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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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6 The ILO and Welfare Reform in South Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, 1919-1950 145


8=6EI:G The >AD and Welfare Reform in South Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, - Jeremy Seekings From its foundation in , the International Labour Organization (>AD) sought to promote minimum standards in the regulation of employment and social welfare not only in the more industrialized countries of Europe and North America, but also in the colonies and independent states of the global “South”. Whilst the regulation of labour and public provision of welfare lagged far behind regulation in most of Europe and even North America, a series of countries in the South began to introduce reforms in the s, s, and s. The >AD sought to promote and shape these reforms, through its annual International Labour Conferences [hereafter, “>A8(s)”], the conventions and recommendations adopted at them, and the documents produced by the International Labour Office [hereafter, “Office”]. The literature on welfare-state-building tends to concentrate entirely on political, social, and economic conditions inside countries. In build- ing – and later rebuilding – welfare states, policy-makers typically drew on ideas (including norms and beliefs rooted in religion) from both home and abroad. Prominent among the foreign “ideas” were the actual models of welfare states constructed (or proposed) elsewhere and hence available for replication (perhaps with adjustments). Ideas might only be taken up if they are congruent with the interests of politically powerful elites or par- ties and are actionable within existing state institutions. But, at the same time, parties and elites typically act only when appealing ideas are avail- able; “structures...

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