L'Organisation Internationale Du Travail: De la Guerre Froide À Un Nouvel Ordre Mondial

By Trémeaud, Jean-François | International Labour Review, October 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

L'Organisation Internationale Du Travail: De la Guerre Froide À Un Nouvel Ordre Mondial


Trémeaud, Jean-François, International Labour Review


L'Organisation internationale du travail: De la guerre froide à un nouvel ordre mondial. By Francis BLANCHARD. Paris, Editions du Seuil, 2004. 316pp. Annexes and index. ISBN 2-02-066177-2.

This book spans some 40 years in the history of the International Labour Organization, stretching from the Cold War to the New World Order. The author was Director-General of the ILO from 1974 to 1989, and prior to that held highranking positions in the Office from the post-war period onwards. He casts much light on all aspects of the ILO and shows tellingly and in detail the context in which it had to operate and the situations it had to handle. Foremost among these was the East-West stand-off between the Organization's constituents that occurred at the International Labour Conference and in the ILO Governing Body, and which acted as a brake on the activities of the Organization's secretariat, the International Labour Office. During the McCarthyite period there were even efforts to influence the management of the Office's staff resources. There were tensions and (sometimes) contradictions arising from the ideological polarization between the Organization's founding principle, tripartism, and necessary universal principles. Yet the period was also marked by great achievements, as when development aid started in the 1950s, then developed on a large scale following the independence of former colonies, in the 1960s. In the ILO, this aid took the form of help in developing the labour codes of the newly independent countries, of reinforcing the expertise of their ministries, and workers' and employers' organizations, and their institutional capacities. Francis Blanchard was responsible for directing and moving these activities forward, a massive task which proved particularly difficult when their links with the ILO's standard-setting activities needed to be made.

This book contains an exceptional, detailed first-hand account of the reasons for the United States' withdrawal from the International Labour Organization in 1977, and of the period of its absence and subsequent return in 1980. The author was then Director-General and the account he provides of this extremely difficult period, of the numerous contacts and negotiations undertaken to enable the return of the most powerful member State is remarkable. Particularly striking are the analysis of the events themselves and the personalities involved, notably that of George Meany, then Chairman of the AFL-CIO, whom the author met on several occasions. After the return of the United States came the return of China, in 1983 when, after the death of Mao Tse Tung, that country decided to resume participating in the ILO after protracted informal contacts, then missions in situ, which are all described in detail. The universal nature of the ILO was established once again.

At the same time the struggle was on to gain respect for the principles at the heart of the ILO, especially the independence of workers' and employers' groups alongside the governments. Firmness and determination were needed to maintain these principles against threats and pressures to prevent their application, in the name of non-interference in the internal affairs of states. In this respect, the chapter on Poland contributes considerable historical detail. The International Labour Organization, and its Director-General in his personal capacity, were actively committed to helping the Solidarnosc trade union obtain recognition under ILO Conventions Nos. 87 and 98, which Poland had ratified but not applied and which, because of events in Gdansk, the Polish Government was finally forced to recognize. Measures had to be taken to protect Lech Walesa when he was imprisoned after a state of war was declared on 13 December 1981: Nicolas Valticos, head of the ILO's International Labour Standards Department, was therefore duly sent on mission to Poland and was asked to visit Mr. Walesa where he was being detained near the Czech frontier - a fact until then unknown to the rest of the world. …

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