Some side aspects of ILO history / François Agostini

Some side aspects of ILO history / François Agostini

From the start, some confusion seems to have arisen over the ILO’s official title, as two denominations co-existed for some time in the early twenties. Those were the “Permanent Labour Organisation” and “International Labour Organisation”. –

Which was the correct one?

The terms of reference of the Commission on International Labour Legislation which was set up by the Paris Peace Conference to draft the ILO Constitution were “… to enquire into the conditions of employment from the international aspect, and to consider the international means necessary to secure common action on matters affecting conditions of employment, and to recommend the form of a permanent agency to continue such enquiry in cooperation with and under the direction of the League of Nations”.

Some emphasis was thus put on the permanent character of the new agency, and we see the word “permanent” appearing again in article 387 of the Versailles Treaty (article I of the ILO Constitution, or Charter, as we shall see further on): “A permanent organisation is hereby established for the promotion of the objects set forth in the Preamble.” Likewise, article 388 (article 2 of the ILO Constitution) reads: “The permanent organisation shall consist of …”.

From the foregoing, it may be inferred that “Permanent Labour Organisation” was to be the official title. Indeed, the front cover of the bilingual text of the Constitution, October 1921 edition reads: ‘Permanent Labour Organisation” and “Organisation permanent du Travail”.

As this was an official document, we must admit the validity of that denomination. However, another official document, adopted earlier, points to quite another direction. The Standing Orders of the Conference, adopted in Washington on 21 November 1919, specifically mention ‘the International Labour Organisation” (article I).

The situation therefore, seems to have been that both denominations co-existed for some time, until “International Labour Organisation” prevailed. When, exactly, is difficult to ascertain. It can be said, however, that evolution was slower in French, if we are to trust some authors: M. Gerreau, “Une nouvelle institution du Droit des Gens, l’Organisation permanente, du Travail”, Paris 1923; E. Mahaim “L’Organisation permanente du Travail”, Paris, Hachette, 1923 C. Argentieu, “Les résultats acquis par l’Organisation permanente du Travail, 1919-1929”, Paris, Sirey, 1930. But as early as 1924, Albert Thomas titled “L’Organisation internationale du Travail” the comprehensive, informative essay he contributed to the series “Les origines et l’œuvre de la Société des Nations” published in Denmark under the direction of P. Munch. Likewise, the 1920-27 edition of the “Annuaire de la SdN’, published in Geneva under the direction of George Ottlik refers throughout to the “Organisation internationale du Travail”.

While not official League publications, the “Annuaires” were nevertheless based exclusively on League (and ILO) documents and were prepared in close cooperation with the Secretariat and the Office and prefaced by senior League and ILO officials. They can therefore, be trusted as a reliable reflection of officialdom.

To conclude whereas “Permanent Labour Organisation” seemed at first to have serious claims to be retained as the agency’s official title, it soon lost ground (and apparently earlier in English than in French) before “International Labour Organisation” which eventually prevailed. Note that the word Organisation was then spelled with an “s”, not with a “z” as later.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.