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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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2 Beyond Gompers: The American Federation of Labor, the Creation of the ILO, and vsLabor Dissent 41


8=6EI:G Beyond Gompers: The American Federation of Labor, the Creation of the >AD, and JH Labor Dissent Elizabeth McKillen The short, stocky figure of American Federation of Labor (6;A) President Samuel Gompers looms large in accounts of the creation of the Interna- tional Labour Organization (>AD) at the Versailles Peace Conference in . As president of the Commission on International Labour Legisla- tion (hereafter, the Commission) during the peace conference, Gomp- ers directed the proceedings that created the >AD and forced British and European delegates to modify several proposals that would have given the new organization broad powers to create international labor legislation. Gompers also stubbornly (though unsuccessfully) opposed a British pro- posal to establish a tripartite membership structure for the >AD, which man- dated that each national delegation to the organization be comprised of two representatives from government, one from business, and one from labor. Although not an opponent of tripartism, Gompers sought equal rep- resentation for state, business, and labor delegates within the >AD. Gompers additionally feuded with other members of the Commission over colonial representation within the >AD, the Labour Charter, and a number of proce- dural matters. The frustration felt by British and European representatives toward their American colleague was palpable by the end of the confer- ence, despite their efforts to maintain a veneer of diplomatic goodwill. In accounting for the differences between Gompers and his European counterparts, scholars have blamed Gompers’s obstinate personality, his conservative voluntarist philosophy, and his strict constructionist interpre-...

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