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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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12 A Shift in the Centre of Gravity: The ILO under Harold Butler and John G. Winant 293


8=6EI:G A Shift in the Centre of Gravity: The >AD under Harold Butler and John G. Winant Stephen Hughes and Nigel Haworth At the institutional core of international organization are the rules, regu- lations, and agreed procedures for which it is responsible. In this respect, the primary function of international organization is the formation and development of an international regime regulating areas in which there exists a convergence of international interest and cooperation. The early optimism surrounding labour’s success in the Versailles Peace Treaty was tempered by a realization that the survival of international agreements on labour standards was dependent upon continued international support and the rapid establishment of the International Labour Organization (>AD) as an independent and politically viable entity. The support of the industrial powers was therefore important in providing the economic and political infrastructure for the >AD to develop this regime. Critical to this process were the activities of officials charged with ensuring that the organiza- tion was firmly established in the increasingly unstable terrain of interwar, intergovernmental politics and anchored in the international concerns of member states. With the interwar world in an economic depression and engaging in “beggar thy neighbour” protectionism, the new dawn of international cooperation seemed to be over before it had begun. While the League of Nations’ powers appeared stillborn, the >AD assiduously promoted the benefits of >AD membership. Driving this effort was the certainty within the >AD’s leadership that national labour standards encompassed an interna- tional dimension, linking national...

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