Tripartism in Action: Retrospective on the ILO

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.
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 Office.
Tripartism in Action
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 to all workers. In 1926 the International Labour Office, the permanent Secretariat of the International Labour Organization, took up its quarters in Geneva in a lake side building constructed specially for it. Its founders were convinced that peace depends upon the economic and 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.
Thanks to the strong personality of the French Socialist Albert Thomas, its first Director, who headed it from 1920 to 1932, the ILO developed at a rapid rate and became a force to be reckoned with everywhere in the world.
Since 1974 the International Labour Office is situated at 4 route des Morillons, Geneva. It is represented by Regional Offices in Africa, Asia and the Americas and has a presence in in most countries of the regions.
Architect of peace
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 very 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. Albert Thomas wrote:
La d?mocratie est la condition de la paix. Mais il n’est point de d?mocratie v?ritable sans justice sociale. Une classe ouvri?re, surmen?e et exploit?e, est incapable de participer a la gestion des affaires publiques. Elle demeure le jouet de l’ignorance, la victime de tous les entra?nements guerriers. La justice sociale est donc la condition de la paix.
Bureau international du travail
Le 21 octobre 1923 s’est d?roul?e la c?r?monie de la pose de la premi?re pierre du BIT, notamment en pr?sence de Gustave Ador. Un parchemin a ?t? d?pos? dans un coffret, scell? sous la premi?re pierre : il porte en latin l’inscription suivante :
Bureau international du travail
Cette premi?re pierre de l’?difice qui doit ?tre construit a l’usage du B.I.T. sur le terrain du a la munificence de la Conf?d?ration helv?tique, c’est en pr?sence de M. Ernest Chuard, vice-pr?sident de la Conf?d?ration, que la pos?rent MM. Arthur Fontaine, pr?sident du Conseil d’administration, Jules Carlier, membre du Conseil d’administration, d?l?gu? par les patrons, et L?on Jouhaux, membre du Conseil d’administration, d?l?gu? par les ouvriers, le 12me jour avant les calendes de novembre, en l’an du Seigneur 1923. – Eric Drummond ?tant secr?taire de la S.d.N. et Albert Thomas directeur du B.I.T.
Si tu veux la paix, pratique la justice.
Ita Marguet
Note: Acknowledgement is given to all sources used in preparation of this text, specifically Itinerary for Peace in the Streets of Geneva Association « Geneve : un lieu pour la paix » 2002. A text by Ita Marguet was printed in UNION, No.336, May-June, 2004 for the 85th anniversary of the ILO and related texts on the ILO have been published between 2004 and 2007.