Both the HOAC and the ACLI belonged to an international association of Catholic workers’ organizations which served as an umbrella for Catholic Action groupings oriented towards the adult working-class milieu. Catholic trade unions were usually operating within the orbit of the International Federation of Christian Trade Unions, perhaps best known under the French initials CISC (Confederation Internationale des Syndicats Chretiens). Specialized Catholic Action organizations targeting young Catholic workers had already begun to establish an international umbrella for such youth groups in the inter-wartime period, given that the Jeunesse Ouvriere Chretienne had been launched—first in Belgium, then in France, then elsewhere—earlier than their equivalent adult groupings.

It was not until 1951 that an International Federation of the Christian Workers Movement was created for the purpose of grouping Catholic Action organizations active within the adult working-class milieu, thus setting up a third pillar of international Catholic organizations targeting workers alongside the CISC and the International of Young Christian Workers.[1] Its first dozen years or so were, to some extent, hampered by internal divisions which centred on the decision by some groupings to create a Catholic pillar in their respective societies from cradle to grave, complete with the provision of Catholic trade unions and political organizations, whereas other branches concentrated on evangelical tasks, leaving it up to individual members to choose their terrain for trade union and political work within pre-existing secular organizations. By the late 1950s, a decision was taken to restructure the international federation to enable the two potentially conflicting tendencies to overcome those obstacles and to create what became the World Movement of Christian Workers, again probably best known internationally by its French initials: MMTC.

After several hiccups, the MMTC finally got off the ground in May 1966 at the seventy-fifth anniversary celebrations of the first important papal social encyclical, Rerum Novarum. The official call for this ‘Constituent Assembly of the World Movement of Christian Workers’ proudly proclaimed in its English-language version: ‘More than 20,000 workers from European countries, together with a great number of delegates from other continents, will attend a mass, presided by Pope Paul VI, in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. Mass will be followed by a solemn audience during which the Pope will address to the workers a message which will resound as a powerful echo of the Vatican Council. The Assembly itself will open on Monday, 23 May. It is neither a General Convention nor a public meeting. It will be kind of a working party, lasting the whole week’, with select representatives from various national constituent organizations taking active part in it.[2]

Total membership of the MMTC approached the two million mark for its European sections alone. The single largest battalion within the MMTC was none other than the Italian ACLI, followed by the four Belgian groupings belonging to the MMTC, together accounting for more than half a million members, with Germany ranking third with more than 400,000 members.[3] The MMTC was thus a giant workers’ organization representing significant parts of the Catholic working-class communities in various countries; and it is thus astounding to realize that, to date, there exists no published study of this influential federation.[4] As was the case in my subchapter on the Jeunesse Etudiante Chretienne Internationale at the end of Chapter 4, I cannot do full justice to the wealth of discussion, activism, and exchanges within the MMTC in this subchapter. All I wish to do, for the moment, is to draw attention to the indisputable fact that the MMTC got caught up in the whirlwind of post- Vatican II sentiments reinforced by the spirit of ’68, just as much as virtually all other Catholic international associations within and outside Catholic Action.

The remarkable story of the HOAC’s precocious radicalization as early as the 1950s stands, of course, without parallel in the history of the MMTC, and this Spanish Sonderweg is entirely due to the Iberian peculiarities described earlier in this chapter. In virtually all other cases, the MMTC’s sections remained loyal subjects of the Catholic hierarchy far into the 1960s. But when the impulses delivered by Vatican II were quickly followed by the explosions of social movements starting in and around 1968, the dyke burst within the MMTC as much as in most of its individual sections.

  • [1] ‘International Christian Workers’ Movement—Some Historical Facts’, p. 2—Archief Mou-vement Mondial des Travailleurs Chretiens (MMTC), Documentation and Research Centre forReligion, Culture and Society (KADOC) [Leuven, Belgium], 1.1/3.
  • [2] ‘The Constituent Assembly of the World Movement of the Christian Workers. Rome,23-29 May 1966’, p. 1—MMTC, 1.1/3.
  • [3] Robert de Gendt, ‘Continental Report Europe’, written on the occasion of the foundingconference. To appreciate the Belgian figures, one should note that the entire country onlycounted ten million citizens!—MMTC 1.1/11.
  • [4] The most informative unpublished attempt to portray the outlines and contours of theMMTC remains the June 1995 licentiaatsverhandeling by Ann Daenens, ‘De Wereldbewegingvan Christelijke Arbeiders (1961-1983). De mundialisering van de christelijke arbeidersbewe-ging’, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Faculteit Letteren, Departement Geschiedenis. Daenens,however, pays relatively little attention to the issues at the centre of my own concern in thischapter.
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