The challenge facing unions in recruiting younger workers is a comparatively recent concern, prompted by years of decline. As such, there is very little comparable discussion prior to the 1980s. This article takes a longer view. Using previously unpublished survey data from the early 1960s, we show that patterns of membership and attitudes to unions were more complex than headline figures might suggest. Specifically, we highlight areas of weakness associated with organising strategy at the time, and suggest some implications with subsequent trends. More generally, the data presents a unique insight into the lives of young workers in the early 1960s and their relationship with their trade unions.