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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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9 “Special Circumstances” in Geneva: The ILO and the World of Non-Metropolitan Labour in the Interwar Years 221


8=6EI:G “Special Circumstances” in Geneva: The >AD and the World of Non-Metropolitan Labour in the Interwar Years Susan Zimmermann* The foundation of the International Labour Organization (>AD) in was seen as a historic breakthrough by most of the groups and organiza- tions that had campaigned at the national and international level, often for decades, for the establishment of social-policy and labour-policy regula- tion. The political and institutional importance of the >AD seemed guar- anteed by its close connection with the newly formed League of Nations, the first international organization set up between states on a permanent basis and with a broad mandate, and by the tripartite organizational struc- ture that guaranteed the representation of the interests of workers, govern- ments, and employers. For many who saw themselves as representatives of working-class interests and champions of international social legisla- tion, the combination of these two factors, irrespective of the compromises that were involved from the start in the foundation of the >AD, definitively amounted to “the beginning of a new process”. The covenant of the League of Nations already contained the funda- mental obligation that the members “will endeavour to secure and main- tain fair and humane conditions of labour for men, women, and children, both in their own countries and in all countries to which their commercial * The staff of the Cluster–Bibliothek of the Federal Ministry for Economics and Labour in Vienna, who handled the library’s comprehensive >AD collection until , as well as the staff of the...

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