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ILO Histories

Essays on the International Labour Organization and Its Impact on the World During the Twentieth Century


Edited By Jasmien Van Daele, Magaly Rodriguez Garcia and Geert van Goethem

In 2009, the International Labour Organization (ILO) celebrated its ninetieth anniversary. The First World War and the revolutionary wave it provoked in Russia and elsewhere were powerful inspirations for the founding of the ILO. There was a growing understanding that social justice, in particular by improving labour conditions, was an essential precondition for universal peace. Since then, the ILO has seen successes and set-backs; it has been ridiculed and praised. Much has been written about the ILO; there are semi-official histories and some critical studies on the organization’s history have recently been published. Yet, further source-based critical and comprehensive analyses of the organization’s origins and development are still lacking. The present collection of eighteen essays is an attempt to change this unsatisfactory situation by complementing those histories that already exist, exploring new topics, and offering new perspectives. It is guided by the observation that the ILO’s history is not primarily about «elaborating beautiful texts and collecting impressive instruments for ratification» but about effecting «real change and more happiness in peoples’ lives».


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1 Writing ILO Histories: A State of the Art 13


8=6EI:G Writing >AD Histories: A State of the Art Jasmien Van Daele Studying the history of the International Labour Organization (>AD) is desirable for several reasons. First, the >AD has been a trendsetter among international organizations in three different roles: as a standard setter (by creating labour standards via conventions and recommendations), as a technical assistance agency, and as an international centre of expertise on labour and work issues. Second, the organization was (and still is) unique in its tripartite structure. Whereas all other international organizations (such as the United Nations) consist exclusively of representatives of national states, the >AD brings together governments, employers and trade unions at all its levels of decision-making. This combined structure of governmen- tal and non-governmental constituents has remained unchanged up to the present day. Third, the >AD is the oldest international organization of the twentieth century. Founded in , the >AD celebrated its ninetieth year in . The organization was established as the first specialized agency within the League of Nations. But unlike the League, the >AD survived the Second World War and became part of the succeeding United Nations (JC) system. As one of the very few international organizations with such a lengthy and unbroken history, the >AD is an interesting research topic for historians. This chapter will review the existing literature on >AD history and draw the general evolution and the particular contours of ninety years of >AD historiography. Since the early days, a considerable body of literature has accumulated in many...

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