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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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13 Phelan’s War: The International Labour Organization in Limbo (1941-1948) 313


8=6EI:G Phelan’s War: The International Labour Organization in Limbo (-) Geert Van Goethem Although Edward Phelan’s term is listed as - in the directors-gen- eral’s gallery, he only actually held the position for just over a year. Not only was this Phelan’s personal misfortune, it also illustrates the weakness of the institution that was, during a period of instability that made a war inevitable, more than ever a pawn on the chessboard of world politics. Born in Ireland in , Edward Phelan, was a product of the British Civil Service. In he became a member of the Intelligence Depart- ment of the newly created Ministry of Labour and was closely involved in the negotiations that led to the establishment of the International Labour Organization (>AD). During the Paris Peace Conference he was secretary of the Labour Section of the British delegation. At that time he worked in close cooperation with people such as Samuel Gompers, the American chairman of the Commission on Labour Legislation. He acted as principal secretary during the Washington Conference. As a result he was probably the best-informed civil servant at a time when Albert Thomas, the brand new director of the >AD, was ready to set up his team. He became one of the first staff members of the >AD and successively worked his way up from chief of the diplomatic service, to assistant director (), and to deputy director (). Phelan was a civil servant – an administrator at heart – nei- ther a governor nor a true...

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