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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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3 Demands on the ILO by Internationally Organized Women in 1919 67


8=6EI:G Demands on the >AD by Internationally Organized Women in Ulla Wikander That the f irst international body to come into effective operation was expressly concerned […] with problems of industry and with the conditions under which ordinary citizens of the world work and live, is signif icant […] of the new estimate which statesmen are inclined or compelled to place on the views and requirements of the working population. At the founding of the International Labour Organization (>AD) in , women were not treated as ordinary citizens: only men were in decision- making positions in the new organization. The wording in the so-called Labour Charter – by which the >AD was founded in Chapter M>>> of the Treaty of Versailles – gave some women hope for fair treatment and an opportunity for their wishes to be heard. The text read that “universal peace” had to be “based upon social justice” concerning “conditions of labour”. Women did indeed try to include themselves in the category of “labour” with actions, petitions, lobbying, and by publicly organizing in both Paris and Washington in when the new international organiza- tion was created. They wanted to have a say about women’s conditions in the labour market – which were not the same as those of men – and how to change them in a way they could accept as “just”. This article will deal with two themes concerning women’s attempts to be heard. One is that women attempted to get some quite radical views and requirements integrated into the...

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