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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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8 Borderline Work: ILO Explorations onto the Housing Scene until 1940 197


8=6EI:G Borderline Work: >AD Explorations onto the Housing Scene until Pierre-Yves Saunier The initial years of the International Labour Organization (>AD) and Inter- national Labour Office [hereafter, “Office”] were characterized by a delib- erate impetus to consolidate the status of the new organization and its secretariat, but also by significant attempts to expand its sphere of action. Albert Thomas, the Office’s first director, claimed very early that the treaty forged at the Paris Peace Conference empowered the >AD to concern itself with more than the eight-hour workday and other industrial condi- tions. In , he felt confident enough to suggest that the Cooperative Section of the Office would be the most appropriate administrative plat- form to conquer this “wider sphere”, because the cooperative movement was deeply engaged with issues pertaining to workers’ living conditions. Among these, wrote Thomas, housing and transport facilities were espe- cially important for the welfare of workers. Thomas’s own views about housing favoured cooperative and governmental action to facilitate hous- ing construction or to build housing, the same solutions that had been endorsed by the Groupe d’Etudes Socialistes, the “think tank” of his munici- pal socialism, during the early s. Most of his subsequent attempts to place housing within the >AD’s domain, however, did not materialize on the agenda of annual International Labour Conferences [hereafter, “>A8(s)”] nor did they form the basis of any generic housing convention or rec- ommendation while he headed the organization. Resistance from within the >AD Governing Body, carried by...

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