywhere – and there’s the committee for responsible supplying.
As a conclusion, we would like to bring attention to an element that was at the heart of this interview: the need for the CWY movement to adjust its practices with regard to the contemporary transformations of Quebec society. If the CWY is no longer what it used to be, it is seeking out several ways to adapt and to refresh its pertinence as a positive agent of social change.
For example, organizing an action movement like the CWY is not an easy task with the situation of youths today: employment insecurity, mobility and overloaded schedules where work and studies get mixed up. Without even mentioning that the CWY has a lot less youths in its ranks and that its supports within the Church have crumbled. To do so, the CWY youth must revise their organizational methods and attack new problems such as being in debt and the right to vacation time.
With regard to the CWY Foundation, they must deal with an aging donor circle, which is more and more significantly affecting their fundraising campaigns. To compensate for this constant decrease in funds, the foundation had to find new sources of income through the renting of their offices and by maximizing the management of their assets. What is more, other than the monetization of their investment portfolio, the foundation is involved in RRSE; which represents an opportunity to prolong its social action into the area of socially responsible investment.
[i] My own translation
[iv] The journal was archived by the BAnQ : http://numerique.banq.qc.ca/patrimoine/details/52327/2225924
[v] My translation
[vii] My translation
[viii] The PRI, or Principles of Responsible Investments, are composed of six principles decreed by the UN. These principles aim at establishing the bases of a sustainable finance. Investors from around the world are signatories of PRI and commit to putting them into practice