Labour and Workers: Tripartism in Action
Established by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, with the aim of contributing towards universal peace based on social justice, the International Labour Organization (ILO) survived the disappearance of the League of Nations.
Its founders were convinced that peace depends upon the social well-being of all peoples, and that it was necessary to have an organisation responsible for improving labour conditions and ensuring respect for fundamental human rights.
The ILO is based on the principle, set forth in its Constitution, that there can be no universal and lasting peace without social justice. It seeks to promote internationally recognised human and labour rights. It became the first United Nations specialized agency in 1946 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on its fiftieth anniversary in 1969, presented to David A. Morse, Director-General of the International Labour Organization.
Tripartism in Action
On 11 December 1969, David Morse stated "The ILO in short offered the world an alternative to social strife: it provided it with the procedures and techniques of bargaining and negotiation to replace violent conflict as a means of securing more human and dignified conditions of work … its tripartite structure has also enabled it to broaden the scope of cooperation between countries. The ILO is still the only worldwide organization where international cooperation is the business not only of diplomats and government representatives, but also of the representatives of employers and workers."
The ILO tripartite structure makes it unique in the UN system where representatives of employers and workers take part on an equal footing with governments in the work of its governing bodies. The ILO draws up international conventions and recommendations setting minimum labour standards. It strives to increase the possibilities of decent employment for men and women and to expand social protection for all workers.
The permanent secretariat of the ILO is based in Geneva, Switzerland. It is represented by Regional offices in Africa, Asia and the Americas and has a presence in most countries of the regions.
Architect of peace
French historian, journalist, politician and Socialist minister, Albert Thomas (1878-1932) was above all a remarkable man of action. As first Director of the ILO, he is remembered as an architect of peace. The role of the Organization rapidly grew in importance thanks to his creative enthusiasm.
The ILO became the place where governments, employers and trade unions representatives adopted international conventions: in 1919, on hours of work in industry, maternity protection and minimum age in industry; in 1927, on sickness insurance in industry and agriculture; in 1930, on forced labour.
With his boundless energy and a deep faith in the urgency of his mission, Albert Thomas was constantly in the front line of the struggle for workers’ rights. Until his death in 1932, he strove with passion to make the ILO an efficient instrument for durable universal peace based on social justice.
Labour and Workers
The Declaration of Philadelphia adopted by the International Labour Conference at its 26th Session on 10 May 1944 declares "Labour is not a commodity, freedom of expression and of association are essential to sustained progress, poverty anywhere constitutes a danger for prosperity everywhere."
Approaching its ninetieth year, the ILO remains in the vanguard of protecting and improving labour conditions and ensuring respect for fundamental human rights for all workers around the world. Its assistance takes the form of labour rights and industrial relations, counselling, employment promotion, training in small business development, project management, advice on social security, workplace safety and working conditions, the compiling and dissemination of labour statistics and workers’ education.
Labour Day is traditionally celebrated on l May and in many countries has become an officially recognised paid holiday. In a show of solidarity workers and their representatives gather in parades and demonstrations to call for improving labour conditions and ensuring respect for fundamental human rights for workers throughout the world.
Note:Acknowledgement is given to all sources used in preparation of this text. It follows published articles about the history of the ILO and origins of Labour Day (Ita Marguet, 2004 - 2007), including UNION 336, May-June 2004, for the 85th anniversary year of the International Labour Organization.