Accueil » 17-1 ( 1962) » La participation du mouvement syndical américain à l'établissement de l'Organisation internationale du travail

La participation du mouvement syndical américain à l'établissement de l'Organisation internationale du travail

Leon Dale


De toutes les institutions spécialisées consacrées à la collaboration entre les nations, l'Organisation internationale du travail est la plus vieille. Créée en 1919, au lendemain de la première guerre mondiale, elle est la seule qui a pu se maintenir, continuer son oeuvre et survivre à la Société des nations. L'auteur lève ici un coin du voile et montre un aspect assez peu connu de l'établissement de l'OIT en décrivant le rôle que le syndicalisme américain y a joué.


How American Labor Participed in Setting Up the International Labor Organization

The establishment of the International Labor Organization (I.L.O.) has been preceded by various meetings of private organizations representing labor and intellectuals concerned about the status of workers. A number of resolutions had been passed but with little or no effect since no government so far had been committed to carry them out.

The First World War changed the situation decisively. For one thing, practically all nations involved in the conflict had appealed to their workers to further the war effort and the power of labor had become better recognized, for another it was felt that world peace in order to be effective had to carry with it social justice which should mean adequate reward for everyone's work.

The League of Nations appeared to be the best instrument to bring about social justice throughout the world. In 1918, the American Federation of Labor (A.F.L.) presented a world labor program to the Socialist and Labor Conference meeting in London. Among other proposals, labor was to be represented in each government delegation to the peace conference. And in January 1919, the Conference for the Preliminaries of Peace established an International Commission for Labor Legislation which was later to become the I.L.O.

The government representatives sent to the Commission were often labor leaders in their own country. Thus Samuel Gompers, Secretary General of the A.F.L., was selected to represent the United States, even though Gompers considered himself more a representative of American labor in general and the A.F.L. in particular than that of the government.

The A.F.L. was then the world's strongest labor organization and Gompers was elected president of the International Commission for Labor Legislation. Gompers' program was largely the same as the one presented by the A.F.L. in London the previous year, although a few additions were made concerning the 8-hour day and the work of women and children.

Gompers' proposals were vigorously opposed by the delegates of Belgium, Italy and Great-Britain, most of whom were leaders of the Socialists parties in their own country. This development was unexpected since shortly before the same proposals had been accepted by the very same Socialist parties in London.

The main reason behind the opposition of the Socialists was their desire to increase the influence of the various governments (rather than that of labor) on the grounds that soon most governments would be Socialist-controlled and therefore in a better position to bring about labor's objectives.

The Socialist were successful in giving 2 votes to each government representative to the I.L.O, labor and management having one each in the tripartite organization. This result was exactly the opposite of what Gompers had been fighting for.

Nevertheless, the I.L.O. carried in its conception as well as its administrative structure the hallmark of American labor which is diametrically opposed to Socialist or Marxist concepts. While the Socialists emphasized labor legislation, American labor favored collective bargaining. The I.L.O. represents a compromise between the two.