The Origins of Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and the Right to Organize

By Dunning, Harold | International Labour Review, January 1, 1998 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Origins of Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and the Right to Organize

Dunning, Harold, International Labour Review


During 1998, trade unionists in virtually all countries of the world will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the adoption (on 9 July 1948) by the International Labour Conference of the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87). There will be meetings, speeches, ringing declarations, publications, dedications of a wide variety of forms.

Why is this so? Were there similar events on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of Conventions Nos. 7, 17, 27, 37 and so on? In fact, there is no precedent. Very few trade unionists could identify by name these other Conventions. Yet it would be all but impossible to find any trade union office in the world where Convention No. 87 is not only well known but also held in high esteem.

The very foundation of the trade union movement is the need for workers to join forces in their collective defence and for the advancement of their interests. Convention No. 87 does not guarantee these objectives; what it does is to promote the recognition that workers have rights related to the establishment and the functioning of trade unions, and the adoption by all ILO member States of laws or regulations which protect those rights. The Convention covers the rights of employers in parallel with those of workers, but there is no comparison between the two. Cases of the alleged infringement of employers' rights to associate freely arise rarely, whereas, as will be seen later, complaints from workers' organizations are received almost daily by the International Labour Office even now, fifty years on.

Convention No. 87 is normally referred to, for convenience, as the Convention on Freedom of Association, but it goes far beyond the simple right to join a trade union (or an employers' organization). Other important rights included are the right of workers' and employers' organizations to draw up their own constitutions and rules, to elect their own representatives, to formulate their own programmes, and to join federations, national and international; and to do this without interference by the public authorities. The Convention is therefore an important element in the protection of civil and political rights, namely the right to democracy. Freedom to form and join employers' or workers' organizations would be of only limited value if such organizations were subject to governmental or other external control over their internal administration. Respect for the law of the land is another matter - that is covered by Article 8' and, except in certain cases where the law is seen to be oppressive, has given rise to no objection on the part of employers' and workers' organizations.

The strength of feeling among workers, in particular, on the subject of trade union rights under Convention No. 87 cannot be ignored. The (unpublished) document, The ILO towards the 21st century, submitted to the Director-General by the Workers' Group of the ILO Governing Body as a contribution to the debate on the ILO's 75th anniversary celebrated in 1994, could not be more explicit, for example:

Human rights. The ILO's mandate in respect of fundamental and inalienable human rights must remain a sustained priority. Its particular responsibilities are in respect of the right to organize and to bargain collectively, the struggle against discrimination in employment, and the abolition of forced and of child labour. Many conflicts and tensions in the world have their origins in denials of these very rights...

Trade unions have been to the fore in the democratic advances of recent years in which the ILO itself has also played an important, and often historic role. They have opened the way to the exercise of basic freedoms. Nevertheless, gross violations continue, and in too many cases are increasing.

In some countries, killings and disappearance of trade unionists are commonplace. Often those responsible act with impunity (Workers' Group of the ILO Governing Body, 1993, pp.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Origins of Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and the Right to Organize


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?