Author Archives: Webmaster

  • 0

The ILO, Freedom and Democracy / Francis Blanchard, Director-General, 1974-1989

I was three years old in 1919 when at the family table I first heard speak of Albert Thomas and the International Labour Organization.

Almost every Sunday my father invited some of his veteran friends to lunch, and among them was Jean Toulout, President of the “Fédération des artistes comédiens” and an intimate friend of Albert Thomas. My father, a sergeant-major in an artillery unit, had been seriously wounded during the battles of the First World War. After being treated in a military hospital and after a period of convalescence my father was assigned, thanks to Jean Toulout, to an obscure position in the Cabinet of Albert Thomas.

Around the table, conversation centred on the hardly-won victory over imperial Germany, and on Albert Thomas to whom had been entrusted in 1917 the weighty burden of the Armaments Ministry on which the uncertain outcome of a conflict which had been going on since 2 August 1914 depended. The participants engaged in a friendly quarrel over whether the President of the Council of Ministers or Albert Thomas was the true architect of the victory. My father considered Albert Thomas to be a demiurge, i.e. a person with the gift of extraordinary creative powers. They were all agreed as to his genius. They differed over his appearance. Some saw him as short in stature and stocky, others as rather corpulent and always dressed in black,.That being said, I leave it to the ladies who are gracing this meal to decide. These lunches invariably finished with patriotic and drinking songs.

Albert Thomas was the son of a baker at Champigny in the Paris area. My grandfather was a baker in Burgundy at Tournus, a Roman town nestled alongside the Saône. You will understand from this evocation of a very distant past that I claim kinship with Albert Thomas. But there is more. When I went to university my professor of labour law was Pierre Waline at the School of Political Science. Pierre Waline spoke to us of the first steps of the ILO under the committed directorship of Albert Thomas. As a young official I worked with Adrien Tixier, former assistant-director of the ILO under Albert Thomas and Minister of the Interior under General de Gaulle; at his side was Alexandre Parodi, Minister of Labour in the first post-liberation government.

Francis Blanchard

My parents, my younger brother and I lived in a flat in a narrow street, rue Clement, opposite the superb medieval market, the Saint-Germain-des-Prés Market. At the foot of our building, the Town Hall of the sixth arrondissement of Paris had hastily installed a soup kitchen around which several hundred men and some women were gathered on the opposite pavement

They waited for hours under the resigned and suspicious eye of the local police in the hope of receiving a bowl of hot soup and a chunk of bread and, for the smartest or most patient who returned to the back of the queue, a second bowl.  The sight of these men and women deprived of everything made a strong impression on me, particularly because my father, who had speculated, had lost everything and my mother was compelled to return to work.

Sixty years later – I was nearly 73 years old – when I took my leave of the ILO Governing Body and the International Labour Conference during two special sittings of which I have a very vivid memory, I told the Governing Body and the Conference of my conviction that, if the ILO could be proud of its past which had earned it the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1969, it was only in the future that it would come fully into its own. I did not realize how truly I spoke.

Indeed, I consider the date of 8 November 1989, that brutal break in history, comparable in its effects, both immediate and long-term, with that of May 1453, the conquest of Constantinople by Sultan Mehemet II which led to the downfall of the Eastern Empire.

During the night of 8 November 1989, the Berlin wall came down and with it the Soviet Empire.  The ILO attained its full dimension, both geographical and ideological.  Thanks to the process of decolonization following the Second World War it had achieved universal geographical coverage and also, if I dare say so, an ideological foundation based on the market economy – which is not to be confused with the wild and unrestrained capitalism which has led to the financial chasm, the economic crisis and the recession with which the world is struggling.

The last fifteen years of the cold war, during which I had the privilege of holding the tiller in a distinctly choppy sea, were marked by violent quarrels between the east, which was trying to rally the third world to its standard, and the western democracies.

Michel Hansenne

It is no insult to the Organization to observe that its reactions are slow. It is very much to the merit of Michel Hansenne that he turned to Chapter XIII of the Treaty of Versailles which contains the ILO Constitution, and in particular to its Preamble, to lead the International Labour Conference in 1998 to adopt, with the support of its President Jean-Jacques Oechslin just before his retirement from the employers’ group, the Declaration of Fundamental Human Rights at Work,

namely those incarnated in the Conventions relating to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of discrimination in all its forms, the fight against forced labour and the abolition of child labour.  These basic Conventions are not negotiable.

Ten years later, Juan Somavia took up the baton at a time of heated discussion on the subject of globalization.  He proposed to the Governing Body to entrust to a High-Level Committee co-chaired by two Prime Ministers, the task of drawing up proposals on the topic of the social dimension of globalization, on the basis of a very well thought-out report prepared by the Office.

The day after his nomination, Juan Somavia launched a campaign under the term “decent work”.  This term has the merit of being short and inviting adhesion. On the eve of the 2005 session of the UN General Assembly, a social summit was held, at the level of heads of state and government, which adopted both the concept and the term.  This term refers back to the theme of the World Employment Conference of 1976 covering essential needs in the fields of work, income, education, health, housing and culture.

The 1976 World Employment Conference was held some decades too soon. It did not correspond to the mood created since 1945 by the thirty glorious post-war years, which sustained the illusion of continuous growth for the rest of the century.  Such a Conference today would be a highly relevant response to the inexorable rise in unemployment resulting from the crisis.  It would have to be prepared by an inter-organization secretariat.

One can hardly doubt that it was the problems resulting from the crisis and recession that formed the subject of the discussions, which, rumour has it, the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Angela Merkel had with the executive heads of the IMF, the WTO, the OECD and the ILO, whom she had invited to come to Berlin. According to well-informed sources, she encouraged the participants to reach agreement on the policies to be implemented at the international level to ensure that economic growth and progress is compatible with social justice, a goal affirmed in numerous solemn texts

but disregarded in practice.

If social justice has an undeniable cost, as does the aggressive defense of the environment which is no longer dissociable from it in public opinion, these two dimensions of  sustainable development are creative of employment and thus of fiscal revenue strengthening social protection.

Juan Somavia

Following the work of the High-Level Committee on the social dimensions of globalization and echoing the resolution adopted in 2005 by the Social Summit of heads of state and government, the Office, with the agreement of the Governing

Body, undertook a process of systematic consultations with the social partners and governments.

As a result of these consultations, the Director-General Juan Somavia presented to the 2008 Conference at its last session, a report on the achievements of the Decent Work Agenda and the strategies to follow. Following a discussion of a rare intensity, the International Labour Conference decided to give it the title of “ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization”.  This Declaration was adopted on 10 June 2008.

It can be seen as both a revised and updated text and as a mobilizing one capable of reaching out to all the decision-makers in the economic and social fields.  It rests on four inseparable, interdependent and mutually-reinforcing objectives:  employment, social protection, social dialogue and fundamental human rights. The Declaration constitutes a road map.  It is a challenge for the Organization and for the Office now and for the next decades to come.

I have no doubt that the ILO will remain true to its initial choice of freedom and democracy which “is the worst form of government ever thought of, apart from all the others”, according to the celebrated formulas attributed to Winston Churchill.

  • 0

Emil Schönbaum (1882-1967), the man who guided the ILO’s transition from social insurance to social security / Vladimir Rys

We have encountered Emil Schönbaum[1] in the account of the activities of the International Labour Office in Montreal during the Second World War and of the destiny of his friend and compatriot, Osvald Stein, the Assistant Director of the Office who disappeared tragically in December 1943. Indeed, the latter played a determining role in the life of the great actuary, who became one of his closest collaborators.

Beginning of career following the first world war

Born in 1882 at Benesov in Bohemia (part of Austria-Hungary at the time), Emil Schönbaum studied mathematical sciences in the faculty of Philosophy of the University of Prague. Having made Insurance mathematics his field of specialization, he also spent a few semesters at the University of Göttingen. Following the First World War, and shortly after the founding of Czechoslovakia, he received his aggregation at the University of Prague to teach actuarial mathematics and statistics and, in 1923, was named Professor of Actuarial Mathematics.

According to the official biography of the time, it was at the request of the first Czechoslovak President T.G. Masaryk that he turned his attention to the social insurance field, becoming one of the founders of the country’s social insurance system. As of 1921, he assumed a leading role within the Committee of Experts created by the Ministry of Social Affairs to carry out this project; it was at the proposal of this Committee that the first social insurance Law for employees in the event of sickness, invalidity and old age was adopted in 1924. He next held the position of Director of Actuarial Studies and Statistics of the General Pensions Institute and, during the years 1927-1929, worked essentially on the reform of the pension system. During the period from1932 to 1934, his main task was the reform of the social insurance system for miners. As of 1935, and until the end of pre-Munich Czechoslovakia, he presided over the Czechoslovak Social Institute, a consultative organ of the Ministry of Social Affairs bringing together representatives of social sciences as well as social partners.

Entry the ILO and Nazi persecution

His career as an international adviser began at the start of the Thirties when he was solicited, as an expert of the ILO, by the Greek government in order to prepare a financial plan for the new social insurance system. It was at this time that he commenced a close collaboration with Osvald Stein, a member of the Social Insurance Section of the ILO in Geneva.

This collaboration quickly turned into a friendship which was soon to be put to the test. In fact, even before the end of Czechoslovakia and the occupation of the country by Hitler’s armies in March 1939, the situation deteriorated rapidly in the second Republic. Public personalities, leaders of economic life, officials and teachers of Jewish origin were requested to vacate their positions. Emil Schönbaum was no exception and he sought to leave the country.

Fortunately for him, he had good friends outside of the country[2]. It was thanks to Osvald Stein that he received an invitation the following year to accompany, as an expert of the ILO, a reform of the social insurance system in Ecuador. In 1941, it was the Mexican government which entrusted him with the task of preparing technically the country’s first law on social insurance. And in 1942 he could be found in Bolivia engaged in a study with a view to the introduction of a pension insurance scheme for miners. At this time, Schönbaum was sufficiently known and appreciated in the region to permit Stein to submit Schönbaum’s application for the position of actuarial adviser of the ILO in Montreal. This application was immediately accepted by the Director ad interim Phelan, who signed his appointment in August 1942.

Let us point out in passing that, according to his official curriculum vitae, in addition to his Czech mother tongue, he mastered English, French, Spanish and German.

His activities in Latin America and the call of the Czechoslovak government in exile

In his new role and following the frenetic programme launched in the social insurance field by Stein, he travelled considerably in the region visiting Paraguay, Chile and Costa Rica successively. In 1943, he returned to Mexico to lend a hand in setting up the new system of social insurance of which he was one of the founders. At the beginning of the year, it was the Czechoslovak government in exile – whose headquarters were in London – that decided to call upon his services.

With the Beveridge social security plan becoming the programme of the Allies for the post-war period, all governments were exerting themselves to prepare for the future.

It was therefore natural to call upon the country’s best expert to carry out the job of reconstruction in his field. Osvald Stein was not very happy with this development, for he had other plans for his friend[3]. But he accepted it resignedly – “after all, Schönbaum is still titular Director for the Pensions Institute of the Czechoslovak Government, while he is only a temporary official of the ILO.”[4] Schönbaum himself was not very enthusiastic about the idea of leaving for London and took pains to convince all parties involved that he could very well work for the Government while at the same time remaining an official of the ILO. To the extent that it was anyhow he who should have the last word, he won out.

In September 1943 he was appointed as Director of Reconstruction of Social Insurance in the Ministry of Economic Reconstruction of the Czechoslovak Government and, in December, he

received from Osvald Stein, just a few days before the latter’s death, a telegram notifying him of the extension of his contract as actuarial adviser of the ILO until the end of June 1944.[5]

His role at the ILO Conference in Philadelphia

The disappearance of Stein left an immense void in the ranks of the ILO executives responsible during these decisive months for shaping the future of the Organization. Indeed, the preparation of the Philadelphia Conference, foreseen for the beginning of May, was in full swing and social security was one of the major themes on the agenda.

Emil Schönbaum

It was therefore Schönbaum who took over in assuring the correct orientation of the debates by assuming the role of reporter of the Committee on Social Security. To this end, a few administrative problems needed to be solved resulting from his double status. Finally, it was decided to suspend his status of ILO official for the duration of the Conference, to permit him to assume the status of delegate of the Czechoslovak Government.[6]

The way Schönbaum handled his tasks at the Philadelphia Conference was faultless. From the outset the value of his expertise was amply recognized in the speech of the Head of the Czechoslovak Delegation, Vice-Prime Minister of the Government in exile, Jan Masaryk, who wished to commend the father of the social insurance system of his country. The documents discussed under the theme “Social Security:  principles and problems arising out of the war” scarcely allowed the appearance of the tensions which may have existed during the preceding months between the defenders of the insurance model elaborated in ILO Conventions and the partisans of the formula of comprehensive protection encompassing social assistance, presented in the Beveridge plan and strongly supported by Osvald Stein.[7] The game seems to have been played at the level of the terminology used in the different documents. Quite naturally, the topical term, social security, dominated, but it was often perfectly interchangeable with social insurance. It could also be replaced in French by garantie des moyens d’existence translated into English as income security, thus completing the skilful mixture of the new and the old.

Ultimately, just one attempt occurred with a view of blocking the intention of Schönbaum and his colleagues to apply immediately the ideas put forward in the Beveridge plan. It was led by the British Government, doubtlessly in line with the critics formulated initially by Winston Churchill.

When the first report of the Committee on Social Security was presented, Schönbaum pointed out to the assembly that the majority of the Committee had decided to present the basic principles in the form of recommendations; he explained the outline of the report briefly and requested its adoption.[8]

 The Delegate of the British Government, Tomlinson, immediately took the floor to present an amendment proposing that the Committee’s report be sent to Governments for observations and that the subject be placed on the agenda of the next Conference with a view to adopting a Convention. The manoeuvre failed after a brief discussion, with 14 votes in favour of the amendment (of which two governments: the British Empire and Ethiopia, the remainder being composed of the votes of the employers of various countries), 67 votes against and 4 abstentions. Obviously, the momentum of the Beveridge report, with its new vision of peace for the populations and above all those still under arms, strongly dominated the Conference. In any event, the British Government did not insist and the other texts of the Conference were adopted, often unanimously.

It was hence the Recommendation concerning income security that became the main document under this item of the agenda. In making reference to the postulate of social security contained in the Atlantic Charter and in considering that income security is an essential element in social security, the text recommends the unification and extension of social insurance to all workers in the spirit of the Beveridge plan. In so doing, it presents a complete model of the ILO for all branches of social insurance, based on the Conventions adopted in the past. The text is completed by the recommendation concerning measures of social assistance for population categories in need who are not covered by social insurance.

In terms of texts adopted in the form of resolutions, it is the Resolution concerning social insurance and related questions in the peace settlement that represents the most important document, primarily devoted to rights in the social insurance field for displaced persons, to compensation under systems suspended during the war and to problems arising in the wake of a transfer of population or territory. Another text, the Resolution concerning international administrative cooperation to promote social security is interesting to the extent that, oriented towards the future, it refers only once to social insurance. One can even wonder about the motive underlying its adoption. Is there an attempt here to “occupy the terrain” before another organization is created for this purpose, or else to prepare the basis for the establishment of the future ISSA, or was this a new initiative for broadening the field of activity of the ILO? Indeed, the last paragraph proposes “to study the possibility and appropriateness of international or multilateral agreements which would establish bodies responsible for performing common functions, in the field either of finances or of administration.”

End of the mission and return home

The task he had to accomplish for the Czechoslovak Government in exile consisted of preparing the post-war reform of the system of social insurance. He carried it out on time as witnessed by the report published by the ILO in February 1945.28 London did not insist on his transfer and, when Schönbaum requested of his Ministry the extension of his appointment as an adviser of the ILO, this was granted until the end of 1945. Ultimately, it was only at the end of November that Schönbaum took leave of the ILO in Montreal in order to return home.

According to the archives of Charles University in Prague, Emil Schönbaum requested his reinstatement in the Faculty of Natural Sciences in the month of August 1945; this request was immediately granted, accompanied by an invitation to reintegrate his position without delay. However, his return to Czechoslovakia was not marked by a commitment to the reform of social security. Indeed, the Government of President Benes having returned home via Moscow,  the project of reform, inspired by the Beveridge plan and drafted by Schönbaum, became the object of fierce political battles between pro-Westerners and the Communist Party. As a consequence, it was made to wait and, finally, the new law was adopted only three months after the coup d’etat of February 1948. It is no coincidence that at this same time Schönbaum requested of the Faculty a Special leave to undertake a mission in Mexico.

The second exile, with no return

It is hence for the second time in less than ten years that Schönbaum left his country, this time never to return. The archives of Charles University reveal the game with the authorities played by the professor in order to achieve his ends. In February 1949, the university leave is extended in the absence of being able to find another Czech expert to replace him for this mission which was considered to be important politically.

In November 1949 the Faculty noted that the leave was extended again, at the request of the Mexican Government and through diplomatic channels, and decided to hire a substitute to take over his lectures. And it was only in the summer of 1950 that the Communist authorities realized that they had been duped. By that time, Emil Schönbaum and his wife finally obtained Mexican nationality and found a new homeland.

By a letter of 27 September 1950, the Ministry of Education, Science and Arts of Czechoslovakia informed the Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the cancellation of Professor Schönbaum’s contract of employment as of 31

August 1950, given that the interested party could no longer be considered to be politically reliable. Indeed, he had “by his own authority abandoned his post and… no longer performs his teaching activity nor other duties arising from his appointment as a professor. Furthermore, he has demonstrated his hostile attitude toward the People’s Czechoslovak Republic, the Czechoslovak people and the People’s Democratic Government by refusing to return to his homeland… He has thus seriously violated his corporative and professional duties and his duties as a citizen of a people’s democratic State.”29

Thus Emil Schönbaum, in resuming the activities he had carried out during the war, was able to begin a new life at an age where others retire. During a few more years he directed the actuarial services of the Mexican Social Security Institute. Mexico became his second homeland and he is still held in great esteem there, as one of the founders of the national social security system.30

He passed away in Mexico City in November 1967 at the age of 85.



28 Cf. Emil Schönbaum: “A  programme of social insurance reform for Czechoslovakia”, International Labour Review, Vol. 52, No.2, February 1945).

29 Letter in the personal file of Emil Schönbaum in the Archives of Charles University, Prague.

30 Cf. Aguilar Diaz Leal, A.: 1“Profesor Emil Schoenbaum,”  in Revista CIESS (Mexico City) No. 7, Junio 2004.

Emil Schönbaum at the Canadian Mathematical Congress, Montreal, 1945

[1] During the time when he was with the ILO his name was spelt Shoenbaum (without c), probably due to avoid a German connotation.

[2] His younger brother, Karel Schönbaum, legal expert and professor at the University of Prague, did not have the same luck. After a long stay in the concentration camp at Terezin, he was transferred in October 1944 to Auschwitz where he met his death.

[3] Stein was counting on Schönbaum for developing the project designated in the ILO’s files as “European Social Security Administration,” the details of which are unknown to date.

[4] Note from Stein to Phelan of 7 September 1943.

[5] Telegram from Stein to Schönbaum (in Mexico) of 23 December 1943. (ILO Archives).

[6] Letter from Phelan to the Czechoslovakian Ambassador in Ottawa of 3 April 1944.

[7] For the discussion of this question see Sandrine Kott : « De l’assurance à la sécurité sociale (1919-1944. L’OIT comme acteur international ». paper made available on the site of the Centennial project of the ILO, ( Geneva 2009.

[8] On this occasion Schönbaum paid tribute to the members of Social Insurance Section of the ILO (primarily involved were Maurice Stack and Alejandro Flores) who had put forth an “almost superhuman effort” to produce the documents within the deadline. Cf Proceedings, p. 186.

  • 0

The role of Osvald Stein (1895 – 1943) in the history of the ILO / Vladimir Rys

“One of the most eminent of the first generation of international civil servants” – such was the tribute paid to Osvald Stein by his ILO contemporaries. Readers of the Message may recall an article devoted to the tragic story of his death by Robert Nadeau in an earlier issue of this publication. But a more detailed assessment of the importance of his work for the organization is still lacking. The purpose of this article is to fill this gap, taking into account the results of more recent research concerning the historical evolution of social security.

For some years now, Osvald Stein has occupied a place in the history of the international development of social security for two reasons.

Firstly, as the last pre-war Secretary-General of the organization which was the forerunner of the International Social Security Association (ISSA), known by the name of the International Conference of Mutual Benefit Societies and Social Insurance (Conférence internationale de la mutualité et des assurances sociales – CIMAS).[1]

On the other hand, within the ILO, he is recognized as the one who knew how to draw a benefit from the displacement of its working centre from Geneva to Montreal in 1940. Indeed, it was thanks to his effort, which earned him a promotion to the rank of Deputy Director, that social insurance was able to be established solidly in the South American continent.

This image is starting to be enriched as a result of research published during recent years. Thus, in a study devoted to the birth of the ISSA in 1927,[2] Cédric Guinand unveiled the magnitude of the efforts deployed by officials of the ILO and, in particular, the intensity of the negotiations conducted by Osvald Stein resulting in the founding of an international organization of administrators of sickness insurance.

Almost concurrently, Sandrine Kott analysed the history of the ILO’s activity in the social insurance field in an innovative approach emphasizing the individual role of officials behind the façade of the organization’s official policy and suggested that it was indeed Osvald Stein who had “played a pivotal role” within the Social Insurance Section[3] and, consequently, in the formation of the official doctrine of the ILO in the sector. It is therefore with this enhanced image of a personality for several reasons exceptional that we can approach his biography.

 His youth in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the beginnings of his professional career

Osvald Stein was born on 20 July 1895 at Litomyšl in Bohemia. Very little information is available concerning his family which moved shortly thereafter to Valašské Meziříčí in north-eastern Moravia where the young Osvald passed his baccalaureate at the Classical College in 1913. On the eve of the first world war the family moved to Vienna. According to the archives of the ILO, he studied economics, mathematics and law in Prague and in Vienna. In 1917 he recevied a doctorate in law from the University of Vienna and was conscripted immeditely thereafter by the Austro-Hungarian army and sent to the Russian front.

At the very beginning of his engagement, he suffered a serious wound to the spinal column and spent a year in Russia as a prisoner of war.

After the armistice, he was repatriated to Vienna and offered employment by the Ministry of Social Affairs to work in the service dealing with problems of wounded prisoners of war. He then applied for the position of social attaché at the Embassy of Austria in Prague and, in 1922, joined the ILO.  As recounted by Sandrine Kott,[4] Osvald Stein was chosen personally by the chief of the Social Insurances Section of the ILO, Adrien Tixier, from a list of five candidates, on the basis of his exceptional skills. Assigned primarily to the war disabled service, he committed himself rapidly to other activities connected with the drawing up of international conventions in the social insurance field.

Through his technical skills and his great aptitude as a negotiator, Osvald Stein made a major contribution to the work of the ILO at that time. His role in the founding of the organization which was the precursor of the ISSA, outlined below, was part of that commitment.

 Certain of his activities exceeded the strict delineation of the organization’s work programme. Hence, he published articles in specialized journals, delivered conferences on commercial and social insurance at the International Law Academy of the Hague and participated in numerous international missions in this sector.

One of the most difficult tasks politically was the solution of problems concerning the pensions of miners following the attachment of the Saarland to Germany in 1935. Moreover, he held the office of Honorary Secretary of the International Association of Veterans as well as that of Secretary of the Insurance Committee of the International Law Association.

His true role in the birth of the ISSA remained unknown for a long time. In one of the booklets periodically recounting the official history of the ISSA,[5] Osvald Stein is mentioned for the first time on the occasion of his nomination as Co-Secretary (along with his hierarchical chief Adrien Tixier) and, starting in 1932, as the sole Secretary, of the International Conference founded in 1927. The text refers, on the one hand to the wish of Albert Thomas to obtain the support of managers of sickness insurance, at the national level, for the ratification of his conventions and, on the other hand, to the need of the latter to count on the ideological and material support of the ILO. It is under the influence of the work of the annual conference of the ILO, having on its agenda the first convention on sickness insurance, that a certain number of influential personalities of this branch are said to have decided upon the establishment of an international organization of its administrators. Naturally, omitted is the founding myth to the effect that it was the fact of not having the right to speak as delegates to the ILO conference that led the managers to create their own international organization. All this proves to be somewhat reductive and we are indebted to Cédric Guinand for the discovery of the long road which led to the accomplishment and recognition of the considerable effort deployed by the ILO, and more particularly by Osvald Stein, in arriving there.

Without lingering on the historical antecedents of this project, we will nevertheless take note of a Swiss initiative led since 1926 by the Health Department of the canton of Basel, in order to establish an international platform for the sickness insurance institutes of Switzerland, Germany and France. Because this proposal did not concur with the viewpoint of the ILO, the latter despatched Osvald Stein to Berlin in December 1926, to convince the German representatives of the disadvantages of the Swiss plan. This mission was successful, as well as a series of others carried out the following year for the same purpose.

It should be noted that the creation of the International Association of Physicians in 1926 lent an urgent character to this action of the ILO. In fact, the aims of this professional organization “diametrically opposed to the proposals of the ILO” concerning compulsory sickness insurance in particular, required an immediate reaction.[6]  It was thus that after several months of intense activity, on the occasion of the annual conference of the ILO held in Geneva from 25 May to 16 June 1927, with the first International Convention on Sickness Insurance on the agenda, the conditions were combined for convincing the administrators of several European countries of the necessity for joint action, under the leadership of the ILO.

Osvald Stein

The official history of the ISSA mentions Osvald Stein for the second time on the occasion of the termination of the CIMAS Secretariat in Geneva in 1940 by his colleague, R.A. Métall. The text specifies that Stein was one of the officials transferred to Montreal during that same year, with the following comment: “He inspired the formation of the Inter-American Committee on Social Security in December 1940, with the intention of promoting the development of social security in the Americas as he had done in Europe.” [7]

His activities in Canada

Osvald Stein was not a stranger to the American continent at the time of his transfer to Canada. In fact, he had attended the first regional conference of the Member States of the ILO in America at Santiago, Chile in 1936 and had drawn up for this conference, on the basis of international standards in force, a Social Insurance Code for the Americas.

This document, adopted unanimously, was the milestone of a new era in the evolution of social insurance for Latin America in particular. The text was revised on the occasion of the second Regional American Conference in 1939 at Havana (Cuba). Osvald Stein also played a determining role in the creation in 1940 of the Inter-American Social Security Committee at Lima, an initiative which was to result in the convening of the First Inter-American Conference on Social Security in 1942 at Santiago Chile. To give effect to its decisions, the Conference created a Permanent Inter-American Committee on Social Security which immediately requested the Director of the ILO to name Osvald Stein as Secretary-General.

In parallel with this activity at the regional cooperation level, Osvald Stein was also toiling, on the spot, on the promotion of the social insurance schemes of various countries. Accordingly, in 1940, he designed for Bolivia a plan for the introduction of a social security scheme. In 1941, he advised the government of Chile on the reorganization of its system. In 1942, he carried out missions in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay.

At the beginning of 1943, he visited Mexico to advise the government concerning the enforcement of its new social insurance scheme. And again one month before his death, he went to Venezuela to offer assistance concerning the administration of the sickness and accident insurance scheme. Osvald Stein thus rendered very important services to the institution for its development in the region.

As for his role at the level of developing the official doctrine of the ILO on social security, we have already mentioned the pivotal role attributed to Osvald Stein for his activity within the Social Insurance Section prior to the Second World War. This role was strengthened further during his sojourn in Canada, when he was promoted to the rank of Deputy-Director of the ILO. According to the study of Sandrine Kott, “the ILO was largely excluded from the elaboration of the important orientations relating to social security during the years 1941-1942.”[8]  Indeed, neither the Atlantic Charter, signed on 4 August 1941, nor the Beveridge report, published in November 1942, take account of ILO conventions.

The author analyses the evolution of the ILO’s position during this period and underlines the organization’s attachment to the tripartite contributory social insurance model which is “at the very foundation of its identity”[9] and is manifest in the months preceding the publication of the Beveridge report.

However, in the course of 1943, under the influence of Osvald Stein, the ILO suddenly changes its position in favour of the Beveridge report, in spite of the reluctance expressed in certain British political milieux. “This almost euphoric conversion of Stein and soon of the entire Organization to the Beveridge model should be read in the context of the expected defeat of Nazism which opened the perspective of a new organization of the world. … Osvald Stein no doubt perceived in the worldwide reception of the report an opportunity to revive the ILO as an international actor and to make of it the artisan of an internationalization of social security.”[10]

In the end, it was not overly difficult, during the period leading to the ILO Conference in Philadelphia in 1944, to integrate the insurance policy principles commended by the Organization into the concept of social security inspired by the Beveridge report. After all, the latter initially envisaged only a unification of social insurance schemes and a broadening of the social guarantee offered to the population. The task begun by Osvald Stein was completed by his colleague and compatriot Emil Schönbaum, actuarial adviser of the ILO, who assumed the function of rapporteur of the Social Security Commission of the Philadelphia Conference.

The abrupt ending of a brilliant career

The article by Robert Nadeau, already mentioned, recalls that, according to the Canadian police, Osvald Stein died from an accident which occurred on 28 December 1943, toward 6 o’clock in the morning, on descending from the train at Rigaud, a suburb of Montreal. However, few of his colleagues believed in this official version and several theories were formulated as to the violent causes of his death. Certain individuals suggest that, profiting from his numerous journeys in the American region, Osvald Stein had assumed the task of courier between allied governments for transporting ultra-secret documents. Hence, he could have been liquidated by agents of other powers engaged in the war. According to another theory, he could have been the victim of NKVD agents operating in Canada at the time.

In this regard interesting information has been unveiled recently by research undertaken in the archives of the ILO. In her article “Spies at the ILO”, (see Jaci Eisenberg: “Spies at the ILO”, in Friends Newsletter, ILO, No. 49, 2010).

An American academic, Jaci Eisenberg, calls attention to the fact that, a few weeks before his death, Osvald Stein was in contact with the Embassy of the USSR in Ottawa, through his collaborator, Hermine Rabinovitch, mentioned in 1946 during the investigations of the “Gouzenko affair” as a member of the Swiss network Rote Drei spying in favour of the Soviet Union. According to an internal inquiry of the ILO, it was at the request of Stein that Rabinovitch, who analysed Soviet documentation for him, had proposed to the Embassy that it cooperate with the ILO by providing it more frequently with a greater volume of reports and periodicals.

Stein was purportedly convinced at the time of the need for Soviet support for ILO activities in the post-war world. Could this contact have drawn the attention of USSR agents to his non-official activities?

It seems appropriate to conclude this note by recalling the tributes paid to Osvald Stein by the ILO world of the time. The essence is contained in the minutes of the 92nd session of the ILO Governing Body which took place at the end of April 1944 during the Philadelphia Conference.

In his report to the Governing Body, the Director Edward Phelan spoke of the hundreds of telegrams and messages received by the Office from all parts of the world.

He mentioned one that referred to Osvald Stein as a great ambassador of social justice. The representative of the Mexican government recalled the service rendered to the numerous Latin American countries and regretted the loss of the true apostle of social security. The governmental delegate of China expressed his regrets over his disappearance at the very moment when thought was being given to inviting him to his country to organize a social insurance scheme there. For the spokesman of the Employers’ Group, there was no doubt that Osvald Stein had become “the greatest living authority on social insurance”.

He was not only a man of profound technical knowledge, but also of broad and statesmanlike views.” The representative of the Workers’ Group, in expressing his appreciation for the services rendered to the ILO, emphasized that they were services rendered to the entire world.

At the end of this account, a question repeatedly comes to mind. What error did he commit, this man of exceptional intelligence, to end his life with his body cut in half by the wheels of a coach? An unlikely slip on a chance step down from an overheated train, an impromptu meeting  with an unknown individual which would have miscarried with unforeseeable consequences, or simply disregard for the danger involved in his clandestine activity in time of war?

Perhaps the opening of the secret files in London, Washington or Moscow will someday provide us with the answer.

[1] Obituary published in the International Labour Review, February 1944, p. 142.

[2] Cédric Guinand: “The creation of the ISSA and the ILO” in International Social Security Review, No. 1, 2008.

[3] Sandrine Kott : “De l’assurance à la sécurité sociale (1919-1944). L’OIT comme un acteur international.” Geneva, 2009 (p.12).Paper made available on the site of the Centennial Project of the ILO, (

[4]  Kott, op.cit., p. 11.

[5]  In the service of social security : The history of the International Social Security Association 1927 to 1987, ISSA, Geneva , 1986 (p.15).

[6] Report of Osvald Stein on his mission to Berlin on 10.12.1926 quoted by Cédric Guinand, op.cit., p.87.

[7] ISSA, op.cit., p.19.

[8] Kott, op.cit., p.25.

[9] Ibid, p.26.

[10] Ibid, p.27 – 28.

  • 0

Four Lives in the History of the ILO With Albert Thomas and the Paris Office / Aimée-Elise Morel, née Rommel

Aimée Morel Rommel’s reminiscences fall in two parts: the first recalling the period 1916-1920 when she worked for Albert Thomas prior to his appointment as Director of the ILO; the second dealing with the years as an ILO official at Paris Branch Office from 1920 to the end of the War.

 In April 1916, I received from the Sophie-Germain School where I had completed my studies in the “Government Services” section a letter by pneumatic tube requesting me to report to the Under-Secretariat of State for Artillery and Munitions, at the Claridge Hotel, Avenue des Champs-Elysées; the secretariat of the deputy-chief of the Minister’s Office, where there was a former student of the School, needed reinforcing.

I went there immediately. I was received by the deputy-chief, Mario Roques1, and hired that same afternoon.

I was aged 182, totally inexperienced, had never used a telephone, and was coming into the midst of graduates of the Ecole Normale Supérieure: Mario Roques, a professor at the Sorbonne, Albert Thomas, the Under-Secretary of State, socialist deputy for the 2nd district of the Seine, François Simiand, economist and sociologist, librarian of the Ministry of Commerce.

I was to discover that the three formed a solid team, united by friendship, education and political opinions. The Minister’s Office also included Henri Hubert, ethnographer, curator of the St. Germain-en-Laye Museum, Henri Marais, actuary, Maurice Halbwachs, economist, all graduates of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, as well as William Onalid, professor at the Law Faculty and colleague of François Simiand, Charles Dulot, Head of the Press Service, responsible in peacetime for the social column of the newspaper Le Temps, Mr. Sevin for the Manpower Services, Mr. Léon Eyrolles, Head of the Industrial Service, director of the Special School for Public Works, Mr. Jules-Louis Breton, head of the Service for Inventions.

Frequently to be seen as well was Pierre Comert, journalist, graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, as was Paul Mantoux, professor at London University, currently interpreter for Lloyd George, British Minister for Munitions, whom he accompanied whenever he travelled and particularly to the Inter-Allied Committee meetings in Paris. For technical services, the Directorates of the Ministry were headed by general officers of the armed forces.

We had a great deal of work, a day secretariat and a night secretariat; we worked during the week on Sundays and on holidays. That’s war for you, the three-man team gave up all normal private life; Albert Thomas, who lived in his district at Champigny-s/Marne, had a room in the Ministry. My first letter was a request for diplomatic passports addressed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on behalf of the Under-Secretary of State and several collaborators. The Government was sending Albert Thomas and René Viviani on mission to Russia to attempt to obtain from the Czar and the Russian leaders the launching of an offensive to relieve the western front.

Albert Thomas, who had become Minister for Armaments, was to return to that country in April 1917, at the time of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of Kerensky, a period of great upheaval.The secretariat of the Ministry was ensured by that of François Simiand, while the secretariat of Mario Roques provided backup if necessary.

Thus, one day I had to take dictation from the Minister. Great emotion. He dictated fast and at length but the kindly expression on his face more or less reassured me and everything went well.

After every journey, every important conversation, every committee meeting, every visit to General Headquarters (Grand Quartier Général, GQG), the Minister dictated his instructions to the directors immediately, but above all his thoughts, impressions, explanations and suggestions for his two friends, François Simiand and Mario Roques.

The young Albert Thomas

In the National Archives, in the Albert Thomas Collection assembled by Georges Bourgin, there must be a large number of files containing copies of all these notes; they reflect the Minister’s very life, the permanent impetus provided by the Minister.

Better informed, I learned later that Albert Thomas had been first in everything, prize-winner in the General Competitive Examination when he was a student at the Michelet secondary school, first in the entrance examination for the Ecole Normale Supérieure, first in the State examination for teaching posts in history. He had preferred contact with people, above all the working class, to a teaching career. A militant trade unionist and co-operator, elected member of the municipal council at Champigny in May 1904, then deputy for the Seine in 1910, he was a member of the socialist group in the Chamber of Deputies, that of Jaurès, and immediately compelled recognition by the clarity of his interventions and his precise knowledge of issues.

War broke out on 2 August 1914. The Socialist Party, which had always refused to vote in favour of military credits, accepted to take part in the Government. As early as September, it made Albert Thomas responsible for coordinating the railroads, between the Chiefs of Staff and the Public Works Ministry. An urgent and important task: the north of France, wealthy and heavily industrialized, was being invaded, and munitions as well as men had to get to a broad front at whatever cost.

The efficiency of the young parliamentarian was such that in October 1914, Alexandre Millerand, Minister of Defence, requested him to organize the production of war material. The stocks of the arsenals were absurdly low considering the amounts being consumed at the front. The war was obviously going to be long and the whole of French industry needed to be reorganized. Albert Thomas travelled all over France, visiting manufacturers in order to convince them and to familiarize himself with their problems. The GQG could count on 13,500 shells daily; he demanded 100,000. Manpower was lacking: qualified workers were called back from the front and female labour was utilized; later, workers were recruited in the colonies.

In May 1915, Albert Thomas became Under-Secretary of State for Artillery and Munitions; hence he had access to the Cabinet, to inter-allied meetings and had a whole technical and administrative organization at his disposal. The solid trio came into being. First, François Simiand, company sergeant-major of the territorial army, was assigned to the Under-Secretariat; shortly thereafter, Mario Roques, a volunteer in August 1914, was recalled from the front for the Minister’s Office. Intense work commenced. At the end of 1916, Albert Thomas became Minister of Munitions in the second war cabinet of Aristide Briand, but nothing changed in the cooperation he received, with never a minute of respite, from François Simiand and Mario Roques.

Two sides therefore, one technical and the other social.

The technical side was the responsibility of the large Directorates, which the Minister constantly encouraged and inspired. The results achieved were attested by graphs in the registers kept up to date by the relevant specialized service (registers which should be available either in the National Archives in the Albert Thomas Collection, or in the War Library (Bibliothèque du Service Historique de l’Armée de Terre) at the Château de Vincennes, where official documents are deposited). Requests to the GQG were satisfied with increasing rapidity; he no longer had to go begging.

This branch, however, of the Ministry’s activity was the responsibility of François Simiand and I have only an imprecise memory of it. I must, however, recall the name of a young engineer in the Industrial Service of the Minister’s Office: his name was Hugoniot. Léon Eyrolles had insisted on having him in his Service. Remarkably intelligent, full of imagination and get-up-and-go, Hugoniot had quickly understood that this murderous war required an enormous amount of material in order to spare human lives. The directorates dealt mainly with large firms capable of manufacturing in large quantities quickly (which was understandable), but the Minister believed that, given the huge needs, all the industrial capabilities of the country ought to be utilized and, as of the beginning of 1915, Hugoniot, at his request, went to see the small- and medium-sized enterprises; a marvellous animator, his imagination sparked that of others; he advised them and guided them, no technical problem could hold him in check and the small manufacturers had the joy of feeling utilized and useful at the same time.

Towards the middle of this same year 1915 the GQG, which received 700 large-calibre shells every day – the manufacturing limit of the industry at the time -, requested 50,000, “without which the outcome of the war would no doubt be compromised.” François Simiand spoke to Hugoniot about it. The latter was becoming well-acquainted with “his” manufacturers, he knew where he would find men with initiative and daring. Certain factories would need to be enlarged, the equipment sufficiently increased: it was done. He encouraged the Minister to place orders; however, certain manufacturers on whom he had been counting were hesitant and attempted to back out; he insisted, provided directions and suggestions, assured them that they would be assisted with respect to the military authorities and with respect to the suppliers of moulds. In about a week all the orders were accepted and were carried out. Hugoniot thus saved a great number of human lives.

Other examples could be cited. It seemed to me right to speak about him, an obscure but great Frenchman in these reminiscences about Albert Thomas, Minister of Munitions.

Mario Roques was responsible for personnel and manpower questions. The three friends were very familiar with the living conditions of the working class before 1914; they were constantly preoccupied with social projects.

Mario Roques

First of all female labour, indispensable for the production of munitions. On 21 April 1916, a

Committee for Women Workers was created. During more than a year this Committee looked after the organization of women’s work, their recruitment and their employment, as well as the improvement of their material and moral situation.

Then, in a circular of 3 July 1916, it decided to prohibit the employment of women less than 18 years of age for night work in war factories; at the same time the working time for women from 18 to 21 years of age was set at a maximum of 10 hours. It also prohibited the employment of girls aged 16 to 18 in gunpowder factories. On 1 July 1917, another circular established the modalities concerning protection of women workers and extended them to the overall organization of health, safety and medical services in public establishments: it can be said that all the principles of the law on occupational health of 11 October 1946 were set in place.

An advisory labour commission was created with Arthur Fontaine as the effective chairman (who later became the first Chairman of the Governing Body of the ILO, 1919-1931), and with Albert Thomas as its honorary chairman. This was the result of constant consultation with the employers and the trade union organizations. The purpose of this commission was to take all necessary measures to avoid all causes of exhaustion or weakness of the workers employed in war factories, and to seek remedies for overexertion, the main cause of occupational accidents, by advising heads of enterprises to grant periodic rest periods to their workers.

The Minister also concerned himself with the shortage of housing, banned unhealthy dwellings and entrusted the commission with studying the possibility of constructing dormitories close to factories. He brought about the creation of a Cooperative Fund for war factory personnel with a view to solving the problem of feeding workers by creating cooperative supply stores and restaurants.

The manufacturers and workers needed to be kept informed. For this, Charles Dulot, with the assistance of Pierre Hamp, wrote, published and distributed the Bulletin des Usines de Guerre (War Factories Bulletin) a collection of which is housed in the ILO library in Geneva.

I have dwelt on the social activity of the Under-Secretary of State then of the Minister Albert Thomas: was this not a prelude to his role to lead the ILO?

September 1917, ministerial crisis. The Socialist Party refused to participate in the Painlevé Cabinet. Albert Thomas was no longer a Minister, he returned to his seat in the Chambre des Députés. The friends looked to the future. All were of the view that, as a minister, Albert Thomas had built up a capital of social experience and relationships permitting him to play an important role in the new organization of the world which would follow the terrible war. It had to be maintained for him. They decided, each providing his own contribution, to form a group with him in a tiny Association d’Etudes et de Documentations sociales, AEDS (Social Research and Documentation Association), which would cover the costs of an office and a reduced secretariat.

Charles Dulot found a vacant apartment at 74 rue de l’Université; the Socialist deputy was thus installed right in the St Germain suburb, which was very amusing, but vacant lodgings were not numerous. The friends brought along tables and chairs which they each had available at home; a few others were purchased second-hand, a few soft-wood shelves were put up, and work commenced. Arduous surroundings but calm, without jangled nerves, without useless agitation. Along with a colleague, I had abandoned the Ministry in order to follow the minister. As the secretariat was inadequate, voluntary assistance was much appreciated; I remember a retired teacher, the doctor of a social service, a retired primary school inspector, all friends of Albert Thomas; everyone used his ingenuity to make himself useful by looking up documents, research, or correspondence from electors.

The members of the Association visited frequently; once the war was over, Mario Roques returned to teaching at the Sorbonne and came in every day. Conversations were lengthy in the ex-minister’s office.

I remember the emotion felt by the friends on the day they first greeted in this office a comrade who had been a socialist deputy for Alsace in the Reichstag and who had become a Frenchman as a result of the victory over Germany.

As usual, there was a great deal of work to be done, even on Sunday (a day devoted by Albert Thomas to his family), at Champigny where I would go in the afternoon. In this town where he was born and of which he was still the mayor, he never failed to participate each year in the December remembrance day service at the monument for the fallen of 1870. There he loved to meet those who had known him when he was a young schoolboy coming out of his father’s bakery, as well as comrades from the Socialist section. In this familiar milieu, he would express his innermost thoughts on the grave times the country was experiencing and on the problems of the Party.

As a parliamentarian he diligently followed the proceedings of the Chamber of Deputies, where he would take the floor in favour of a just, solid and lasting peace. At the office, he devoted one or two mornings a week to his constituents who arrived in large numbers.

In February 1918, as a Socialist, he participated in the Socialist and Workers Conference meeting in London and he was designated, along with Vandervelde and Henderson, as a member of a commission responsible for requesting that, at the future Peace Conference, each national delegation should include a workers’ representative. He was also present at the 4th Inter-Allied Socialist and Trade Unionist Conference convened on 18 September in London and which was concerned with the introduction of labour legislation clauses in the future Treaty.

As a journalist he contributed to l’Humanité, to the Populaire de Nantes, to La France de Bordeaux and to the Dépêche de Toulouse. Here again he campaigned for the aims of the war which he considered to be just and for a peace based on the right of peoples to self-determination and on the principle of nationalities guaranteed by the establishment of a League of Nations.

In order to put together documentation on social problems, he created with Charles Dulot the weekly publication L’Information ouvrière et sociale of which he wrote the editorials; a collection of these can be found in the ILO library in Geneva.

The articles were sometimes dictated at the last moment, either for lack of time or because they concerned a subject of immediate interest; more than once, because Albert Thomas had to travel that very evening, I accompanied him to the station to allow him to continue dictating in the taxi and on the railway platform, the last sentence coinciding with the train’s departure. It only remained for me to return to the office to transcribe the dictation and then telephone the newspaper to pick it up from the concierge.

As someone involved in the cooperative movement, he had frequent dealings with Ernest Peisson, Secretary General of the National Federation of Consumers’ Cooperatives, whose efforts he supported, particularly through the Committee on Parliamentary Activities composed of senators, deputies and “cooperators”, which met at our office and of which he was the Secretary until 1920. The Federation had material means at its disposal which none of the friends had; occasionally it lent one of its automobiles with a driver to Albert Thomas, a valuable means of gaining time, especially to return home to Champigny.

He also maintained contacts with personalities who came to the Rue de l’Université: Robert Pinot, of the National Council of French Employers, industrialists such as Louis Renault, André Citroën, Marcel Boussac, Dumuis, President Director General of the Iron and Steelworks of Firminy; trade unionists : Léon Jouhaux, Secretary General of the CGT, Merrheim of the Metalworkers, Bidegaray of the Railroadworkers, Delzant of the Glassworkers.

Together with socialists from other countries he created the small Committee of Understanding for Nationalities which included Bénès for the Czechoslovaks along with Serbs, Romanians, and Poles. During the Peace Conference he obstinately defended their cause with the negotiators who were drafting the treaty. With General Rudeanu he took a particular interest in the future of Romania.

Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles gave birth to the International Labour Organization. The first International Labour Conference met in Washington in November 1919; governments, employers and workers were represented there. On the unanimous proposal of the workers’ Group3, the candidature of Albert Thomas for the post of Director of the International Labour Office was submitted to the Governing Body designated by the Conference; he was provisionally elected by a secret ballot, 11 votes to 9, and one blank vote.

I was in his office when he was handed the telegram informing him of the results; he was visibly happy, but pensive; perhaps he had an inkling of the enormous and exciting challenge awaiting him if, as he no doubt hoped, his nomination were to be confirmed. When the friends learned the news the same evening, they too were happy as well as proud; it was at the worldwide level that Albert Thomas could henceforth use the amazing resources of his intelligence, of his energy and of his experience in the pursuit of social justice.

His nomination became definitive at the meeting of the Governing Body in Paris on 27 January 1920, and this time the Governing Body ratified it unanimously by acclamation.

Note on the historical context by the Editor.

The nomination of Albert Thomas as the first ILO Director (provisional in November 1919, and definitive in January 1920) was to have an immense impact on the Organization and on the world of labour as a whole. Miss Rommel admired him highly and pays tribute to his vision and his great intellectual and moral qualities.

Readers will no doubt be familiar with Edward Phelan’s fascinating portrait of him in his book Yes and Albert Thomas. Less known but equally important is the opinion of Harold B. Butler, Thomas’ deputy, friend and successor4. “The ILO was fortunate too in securing a leader of exceptional quality. In Albert Thomas, its first Director, it possessed a man of tremendous vision and energy, who regarded himself as the apostle of a new religion. His overflowing personality, his sparkling blue eyes behind his gold-rimmed spectacles, his luxuriant beard, his stocky, vigorous form, and his quick, incisive speech marked him at once as an outstanding-figure. But he was not merely a formidable debater, a tireless worker and a great fighter. He not only had tremendous faith in his mission and inexhaustible resource in executing it. In addition, he was an extremely warm-hearted human person, a brilliant and witty talker, as good a companion at a dinner-table as one could wish to find.

His experience as Minister of Munitions in France and his passionate sympathy with small nations had armed him with a breadth of view and a knowledge of European politics and politicians which he put to full use. By the force of his personality he made for the Director of the Office a position which the Secretary-General of the League was never accorded.

It was the Director’s business to lead. He spoke on every subject and whenever he liked. Whatever the topic of discussion, he was there to represent the international standpoint. Whether in the Conference or in the Governing Body, which corresponded to the Council of the League, Thomas established the tradition that the Office must have a view on every question and express it through the Director. The Director was the repository of the international experience and tradition which the ILO gradually built up, and as such was entitled to be heard.”

Note by the Editor

I have drawn attention to the personality of Albert Thomas because he for Miss Rommel, as for many others, inspired a profound loyalty to the ILO. Her devotion to the Office was shown when she became Officer-in-charge following the death of Fernand Maurette in 1937.

 During the German occupation of France she courageously and singlehandedly maintained the activities of the Paris Office, even transferring them to her own small flat when evicted by the enemy.

In the Letter Nr. 29, 2001, based on the official records, I tried to relate this little-known chapter in the history of the ILO. We now have Miss Rommel’s own story giving details not found in the files. Unfortunately, she wrote the description some 30 years after the events at the age of 76 and a certain lack of spontaneity is unavoidable, but she has evidently refreshed her memory by consulting contemporary correspondence. Errors in the original typescript have been silently corrected while misrecollections have been rectified by additional text in square brackets or explanatory footnotes. – The story continues:

Aimée-Elise Rommel

By a stroke of luck the identity card issued in 1939 to Miss Rommel has been found in the ILO Archives, and I am pleased to be able to publish her photograph, the only one we have of her. Further research has also revealed the origin of this manuscript and the reason for Mrs. Morel writing it.

The Paris Office from 1920 and through the War to 1945.

Miss Rommel remembers. The Paris Branch Ofiice5, with Mario Roques as Director, began work at the same time that Albert Thomas became the ILO Director. Thomas had in fact anticipated that he would need a correspondent in the major capitals.

Albert Thomas left for London, which was the provisional headquarters of the International Labour Office. Six months later it was definitively installed in Geneva6. We remained provisionally, for a short time, at the Rue de l’Université and then moved to the right bank of the Seine, 13, Rue de Laborde7. The secretariat was strengthened, the library properly set up. Mario Roques personally concerned himself with its organization. It consisted of course of ILO publications, unique documentation particularly appreciated by the official services, professors, students and journalists. It contained also books and recent periodicals on economic and social questions. But in addition our Director enriched it with rare works on the history of labour that he found in second-hand bookshops or in the bookstalls on the banks of the Seine. The library was used increasingly.

Speaking of the work of the Paris Office under the direction of Mario Roques is difficult because it was varied and complex, which can be seen from several examples. As a professor at the University of Paris, Mario Roques had access to many circles; the fact that he had been deputy of the Cabinet of Albert Thomas during the war further extended his connections and increased his authority.

Contacts with the Government in general and the Ministry of Labour in particular were constant. If an official from Geneva did not come specifically for national or international meetings the ILO had to be represented by the Paris Office. Sometimes ILO commissions held sessions in Paris and it fell to our office to provide for their material organization. The ILO was a recent creation, hence the necessity of meetings for making it known and setting forth its problems.

Albert Thomas came often. More concerned than ever about effectiveness, he saw Government officials and welcomed many. He also had long conversations with his friend Mario Roques, whom he acquainted with his projects and his problems. In 1923, after the first years in operation, he asked him to review in Geneva the whole organization of the ILO; improvements in work techniques were instituted.

On the request of the government Mario Roques was asked to direct the broadcasts of the Radiodiffusion française (which was not yet the O.R.T.F.). He made sure in these programmes that several minutes were reserved every day for social questions. The daily broadcasts were sometimes prepared in Geneva, sometimes in Paris, but information on the ILO was quite austere. Outside collaborators were called on; some of them students of colleagues of Mario Roques are now well known: Claude Lévi-Strauss, the ethnologist, Gaston Bouthoul, the creator of polemology, Francis Raoul who became a préfet, Pierre Paraf of the vivid notes, later the General Secretary of the League against Racism.

From the creation by France of the National Economic Council (first step of the present Economic and Social Council), the Paris office collaborated with it. Mario Roques presented then, among others, a most important report on the large national public works at the time of the employment crisis of 1929-30. The ideas of the report were applied by Geneva at the international level by the text on the fight against unemployment that the ILO would present in 1931 at the Study Commission for the European Union.

On 15 April 1932 we left the Rue de Laborde for 205 Boulevard St-Germain. The document cases were not yet all emptied when Albert Thomas announced his arrival for May 7. We arranged his office. He was extremely tired when he arrived, having made great efforts in Geneva over the previous weeks. His doctors had insisted vigorously that he must res8, but he could not.

He worked on the afternoon of the 7th and [having dined with his old friend Charles Dulot, editor of L’Information Sociale, with whom he had a lively discussion on the French elections] left towards 7 pm. We knew that he crossed the Seine on foot, having met a son of Arthur Fontaine on the Place de la Madeleine, then turned towards the Saint-Lazare railway station, stopped at the Bar of Chez Ruc, near the station. There, he collapsed. The police came9, had him transported to the Beaujon hospital and informed Pierre Waline at the Conseil national du patronat français by telephone and he telephoned Mario Roques.

I heard the news at home on the radio the next morning and went immediately to the office. Mario Roques was there. There was dismay and great sadness. Albert Thomas’ mother, his wife and children came from Geneva. We had to organize the official funeral at the Champigny-s/Marne cemetery, which took place on 11 May. All of Europe, and one could say the whole world, was represented behind the coffin of the man who had devoted all his strength to the betterment of the workers. Important delegations of governments, especially the French Government, of the Council and Secretariat of the League of Nations as well as members of the Governing Body and officials of the ILO were there in large numbers.

Numerous personalities of the political world, the scientific world, the industrial world, were there among the imposing gathering of union activists, socialists, cooperative members, and all the people of Champigny. Many tributes were given.

The ILO, and without doubt the world, had just suffered a great loss, France too, probably, because Albert Thomas seemed to have wished to recover his place in the internal politics of this country fairly soon10. Many had regretted that he had not been at the levers of power during the long discussions at the Peace Conference, in which his clarity of mind could perhaps have avoided some errors. Some friends and qualified collaborators said and wrote as much. A small cog in the wheel of a great life, I see again his large blue intelligent eyes, the expression of goodness in his face, always reflective and always alive. I can evoke the ease and facility of his relationships, his powerful interest in his work and the constant enrichment that resulted. In thinking of the “patron” and the friends who surrounded him, I am grateful for the gift that had been given me over many years of contact with a man of such intellectual and moral qualities.

Mario Roques left the Paris Office at the end of 1936. He was replaced by Fernand Maurette, fellow student and friend of Albert Thomas, with whom he had collaborated in Geneva as an Assistant Director. For us, it was a simple change of personality. The atmosphere of the office was the same, the work techniques were similar. Unfortunately, our new Director died suddenly in 1937 in Geneva where he had gone for the annual Conference11.

International life became more and more difficult, funds came slowly into the international organizations. The Deputy Director under Albert Thomas, Harold B. Butler, who became Director, decided not to replace Fernand Maurette immediately as Director of the Paris Office12; he asked me to insure daily work with my colleague Jean Poirel under the control and with the directives of the French Assistant Director in Geneva, Adrien Tixier13.

Then came the declaration of war in September 1939. Jean Poirel was mobilised; the staff of the Office was reduced to the minimum of four: a secretary, MIle Madeleine Péné; a stenographer, Mme Madeleine Decz (née Duriez); a messenger, Mr. Charles Néel, who was the husband of the concierge, and me. The German advance continued, and I feared bombardment. For the sake of prudence, I had the most important part of the library put in solid cases, carefully covered with waterproof paper, and then taken down to the basement.

Mr. Tixier maintained constant contact by telephone with me and with Mr. Alexandre Parodi, the Director general of Labour at the Ministry of Labour and the French Government delegate to the ILO Governing Body. On 12 and 13 June 1940, the officials of the ministries had to leave Paris14. At the request of Mr. Tixier, Mr. Parodi entrusted me with four mission orders; I closed the apartment, gave the keys to the concierge, and we left with the officials of the Ministry of Labour by military transport. After a bombardment at Rambouillet, we arrived at Indre-et-Loire several days later, and we had to go even further, by train this time. The Bordeaux station was bombarded, and we arrived at Biarritz. I had taken along the accounts and the check books that would allow me, if possible, to obtain from the post office or banking establishments what was needed to ensure our material needs.

The armistice was signed [22 June]. At Biarritz we were in the occupied zone. The French Government officials had to return to their administrations in Paris – as soon as the Loire could be crossed. We followed.

On 12 July 1940, I returned to the Boulevard St-Germain15. The apartment had escaped the requisition of the German army and was intact. I made several phone calls to Paris and let them know that we had re-entered the place and we settled in.

Two ILO publication collections were still on the library shelves. People came to consult them, we even sold some. Some French colleagues, previously in Geneva wrote me from the occupied zone. A portion of the people of the Geneva headquarters, as anticipated, were transferred to Canada, to Montreal. At Geneva only a small group remained under the direction of Henri Gallois, who assured the administration and maintenance. The chief of the Statistics Section, the Englishman James William Nixon, had left for Paris and England too late; he was not able to leave Paris on 14 June, and was arrested16 at his hotel with several compatriots, and they were interned at Fresnes.

On 12 December17, I had a visit from two German officers. The older one asked for news of several French officials from Geneva, among others Camille Pône, Jean Morellet, Louis Dupont. I remained standing and answered that, as he must know, I had no contact with the central office and knew nothing of my colleagues. He informed me that our apartment would be requisitioned, and the rent paid by the Seine préfecture. The German embassy would establish a translator service directed by the young officer with him. He did not see any inconvenience if we four stayed; I didn’t even have to change my office. Before he reached the door I drily asked his name, “because he seemed to know the house so well.” He mumbled a word that began with “Reich”; when he’d left I looked at the personnel list and saw that it was Walter Reichhold, who had been a translator [in the Editorial Service] at the ILO in Geneva, in which section Louis Dupont had also participated as Chief of Service18.

Our occupiers came the next day. The officer, who was the chief of service, took over the room reserved for the Director or for the Geneva officials who came on mission to Paris. The chief translator, Dr Widloecher, was my neighbour in our Director’s office. Two other translators were in the secretariat room, a stenographer and a telephone operator.

Dr. Widloecher asked me to open the safe. It contained only the stubs of old checkbooks. Furious, the German did not press further.

Everything conspired to make our presence useless. When people came to work in the library or to buy some publications, they were told that the ILO no longer existed. I heard Dr. Widloecher give the same response on the telephone, that is, no one gave us the messages for the ILO.

It was evident that this situation could not last. After a conversation outside the office with our former Director, Mario Roques, I went to the Ministry of Labour to see Mlle Henry, the office chief at the Labour Direction, to try to see if my colleagues could be hired by the Ministry. My budget provision was not exhausted but the future worried me.

At the beginning of 1941, Dr. Otto Bach19 visited me, a German whom I knew; he had been our colleague at the ILO Branch Office in Berlin and we had seen him several times in Paris. He toured the apartment and I accompanied him. With astonishment he noticed that the library shelves contained only two collections of ILO publications and some cartons containing notes and files. I explained that, fearing bombardment, the essential part of the library had been sent to Geneva at the declaration of war. Discontented, he left.

Bach directed the German Institute in Paris. On 14 and 21 February 1941, he gave two lectures on the “failure and death of the ILO”. At the same time there began a campaign in the press of the occupation. In Le Matin of 15 February: “Geneva and social justice”; L’Oeuvre of 16 February: “The ILO has closed its doors”; Le Petit Parisien of 17 February: “The ILO is no more”; in Paris-Soir of 19 February: “The ILO closes its doors”; Le Matin of 22 February: “the bankruptcy of Geneva and social justice”; L’Oeuvre of 27 February: “the failure of the ILO of Geneva”; L’Oeuvre of 1 March: “The ILO is dead”.

On 28 February 1941, what I had expected happened. Dr. Widloecher told me that the ILO employees had to leave the office. Nevertheless, the Service wished to keep a stenographer, Mlle Péné, whom he would employ. Her salary would be paid by the Seine Préfecture.

There was in fact a great deal of work and the occupiers made use of outside collaborators. We could see discretely that these people were less than mediocre in quality. Their translations were done in a French that was unworthy of a primary school student.

I went down to telephone M. Roques from a public telephone to ask his advice. He suggested that we accept if Mlle Péné agreed. It seemed to him desirable to keep someone there. I went back to the office, dictated immediately some administrative letters that were necessary so that office expenses could be settled, and at 6 pm I could let Dr. Widloecher know that, except for Mlle Péné, the ILO employees would not return. He protested profusely; he hadn’t meant it to be an order with immediate effect, etc.

I preferred this frank situation, but what would become of Mme Decz and Mr. Néel when my budget provisions were used up? A new approach was made to Mlle Henry, who finally engaged Mme Decz at the Department of Social Insurance. Mme Léonetti, labour inspector, who had been part of the French delegation at several ILO conferences, and who was then in the Cabinet of the Ministry of Labour, admitted Mr. Néel as messenger in her service. Ouf! Only I remained.

Mlle Péné, Mr. Néel and I met one evening a week in a discrete place near the Boulevard St-Germain. Mlle Péné and Mr. Néel told me that the Germans entered the office by the main staircase; they had never requested the key to the service staircase. As people still came to consult or buy ILO publications, Mlle Péné could make small packets which she could hide in a convenient place. Mr. Néel could go up to get them after the departure of the occupiers during the evening or night, and bring them to us.

I approved. Little by little, my studio apartment was furnished with the most frequently requested publications. They were everywhere. To consult or buy them, I received students (a professor of the Law Faculty insisted that the Revue Internationale du Travail be in the room reserved for the candidates for the competitive exam for teaching in the Lycées); government officials (I had given my personal address to Mlle Henry). I met translators of the clandestine publications who came to look for much sought information on countries outside our frontiers for their readers; Louis Saille, the secretary of the C.G.T.; Maurice Harmel, editor of the People, the CGT journal who directed the clandestine Libération; doctors from the Institute of Industrial Hygiene, who were particularly interested in the important reference work Encyclopédie d’Hygiène du Travail, etc.

In spite of the war, the demand for ILO publications grew.

The sales figures :

1941……………. Frs   13,060.90

1942……………. Frs.   48,696.45

1943……………. Frs. 104,226.95

It can be noted that in 1943 the Paris Office (then located at my home) cost only some 62,000 Francs, and the total sales were over 100,000 Francs.

In the middle of 1941 I had the happy surprise of being summoned by an American bank on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. Geneva, that is M. Henri Gallois, sent some money. He had obstinately sought to re-establish contact and had succeeded.

With small cards printed in advance, the only possibility authorized for the non-occupied zone and foreign countries, I tried to achieve my aim by letting him understand in a brief way my publication needs. One day, a new surprise, I was summoned to the Customs service of the Gare de Lyon. I went. Two packages awaited me from Geneva. The officials told me that since the packages contained printed materials, they had to be submitted to the German censorship; after a few days they would be presented to me if permission was given. If it was refused, I’d be advised.

The packages were delivered to me and many others arrived that were not even censored.

My money problems were completely solved.

I informed our colleague Mr. Nixon20 about our changing fortunes in his various internment camps: Fresnes, Drancy, St-Denis. Two of his friends and I agreed that one of us would visit him every two weeks, on the one authorized day, bringing along some fresh food that we obtained on the black market (those interned received packs of tinned food from the Red Cross). The camp received the war news, even that of the BBC, as much as we did.

I think I must add that at least three of our associates disappeared because of the war: Maurice Harmel died on deportation, as did Dr Hausser, a doctor of the Institute of Industrial Hygiene. Mlle Henry, deported, returned at the liberation, only to die several days after her return.

On 25 August 1944 Paris was liberated. I returned to the Office at the beginning of September, crossing half of Paris on foot; there was no public transport. The office space was again available.

The Deutsche Arbeit Front (the German National Labour Front) had at the end of May removed the last collection of ILO publications and the cartons of documents. The shelves were totally empty. Some chairs were battered and one door was full of bullet holes, a floor tile broken. Even if one adds that in the course of the departure paper supplies were lost and almost all the personal belongings of the four employees, one can conclude that the Office was lucky: lives were preserved; the library holdings hidden in the building’s basement had not been touched; the ILO publications were intact; the funds had been neither diverted nor stolen.

I discovered in Paris that the Deutsche Arbeit Front had not had the time to transport what they had taken to Berlin. Everything was in disarray but in good condition, located at the Comité de l’Amérique Latine, which I had only to have collected as soon as possible. The telephone had been cut, but I was able to have it re-connected with the same number. One could thus re-establish contact.

Mr. Adrien Tixier, the former ILO Assistant Director Minister of the Interior, who together with Alexandre Parodi, the Minister of Labour and Social Security, were members in General de Gaulle’s Liberation Government] asked me to send to Montreal, by the diplomatic pouch of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an account of the life of the Paris Office since 1940. That was how, by a letter dated 25 October 1944, Mr. Phelan, the Acting Director, was fully informed.21

Mr Adrien Tixier

[In 1945, the first International Labour Conference after the war took place in Paris and was chaired by Alexandre Parodi.] We had only to reconstruct the Office. My three colleagues were reintegrated, new employees were hired, all very young women, intelligent, enthusiastic and full of good will. They had come from the universities and we had to educate them on what the ILO was and how we functioned. They were interested in social questions. With them, normal activity began little by little and the Office once again found a respected place in Paris22.

In July 1963 Mrs. Morel  Rommel retired at the age of 65 and died on 15 March 1979.



1 Mario L.G. Roques (1S75-1961). Director of the Paris Branch Office from 17 March 1920 to 3l December 1936.

2 She was born on 28 November 1898 and died on 15 March 1979.

3 By Léon Jouhaux at the 1st Session of the Governing Body, 27 November 1919.

4 Harold B. Butler: The Lost Peace, London 1941, p. 49-50.

5 At the 2nd Session of the Governing Body, 26-28 January 1920, the decision was taken to establish the Paris Branch Office. The contracts of Mario Roques and Aimée-Elise Rommel are dated 1 February 1920.

6 On 8 June 1920 the 4th Session of the Governing Body took the decision to establish the seat of the Office at Geneva, and on 7 July 1920 the staff moved into the building known as La Châtelaine, now occupied by the Red Cross (see my article in the Letter Nr. 26, December 1999, p. 56).

7 13 October 1920.

8 « C’est peut-être alors que furent constatées chez lui des symptômes de diabète et d’urémie » (l’ Information Sociale, Paris 19.5. 1932).

9 “Albert Thomas was unrecognised by the proprietor and staff. The only clue to his identity was his

membership card of the Socialist Party” (Edward Phelan, Yes and Albert Thomas, 2nd Edition 1949, p. 230-231).

10 Others had seen him as a competent successor to Sir Eric Drummond as Secretary-General of the League of Nations (Phelan, op.cit. p.237).

11 He had fallen ill in Geneva and was hospitalized at Clinique Générale where he died on 1 August 1937.

12 For the conflict with the French government regarding the filling of this post, see my article Exit Butler in the Letter, Nr. 28, November 2000, p. 50 ff.

13 lt is significant that his fact and the name of the unsuccessful French candidate, Marius Viple, is not mentioned here.

14 Miss Rommel and Miss Péné departed for Biarritz on Wednesday 12 June and Mrs. Decz and Mr. Néel left for Abilly the following day. The evacuation of staff from the Ministry of Labour had already started on the preceding Sunday.

15 In the words of Miss Rommel: “Paris, devenu semblable à une ville de province le dimanche se repeuple peu à peu” with a curfew imposed from 4 pm to 5 am.

16 On 1 August 1940 at the Family Hotel, rue Cambon.

17 10 December according to other sources. That was also the date when the requisition was signed.

18 In fact Louis Dupont had not been in the same unit as Walter Reichhold but was a translator-reviser in the Legislative Service. Reichhshold was known to have pulled down the picture of Albert Thomas in the Berlin Office and replaced it with one of Adolph Hitler! He resigned on 15 May 1938.

19 Otto Bach has been an  official at the Berlin Office.

20 James W. Nixon, chief of the Statistical Section, had been prevented from returning to Geneva and had, as a UK citizen, been  interned. By the Germans.

21 Original letter on file p. 14/3. II (LO Archives). Phelan replied with a telegram dated 16 November 1944 in which he congratulates her with her devotion and success in maintaining the activities of the Paris Office during the occupation.

22 Mrs. Morel (as Miss Rommel was now known having married Julien Auguste Morel on 21 December 1944) continued as Officer-in-Charge of

the Paris Branch Office until the appointment by the

new Director-General David A. Morse of Mrs. Augustine Jouhaux as Director of the Paris Branch Office on 1 September 1949

  • 0

The Declaration of Philadelphia: 1944 – 2004 / François Agostini

The Declaration of Philadelphia, the 75th anniversary of which we now can commemorate, is rightly considered as a landmark in ILO history and it may be interesting, at this stage, briefly to review its background, contents and continuing significance.


According to the emergency policy devised in 1938, in case of war the ILO was to “endeavour to maintain its functions and services as far as it might prove practicable.”

In line with that policy, the ILO set up its wartime working centre in Montreal, Canada, and apart from a number of operational activities, held several meetings and Conferences in the American Continent, the most important of which were:

– the New York and Washington Extraordinary Session of the International Labour Conference (27 October – 6 November 1941) as a preliminary effort to define the ILO’s post-war policies and activities.

The Acting Director’s Report (Edward Phelan was at that time still Acting Director) dealt with the ILO’s future participation in the world’s economic and social reconstruction. Addressing the final session in Washington, President Roosevelt said: “Your Organisation will have an essential part to play in building up a stable international system of social justice for all peoples everywhere.”

Inevitably, the outcome of New York was:

– the Twenty-Sixth (Ordinary) Session of the International Labour Conference (Philadelphia, 22 April – 12 May 1944).

At the apex of its wartime activities the ILO defined its policies both for the immediate reconstruction period and for the longer-term peacetime world order.

The first concern was reflected in Recommendations No. 67 through 73; the second, in the unanimously adopted “Declaration of Philadelphia”, in the drafting of which Phelan and Jenks (then ILO Legal Adviser) played a prominent role.

Jenks and Phelan working on the draft Declaration


The full title of the Declaration is self-explanatory: “Declaration concerning the Aims and Purposes of the International Labour Organisation”, and the Preamble refers to “the principles that should inspire the policy of its Members”, thus pointing to the dual character of commitments (the Organisation to its Members; the Members to the Organisation).

Apart from the Preamble, the Declaration is divided into five parts.

Part I reaffirms the fundamental principles on which the Organisation is based, and in particular: labour is not a commodity; freedom of expression and association are essential to sustained progress; poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere; in the unrelenting war against want with a view to promoting the common welfare, national efforts must be combined with international cooperation on a free, democratic, tripartite basis.

Part II spells out the implications of the fundamental ILO principle that “lasting peace can be established only if it is based on social justice”, namely: equality of rights and opportunities for all human beings, without distinction, must be the central aim of national and international policies and measures, including those of an economic and financial character; ILO responsibility for examining and considering such policies and measures in the light of that fundamental objective and, as part of its functions, for introducing or recommending any provisions which it considers appropriate..

With this affirmation, the principle of equality of all human beings, passed for the first time into a statement of the aims and purposes of a world organization, so that the ILO Declaration in a way set a pattern for the United Nations Universal Charter and Declaration of  Human Rights.

 Part III refers to the ILO’s solemn obligation to further programmes for achieving full employment and the raising of living standards by various means: adequate jobs according to workers’ skills; vocational training: labour transfer and migration, wage and earning policies; hours of work and other working conditions; collective bargaining; labour-management cooperation in the continuous improvement of productive efficiency and the preparation of social and economic measures; social security, including medical care, for all; occupational safety and health policies; child welfare and maternity protection; adequate nutrition and housing, and facilities for recreation and culture; equality of educational and vocational opportunities.

 Part IV relates to the fulfilment of the abovementioned social programme with “the fuller and broader utilisation of the world’s productive resources” and to this end, recommends “effective international and national action”, namely: production and consumption expansion; avoidance of severe economic fluctuations; economic and social assistance to less developed regions; greater stability in world prices of primary products; promotion of international trade.

In this perspective, the ILO pledges its full cooperation with “such international bodies as may be entrusted with a share of the responsibility for this great task and for the promotion of the health, education and wellbeing of all peoples.”

Part V specifies the universal value of the principles set forth in the Declaration. Their application “must be determined with due regard to the stage of economic and social development reached by each people”, but their progressive application “to peoples that are still dependent, as well as to those who have already achieved self-government, is a matter of concern to the whole civilised world.”


In defining and announcing its medium and long-term objectives and programmes, the ILO unequivocally claimed its share of responsibility in building the postwar world order as well as its rightful position in the planned United Nations Family.

The Declaration was a renewed pledge to the ideals of Peace, Development and Social Justice, seen as the supreme common weal, that had guided the ILO together with the whole League of Nations system ever since 1919. It stressed the importance of international technical cooperation and clearly anticipated globalization.

As such the Declaration was meant from the start to be a key ILO document. It updated the contents and extended the scope of Article 41 (known as the “Labour Charter”, that bore the seal of Samuel Gompers) of the initial ILO Constitution which in 1944 was still Part XIII of the Versailles Peace Treaty.  It was therefore logical that, as a substitute for old Article 41, the Philadelphia Declaration should become  an integrated part of the Constitution  of the International Labour Organization when the latter was revised in 1946.

For the ILO as well as the international community at large, the Philadelphia Declaration is as relevant and binding today as when it was signed  many decades ago.

Edward J. Phelan signing the Declaration of Philadelphia on 17 May1944 at a meeting with President Roosevelt at the White House in Washington. Also present are: Secretary of State Cordell Hull, the President of the ILO Philadelphia Conference Walter Nash, US Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins and ILO Assistant Director Lindsay Rogers

  • 0

President Roosevelt and the Declaration of Philadelphia / Edward J. Phelan, Director-General 1942-1946.

The International Labour Conference met in Philadelphia in 1944 although WWII was still raging. It framed a Declaration not only restating the aims and purposes of the ILO, but formulating the fundamental principles on which a peaceful world society could be built, a Declaration to which President Roosevelt publicly gave his endorsement, welcoming it as “fitted to take its place beside the Declaration of Independence”.

This phrase, and indeed the whole of his statement, which stressed in a succession of equally striking terms, the importance he attached to the Declaration, must have seemed to many to reflect his enthusiasm of its social content, which corresponded in many respects to his own social philosophy. In reality, he regarded the Declaration as having a much deeper significance and an immediate practical utility. His major preoccupation had long been the problem of peace. When he first took office as President of the United States in 1933, he was fully conscious of the darkening international horizon, but found himself in the presence of “deep-seated convictions among his people on both political and economic isolation”.

The problem, as Cordell Hull described in his memoirs, was to find some method of pursuing international cooperation and educating the United States in its operation “without precipitating isolation as an acute political issue in the Nation”, which could only have resulted in his Administration being “thrown bodily out of power as soon as the American public had a chance to get to the polls”. Under those circumstances, joining the League of Nations was out of the question, but the International Court and, more importantly, because of its continuous activity, the International Labour Organisation, offered an opportunity “of convincing Americans that the United States was an integral part of world cooperation”.

Frances Perkins has told, with vivid detail1, the way in which President Roosevelt in 1933 guided the various steps by which the consent of Congress was obtained for United States membership in the ILO in 1934. Although the chapter in which she recounts her conversations with the President on this subject deals only with the ILO, it is significantly entitled “Approaches to World Order”.

The latter part of the chapter tells of his continued interest in the ILO after membership had been achieved, and of how he devoted himself “enthusiastically” to receiving the ILO delegates when they came to the United States in 1941, and it concludes with the words: “The success with the ILO was to bear fruit in a wider sphere.” Against this background it is easy to understand President Roosevelt’s interest in the ILO conferences in New York and Philadelphia (1941 and 1944 respectively). Both conferences, but more particularly, that of Philadelphia, were, for him, a testing ground of the possibilities of international cooperation, “a rehearsal”, as Cordell Hull puts it2, for a later conference that would draw up an organic statute under which the United Nations might build an enduring peace. Therefore, what particularly inspired the President’s enthusiasm for the Declaration of Philadelphia was the way in which, to use his own words, “it summed up the aspirations of an epoch”, and placed those aspirations in the framework of “universal and lasting peace based upon social justice”.

Although President Roosevelt’s speeches, read in the light of what has been written by Mr. Cordell Hull and Miss Frances Perkins, are in themselves conclusive enough, there has recently become available a peculiarly interesting confirmation of the place which the ILO occupied in his thinking about the future peace structure of the world. It is no more than a scrap of paper on which have been scribbled some half-dozen words in diagrammatic fashion. Its interest lies in the fact that they are in Roosevelt’s handwriting and on the occasion in which they were written.

Robert Sherwood has recounted how in Teheran, in 1943, Roosevelt outlined to Stalin his ideas for a post-war organization based on the United Nations which would deal with the problems of peace3. The President’s exposé, as summarized by Sherwood from Harry Hopkins’ papers, suggested that there should be an Assembly, an Executive Council and enforcement machinery which he referred to as “the four policemen” (the USSR, the United States, the United Kingdom and China). There is no reference in the summary of the President’s exposé, nor in that of the discussion which followed, to the ILO, but Harry Hopkins preserved a slip of paper on which the President had rioted, either before or during the discussion, the points which he intended to make. Three roughly drawn circles represent the Assembly, the Council and “the four policemen” and underneath them the President wrote “ILO – Health – Agric. – Food”.

What is interesting is that it is not the subjects with which the ILO deals which are indicated, but the ILO itself, presumably because the President thought of it as a going concern, and an institution which would naturally take its place in the new structure and continue its activities under the new dispensation.

A long road had been travelled since the day when the President, ten years earlier, remembering “how Wilson lost the League of Nations”, had authorised Miss Perkins to take the first cautious steps to secure United States’ membership in the ILO4.

The whole history of the effort to build a structure of world peace revolves around the progress of the United States from a position of extreme isolation to one of leadership in the creation of the United Nations. The honour of having been the portal through which that progress began, belongs wholly to the ILO.



1 See Frances Perkins: The Roosevelt I Knew (New York, The Viking Press, 1946), pp. 337-346.

2 Mr. Hull indicates that his motive also played a part in the calling of the Bretton Woods and the Food and Agricultural Conferences. See The Memoirs of Cordell Hull.  (New York, The Macmillan Company, 1948) pp. 176 and 177.

3 See Robert E. Sherwood: Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History, (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1948).

4 Frances Perkins, op.cit. p. 340

  • 0

The ILO during World War II and the transfer of the Working Centre to Canada / Jean Mayer


The following is the summary of a presentation I made on 14 March 2016 at a meeting of the AFOIT. This was based essentially on the academic thesis of Professor Victor-Yves Guebali: Organisation internationale et guerre mondiale: le cas de la Société des Nations et de l’Organisation internationale du Travail pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale (Brussels, Editions Bruylant, 2013). Some 425 pages out of a total of 800 concern the ILO, supplemented by an invaluable set of footnotes.

This vast historical epic made a slice of history itself, and one might well have feared the worst: when Ghebali died, his 1975 thesis from the University of Grenoble was nowhere to be found. It fell to his colleague and friend at the University of Geneva, professor of public international law Robert Kolb, with the help of an army of collaborators, to recreate the text from thousands of fragments of manuscript, so ensuring its scientific integrity.

It is an absolutely vital document, and all of those colleagues can be immensely proud.

The acronym AFOIT designates the French Association for the ILO (Association française pour l’OIT), whose purpose is to promote the Organization’s values to those among the French public – conference delegates, civil servants, professors, researchers – who take an interest in social justice. It seems to be the second association of this kind, after one in Japan. Founded in 2001 by Jean-Jacques Oechslin, it is currently chaired by Gilles de Robien.

In addition to the exchange of information and presentations by its members or invited outside specialists, the AFOIT organizes study tours to Geneva for students and academics. It also presents the annual Francis Blanchard Prize, worth a substantial sum, awarded for an original study that is international in scope and written in the French language.

 1933: Awareness of emerging perils

It all began with the fear, then terror, of a resurgence of global conflict. Significantly, the Reichstag fire in February 1933 sparked the withdrawal of Germany from the League of Nations. Instituted by the 43 Allied and Associated Powers on the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919, the League had found Germany responsible for the violation of the peace. The brand new Palais des Nations had a relatively promising beginning, but its skies suddenly darkened one misty morning in October 1933.

Here it was that around 100 delegates endured a barrage of invective from Goebbels, whom the new German chancellor Hitler was soon to appoint Reichsminister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.[1] With a shamelessness that sent a chill through his audience, he offered this justification for Germany’s decision to withdraw from the League in October 1933 (a withdrawal that was perfectly legal provided two years’ notice was given and no recourse made to war, two conditions that manifestly were not met): “Gentlemen, a man’s home is his castle. We are a sovereign State. We will do what we want with our socialists, our pacifists and our Jews, and we are not subject to any control, whether from mankind in general or the League of Nations in particular.” A prompt response in verse came from poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht: “O Germany, pale mother! / How have your sons arrayed you / That you sit among the peoples / A thing of scorn and fear!”

Albeit more discreetly, Germany withdrew from the ILO as well[2] with, notably, Austria, Italy, Japan and Spain following suit shortly afterwards. It was only after the cessation of hostilities that they all rejoined the Organization. For years, these withdrawals severely hampered the ILO in terms of financial resources. Indeed, Germany and Japan resumed payment of their contributions only in 1951, Russia in 1954 and Spain in 1956.

Subsequent events swiftly confirmed the worst apprehensions. In November 1937 the so-called Pact of Steel was signed, allying Germany with Italy and Japan. The years 1938 and 1939 saw a downward spiral, with the Munich agreement, followed by Hitler’s invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, and France and England declaring war on Germany. In 1940, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg capitulated, with France being forced to accept an armistice and divided into two zones. Within the echo chamber that Geneva had become, not only the international community and the media but also the general public realized that a major conflict threatening democracy was now imminent. Even Switzerland, despite its neutrality since the Rütli oath of 1291, seemed in danger of being surrounded or invaded.

Reaction of the ILO

Faced with these events, what was the response of the successive leaders of the ILO, and how did they manage to safeguard the Organization, its values and its staff?

Let us first revisit the place where those initial decisions were taken: the ILO no longer occupied its original building on Avenue Appia (La Châtelaine, Thudichum Boarding School – now the ICRC headquarters), where Albert Thomas settled in after his election at the ILC in Washington in November 1919.[3] From 1926, it was installed in a new building, the work of a Lausanne architect in a neoclassical style, on the right bank of the lake on the Rue de Lausanne. Since the ILO’s move to Grand-Saconnex in 1974, it has been the headquarters of the International Trade Organization.

We should also recall the Office’s first two decades, while touching on the life and work of our first Director, Albert Thomas. Born in 1878 into a large family in Champigny-sur-Marne in the suburbs of Paris, his father a baker, he quenched his thirst for education by the light of the oven. He attended the Michelet lycée in Vanves where he won a scholarship in history and geography. At the Ecole Normale Supérieure he studied history, going on to obtain a doctorate in law before authoring histories both of German trade unionism and the Second Empire. It was at this time that he met Léon Blum of La Revue Blanche and Charles Péguy of Les Cahiers de la Quinzaine, as well as Arthur Fontaine, later to chair the ILO Governing Body from 1919 to 1931 and serve as leader of the Government group.

Next came his political period: he became a municipal councillor, mayor, then MP. In this last capacity, he took part in October 1919 in the parliamentary debates on the Treaty of Versailles. Ratification was obtained by 372 votes to 72. Thomas abstained, presumably (Ghebali does not address this) so as not to widen the open divide in his own party, the French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO). In late 1920 at the Tours Congress, the split, between reformists and the supporters of Léon Blum, become permanent. Blum, his confirmed adversary, was only too happy to see Thomas exiled to Geneva.

Earlier, in May 1915, President of the Council[4] René Viviani, having tasked Albert Thomas with an inspection report on national defence, was so satisfied with the result that he made him Undersecretary of State for Artillery and Military Equipment. This was expanded a year later, under the presidencies of Aristide Briand then Alexandre Ribot, with his appointment as Minister of Armaments and War Manufactures.

Henceforth, proclaiming long and loud his slogan “Peace through War”, he concentrated his efforts in two directions: tripling manpower in the metalworking industry, now controlled by the State; and boosting the daily production of shells from 36,000 to 100,000. He nevertheless sought to mitigate those efforts with protective measures such as the prohibition of nightwork for women (who accounted for a quarter of the workforce), lessening of male/female wage differentials, compulsory arbitration of wage claims, and worker representation. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that the first Director – elected at the inaugural ILO Conference in Washington in October 1919 “for his enthusiasm and dynamism” – saw to it that such concerns were included in 27 of the first 33 ILO Conventions which he had to promote.

Twenty years later, the Organization was to owe its salvation to other larger-than-life characters.American John G. Winant was a personal friendof President Roosevelt, who had entrusted him with piloting the New Deal social security programme; a four-term governor of Wisconsin, he had instituted social legislation in the state.[5]

British classicist Harold Butler had a brilliant mind: a first-rate diplomat and orator, as well as a theoretician of the international civil service, he served as Thomas’s deputy before becoming his successor in 1932; as co-author of Part XIII of the Versailles Treaty, on labour, he also participated in the famous formulation of the Declaration of Philadelphia at the 26th ILC in May 1944, “labour is not a commodity”, later enshrined in the ILO Constitution. Irish physicist Edward J. Phelan, one of the authors of that Constitution and a close collaborator of Albert Thomas, became Deputy Director in 1939 and successor to Winant from 1941 to 1948.

At the operational level, Wilfred Jenks, an internationally renowned lawyer after coming down from Cambridge, co-author with Phelan of the Declaration of Philadelphia as well as the principal architect of the international labour standards, and possessing a perfect knowledge of the Organization’s strengths and weaknesses, was Director-General from 1970 to 1973.

So it was with good reason that in February 1939 it was Jenks whom the Governing Body nominated to head up a committee charged with defining the measures to be taken in the event of an emergency. A reduction in the number of posts seemed likely to be the first of these, owing to the financial crisis precipitated by the departure of half a dozen developed countries: sure enough, decisions were taken to abolish 44 permanent posts, suspend the contracts of officials called up by their national armed forces – lowering the total from 498 to 316 – and make a 15% expenditure cut to the previous budget while maintaining the same level of activity. These decisions received support in principle from the three constituent groups, both in Geneva and at the 1939 Havana Regional Conference, despite the Employers’ continuing refusal to approve the relevant budget.

At the same time, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs was sounded out about the possibility that the department of Allier, and more precisely the town of Vichy, might constitute a safe haven. The thinking behind this hypothesis centred on the spa resort’s logistical assets (accommodation capacity, immediate availability of office space, telephone network) – the same assets that were to make it the seat of choice for the government of Marshal Philippe Pétain.

As the situation worsened, ambitions were scaled back to a mere one-year lease of the town’s Pavillon Sévigné hotel, intended for the evacuation of 50 officials in the event Switzerland was invaded. The government headed by Pétain having settled in Vichy in June 1940, however, John G. Winant took the decision to cancel this rapid departure from Switzerland.

For their part, the federal authorities in Berne, profoundly attached to the defence of their neutrality and fearful of losing the more prestigious of the two organizations headquartered in Geneva, fluctuated between two positions: on one hand, the requirement to maintain all ILO staff there, as well as those of the League of Nations of which the Organization formed part (Articles 392 and 397 of the Treaty of Versailles); on the other, the threat of an ultimatum whereby our officials in their entirety would be summarily expelled following any invasion of Switzerland.

With remarkable persuasive force, Winant asserted that the temporary transfer of strictly indispensable staff to the Working Centre in Montreal would be perfectly legal, on the understanding that the Office per se would be maintained in Geneva by officials responsible for liaison and archives.

 The counter-example of the League of Nations

The quality of these remarkable ILO leaders highlights the disastrous role played by the League of Nations Secretary General from 1933 to 1940, Joseph Avenol of France: in the judgement of his staff, “the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time”. As a result of his open sympathy for the Axis powers, he refused the refuge offered to the League by Princeton University in June 1940 in order not to miss the opportunity of refashioning the organization around a nucleus of Nazi Germany, Vichy France, Francoist Spain and Fascist Italy. Having purged the staff of dissenters from the New Order, he lost his organization 85% of its officials – not least the British ones – and its publication revenues. On his return to France in 1940, he offered his services to Pétain, without success. At the San Francisco conference, which founded the UN out of the rubble of the League in May 1945, his presence was naturally considered undesirable.

 Preparations for the ILO’s departure

Back to the ILO, now home to interminable internal and external discussions about a possible destination for the transfer of a number of strictly indispensable officials. In this context, the very word “choice” is inappropriate, with the few names advanced coming up against a material or political objection: San Miguel, an island of the Portuguese Azores, was dismissed because of its small size and remoteness; London was located at the very heart of the conflict; the US was reluctant to propose Washington because of the probable refusal of the Senate to grant immunity to the half of the workforce that came from belligerent countries; nor was Latin America selected, despite its proximity and the fact that as the only long-decolonized subcontinent, divided into some twenty States, it was particularly conducive to a wide range of activities which had hitherto been neglected.

It was not until June 1940 that, thanks to the good offices of Great Britain, John G. Winant was able to opt for Canada, thus helping to strengthen social policy in North America because of its level of development and the quality of its democratic rulers. Montreal, “bilingual like Geneva”, proved to be the only solution that immediately suited everyone.

ILO Working Centre in Montreal, 1940

In August 1940, the decision was formalized by the Director, who informed all member countries of the imminent transfer to Montreal, even though it was impossible to obtain the agreement of the chair of the Workers’ group – a situation that became known as “Winant’s roll of the dice”. Finally, the question of privileges and immunities was settled without problem by the Canadian Government in August 1941.

Of the 63 officials opting for voluntary separation, 40 were retained, from 18 nationalities, some 8% of the total complement. All other contracts were suspended (especially of those who had been called up) or terminated, the statutory indemnities due being spread over several years.

From Geneva, via Lisbon and an Atlantic crossing, to a home in Montreal

The party of remaining ILO officials and their families set off in October 1940, the initial journey taking five days by train and bus. They encountered no difficulties at any of the border crossings, even in Spain, barred from the League of Nations because of its attitude during the civil war, and Portugal. The group had to wait a month in Lisbon (the photos can be seen on the web), both for the docking of their ship from Greece, which had joined the Allies, and pending the outcome of negotiations – conducted for the ILO by ADG Adrien Tixier – with the Vichy government, which opposed any French official’s departure for Canada or any other belligerent country.

The ILO party landed in New York before continuing by train to Montreal, with the French having to remain in the United States, at least temporarily, given the ban by Vichy. The rest of the group moved to a disused chapel at McGill University. (In 1967, participants in the Ottawa Regional Conference – in which I was able to take part with my counterpart after my first expert mission, in Chile – had an opportunity to discover these historic sites, with no little emotion.) In 1941, John Winant, renowned as someone who got things done, judged that he had seen the transfer to Montreal successfully through and left the ILO to become US ambassador to London. Edward Phelan, his deputy, succeeded him through till 1948. Two articles by Phelan – “The ILO sets up its wartime centre in Canada” and “The ILO turns the corner”, republished in Edward Phelan and the ILO (ILO, 2009) – provide an excellent description of this difficult period.

 The ILO Working Centre in Montreal

Although it had lost two-thirds of its customary scope for action and shifted its focal point from Europe to the Americas, the ILO managed to maintain a satisfactory level of functioning, mainly thanks to its budgetary resources and the fact that the Employers’ group, which did an about-turn when it realized the importance of the Organization in a war context, approved the budget each year. Some three-quarters of these resources came from the Commonwealth, the US, India and China, and the ILO managed to get its dues paid directly, without going through the League of Nations.

These factors contributed to the growth of the staff from 70 officials in 1941 to 143 in 1944. In addition, the existence of a network of ten ILO national offices played an appreciable supporting administrative role. Membership of the Organization remained stable: of 57 member States in 1939, 52 still formed part in 1944, despite the (temporary) withdrawal of Germany, Italy, Spain, the USSR and Japan. Conferences remained important but met less frequently: among the most noteworthy was the October 1941 ILC in New York, a city chosen to give the US (admitted in 1934) the benefit of the experience of tripartism existing among more longstanding members; 34 countries participated, including the eight Governments in exile in London (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece, five of them members of the GB).

During this Conference, the delegate from Vichy France in Washington tried in vain to prevent the intervention of the representative of Free France, sent by de Gaulle. Phelan moreover managed to extend the competence of the ILO to economic and social reconstruction and the collation and analysis of the associated plans of 20 countries, in accordance with Article 10 of the Constitution. This ILC culminated at the White House, where President Roosevelt hosted the participants. Five maritime conferences were held in London.

Finally, the most important meeting, the 26th International Labour Conference, held in May 1944, unanimously adopted the so-called Philadelphia Declaration on the aims and purposes of the ILO. Developed by Phelan and Jenks, it was considered the most significant text since the founding of the Organization and would be annexed to the Constitution.

In the legislative sphere, two of the three procedures were changed during this period: the adoption of new standards was suspended; while the ratification of the existing Conventions took on a new impetus, visible in 18 Latin American countries; finally, the monitoring of their effective implementation by the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, created in 1927, was made more flexible through a system of more summary information provided by the countries concerned, with a response rate of 60%.

Wilfred Jenks


The Office was unable to exercise its capacity to carry out quasi-judicial activities (observations and sanctions, but not condemnations).

It may be recalled that there are three bodies of this type: the aforementioned Committee of Experts; the Commission of Inquiry provided for by the Constitution (Article 26), ruling on complaints between member States; and the ILO Administrative Tribunal, an industrial tribunal dealing with complaints by international civil servants against their employer. This last function was transferred from the League of Nations to the ILO following the former’s dissolution as decided at San Francisco in June 1946, with its jurisdiction extended to the staff of the UN and the many so-called specialized agencies – UNESCO for education, WHO for health, FAO for food, etc. – created after the war. In respect of violations of trade union rights, the Committee on Freedom of Association was not established until 1951.

Article III of the Declaration of Philadelphia (“the solemn obligation… to further [programmes] among the nations of the world”) provided for technical advice to be provided to member countries, an activity which would take off spectacularly after the war in the form of technical cooperation/assistance, financed largely partly by UNDP. At the time, this was limited to the area of social security: three Czech specialists covered 19 mainly Latin American countries, including Chile at the request of the Minister of Labour and Health, Dr Salvador Allende. In the same field, the ILO helped both Great Britain to develop the Beveridge Plan, and Free France, established in Algiers, to totally overhaul the Vichy government’s Labour Charter. In addition, Rens, the Belgian member of the Workers’ group in the GB and future Deputy Director-General, successfully launched the Andean Development Plan in four countries of the subcontinent.

The ILO was unable to organize regional conferences in North and South America as it did in Havana in 1939. But – more importantly – it did, like the US, Great Britain and France, participate as an observer at the conferences in Dumbarton Oaks (Washington, DC) and Bretton Woods (Arkansas, June-July 1944) that created the IMF and the World Bank, forerunners of economic globalization.

The ILO, which had been invited only as an observer and without trade union participation, not only protested but expressed its astonishment that the objective of full employment was not mentioned at all. In fact, it took thirty years for both organizations’ strategies, as advocated and clarified by the ILO World Employment Conference (1976), to change position. A tripartite delegation took part in the San Francisco Conference (June 1945) which founded the United Nations, made the ILO the first specialized agency (despite Russia’s opposition, based on its hostility to tripartism) and adopted the UN Charter.

Three years later, meeting in Paris, the United Nations pursued this founding legislative task by adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which includes, in addition to civil and political rights, the economic, social and cultural rights treated by the ILO in conventions on the right to work, equal pay and freedom of association. Finally, regarding these two clusters of rights, in 1966 the United Nations adopted two Covenants, ratified by three-quarters of the planet, emphasizing the fundamental nature of these rights and allowing for the sanctioning of violations. In addition, thematic technical meetings were organized, such as 1942’s inter-American meeting in Chile on social security, and another in 1943 that brought together ten countries in Montreal on the internationalization of the social security model, opening the way for the 1944 ILC in Philadelphia to make it mandatory.

In terms of information, the record was very positive: the press service reached 700 Canadian and American newspapers and magazines, and the number of publications doubled (in comparison, those of the League of Nations dropped by 90 per cent). The ongoing publications programme – which included coverage of national reconstruction plans – earned appreciation, in particular the Yearbook of Labour Statistics and the International Labour Review, which was even the subject of a pirate edition in German, bearing a swastika on the cover.

The ILO leadership, on the other hand, was aware of the Organization’s lack of preparedness to undertake research on social policy instruments that incorporated the international economic dimensions it had been advocating, which were not usually tackled by Ministries of Labour. In fact, during its first decade of existence, the ILO research programme successfully confined itself to the collation and publication of statistics on employment and unemployment, thanks to the recruitment of experienced specialists.

Return to Geneva  after the war

The Montreal staff’s return to Geneva took place in successive waves over the course of 1945. Numbering 40 when they left for Montreal, a total of 150 came back. In his memoirs, Francis. Blanchard dates the restoration of the Office in Geneva to 1948. It is notable that no one attempted to start an “ex-Montrealers’ club”. This had been a high-risk trial for the ILO, and it was never mentioned again. Twenty-five years later, with the departure of David Morse (Director-General from 1948 to 1970), the staff of the Office had grown from 140 to 1,500 officials, plus an equal number of experts in technical cooperation projects in the field; as of 31 December 2016, it stood at a grand total of 2,903 staff members worldwide: 1,155 at headquarters (including 216 on TC contracts) and 1,748 in field offices (including 970 on TC contracts).

ILO attributes

The remarkable success of the ILO during the war years is due to many factors:

  • basic assets: its credit emerge being intact, if only by comparison with the League of Nations; its broad membership, including the United States; direct and permanent contact with public opinion, thanks to its tripartism; appropriate preparations for the state of war;
  • endogenous factors: a flexible, non-legalistic approach to problems; a degree of foresight; leadership of exceptional quality; team spirit among the staff; the success of the New York and Philadelphia Conferences; motivation among delegates;
  • exogenous factors: the increasing weakness of the League of Nations; the alignment between the social ideals of the ILO and the ideology of the member States engaged in the war; the ILO’s commitment to the Allied cause.

So it was that Roosevelt was able to say: “The ILO synthesized the aspirations of an era marked by two world wars.” Or in the words of Winant, his compatriot: “The transfer brought us freedom of thought, assembly and movement.”

[1] Hitler acceded to the post of Chancellor of Germany in January 1933, becoming head of State – Führer – in 1934

[2] It announced its withdrawal in November 1933, effective 1935.

[3] For the election of Albert Thomas see the above article by Carl V. Bramsnaes., pp. 11-13.

[4] As the Head of Government was known in the Third French Republic.

[5] For John G.Winant, see above article.

  • 0

John Gilbert Winant – the third Director of the ILO 1939-1941 / Carol Riegelman Lubin

Mrs. Carol Riegelman LubinI, ILO Official 1935 to 1952, has written a personal account of the late John G. Winant. Considering the short period he was Director and the many years, which since have passes since then, it is not surprising that he is little known today. In this personal account, Mrs. Riegelman Lubin gives a vivid description of the events which led to Winant joining the ILO, the dramatic years as Director and his further career after having resigned in 1941.

 I have been asked to write an account of John Gilbert Winant1 (known as Gil by his friends and Governor by his political supporters) because neither his personality nor his achievements are

remembered today by most of the staff or former staff of the ILO. I first met him during the summer of 1934, when, immediately after the US joined the ILO, Harold B. Butler, the Director, offered Winant the post of Assistant Director and asked me to tell him about the ILO and convince him to accept the appointment.

Why did Butler select me – a twenty-five year old research assistant at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace – to take on this responsibility? The answer is that I was one of a very small number of US citizens who knew anything about the ILO and whom Butler knew well. I had spent the summer of 1929-30, at the end of my junior year at Smith College, doing research at the ILO for my senior “dissertation”. After several weeks of asking advice from ILO officials such as Urwick and Spates of the International Management Institute, Richardson and Ellison of ILO staff and various others whose suggestions varied from the history of the Convention on Maternity Leave to a comparison of the economic work of the League and ILO, Pône, Clottu and De Maday took me in hand and decided I should study the evolution of the Standing Orders of the ILO. The result was a very busy summer with time at the ILO shared with lectures at the Zimmern International Summer School. (The details are in a daily diary that I kept that summer.)

I returned to Smith College in September 1929, and when I looked at my notes I realized I lacked details about the origins of the ILO. So in spring vacation I went to the office of James T. Shotwell, Professor of History at Columbia University and Director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who, I knew, had been a member of the US delegation to the Peace Conference, served on the Commission that had written the Constitution of the International Labour Organization and had been the US member of the Organizing Committee of the ILO. He opened his papers to me – I was the first person who had ever asked to see them – and then got amused and interested by my questions (first time I had ever seen original documents). He told me to send him my paper when it was finished – and then to come and see him when I graduated. This I did and he told me that he had decided to write the History of the Origins of the ILO and invited me to be his research assistant – thus beginning five years of happy education in which I met all the top level staff of the ILO and most of the participants in the founding of the ILO.

We used the book then in page proof, as a document in the Congressional discussion for the membership of the US in the ILO. It was in connection with the publishing of this two volume study that I met Albert Thomas and then worked closely with Butler. Shotwell was not only a close friend of Butler ever since they worked together at the Peace Conference but also Butler’s closest link in his dealings with ILO/US relationships.

So with this as background, it was natural for Butler to ask me to “inform” Winant about the ILO. (He also at this time suggested that if Winant accepted I should come to Geneva as his assistant. I never knew whether Winant was aware of this when he later asked me to come). Winant was then the out-going Governor of New Hampshire (the Constitution of New Hampshire prohibits more than two successive terms) and had told Butler that he would not be able to give him a definite answer for several months.

After one long interview (in his wife’s NY apartment), he told me to keep in touch while he analysed the situation. I found that the best opportunity to talk to him that summer was at Dog Shows – where he was showing bull terriers (his wife raised and showed West Highland Whites), and I was showing a Cairn terrier and an Old English Sheepdog. His decision-making took more than six months – to the great frustration of Harold Butler.

Once Winant had decided to go to the ILO, there were long negotiations as to the timing and as to what his responsibilities would be. It was finally agreed that he should come to Geneva in time to attend the 1935 International Labour Conference, and the preceding session of the Governing Body. He asked me to go along as his assistant. He also invited the daughter of a very close New Hampshire colleague, Abbie Rollins2, a PhD student at Yale, to come for the summer as part of his staff. His personal secretary, Mary Healy3, who had worked for him ever since he was an administrator and teacher at St. Paul’s School, was to join him later in the summer. So Mr. and Mrs. Winant, their son John, Abbie and I proceeded to Geneva on the same ship as the first official US delegation to the International Labour Conference4.

The voyage was an eye-opener for all of us! First, in personal terms, Abbie and I (both 26 and 25 years old) decided we needed to know how Winant expected us to work, and agreed that since I knew the ILO and she knew a lot about his personal relations, we should divide the work accordingly. We then went to him with our ideas – which he promptly reversed! Then I, haring been well trained by Shotwell, asked if we should keep minutes – or a diary – of meetings, interviews etc. or whether he would dictate a summary. His answer – “Christ, child, don’t you know that no politician puts anything on paper”. In fact, as I soon learned, he put everything on scraps of paper, kept them in his pocket and ultimately turned them over to Mary. Winant was always a complicated boss as he never separated personal and official relations. He was concerned with the personal life of those around him and expected the same absorption in the job as in personal life.

Once many years later I was asked by Averill Harriman, when he was Governor of New York State, what Winant was like to work for and without thinking I answered “rather like working for you”- and then bit my tongue as I almost continued that “you both struggled over every word for hours when writing a speech to make it perfect and neither of you could read it properly”. However I answered – the chief difference is that you call us at 6 am to talk policy and Winant did not hesitate to keep us working till after midnight!

More seriously, to return to 1935, the delegation held daily meetings, to which we were invited, to prepare their positions for Geneva based on full documentation. The ILO had not given Winant any papers of this kind and so for the first time he learned from the US delegation what the discussions of the Conference would be about and the significance to the US of the adoption of the proposed Convention on the 40 hour week. In the course of the voyage, Charles Wyzanski, the Solicitor of the Department of Labor, received a cable informing him that the Supreme Court had declared the NRA’s5 National Industrial Recovery Act unconstitutional and therefore invalidated the wage and hour legislation that had been put into effect in the US. Adoption of a 40 Hour Work week by the ILO might be used as a tool in the US battle for reduced working hours.

It was only on the train trip from the boat to Paris that Winant was shown the Governing Body paper6 indicating that he was expected to take an oath of office before the Governing Body in which he would agree to be responsible to the Director of the ILO7, alone, on letter-head paper which had the League of Nations parallel to the ILO. He exploded and Charles Wyzanski, the Solicitor of the Department of Labor agreed with him that he could not take such an oath. On arrival in Paris, I took Winant to the office of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to obtain the advice of Malcolm Davis, a good friend and long supporter of international institutions – and from there we telephoned to Butler. After long debate – including Winant’s threat to return to the US – it was agreed that we would stay in Paris until after the Governing Body had completed its session and only arrive in Geneva after the Conference had started! In fact Winant never took the oath before the Governing Body until he was elected Director, by which time the reference to the League had been removed8. But even then he was unhappy about the whole concept of the loyalty oath which stated that he “would not seek or accept instructions from any government or other authority.” In his view, as a US citizen his first loyalty was to the Government of the US and as a former elected Governor, he would always be loyal to those who had elected him.

The 1935 Conference was a benchmark in ILO history – with the participation of both the US and the USSR9 in the adoption of the Convention No 47 on the Forty-Hour week. For Winant it was a learning experience, both with respect to the ILO internal bureaucracy and to the degree to which compromises were difficult tools to use internationally and multi-lingually.

Immediately after the Conference all the top senior staff went on leave and Winant suddenly found himself in charge of an office which he didn’t really know. His informal approach and open-door operations were unfamiliar to most of the staff- and his lack of any French language skills did not help. Still in a very short time he learned whom he could count upon as effective colleagues. But after only about a month he was asked by the President to return to the US to become a top member  of the Administration – the question put to him was whether he would rather be head of the National Labor Relations Board or the Social Security Board.

With cables flying between Winant and Secretary Perkins, he sought to reach his ILO boss – Harold Butler – to learn his attitude but he was vacationing somewhere on the French coast. Finally reached, he regretfully agreed that John Winant should return to the US to explore the situation – and then determine what should be done.

In the short time that Winant, initially, was in Geneva he had been made responsible for not only US relations but also for the preparation of the upcoming first Labour Conference of the American States Members which are Members of the ILO to be held in Santiago, Chile (2-14 January 1936), and the planning for the Textile Conference to be held in Washington (2-17 April 1937).

This was of particular concern to him because he had been a key arbitrator in the textile industry in the US while he was Governor. As one of his first acts he reorganized the Washington Office and put a close colleague from his earlier days (Ethel Johnsonr10, known as the Bluebird) in charge – which gave him an unofficial liaison office during the period that he was in the US as head of the Social Security Board. Throughout this period, Winant never lost touch with the ILO. At one time when Butler was in the US, he realized how closely Winant was following the work of the ILO, and then asked him specifically to keep an eye on the Washington Office! Technically he used the ILO to help him set up the US social security system. He brought Adrien Tixier, Chief of the ILO Social Security Section (later Assistant Director in 1937) and several members of his staff to Washington to advise the new Social Security Board. Winant returned to Geneva in 1936 as the head of the US delegation to the 20th Session of the International Labour Conference, of which he was elected Vice-President, and in 1937 he chaired the Textile Conference, held in Washington also as head of the US delegation.

I wrote him weekly letters throughout, although this was personal rather than official. Anyone who worked directly for Winant considered him the boss for the rest of his/her life! My letters, as I remember, were as much about staff, activities of the Office of the US Labor Commissioner and Consulate and political developments at the League as about ILO activities as such.

ln 1937 when Winant had left the Social Security Board (a US political decision outside the scope of this article) Butler convinced him to return to the ILO as Assistant Director11 – but with the private understanding that Butler intended to resign before the end of his term (i.e. 1942) and would make every effort to have Winant succeed him. During the period of his Assistant Directorship Winant’s major emphasis was on improving the ILO’s technical capacity in the economic field and strengthening it’s relationships in the America’s – especially with Latin-American and Caribbean countries, some of which were not members of the ILO. This meant that he was very frequently away from Geneva and therefore remained somewhat unknown to the staff at large.

Winant’s work hours were normally to start relatively late and to stay very late at night – so the staff he knew best were those likely to be found in their offices after seven or eight pm. Despite his personal shyness, Winant liked informal contact with his colleagues and would frequently call someone into discuss an issue and keep him talking for long periods – even when others were waiting or he was due some place else!

One of his major forms of relaxation at this time was to take long lunch hours to look at houses in the ring of villages that surround Geneva and consider where he wanted to live. He had rented a very large “mansion” in Vésenaz-Cologny (on the left side of the Lake) where his staff provided for his eleven year old son (then at the International School of Geneva) and a number of young US women who were working at the ILO in various short- term positions. His wife meantime was in and out of Geneva touring in a small Ford car, and building strong social connections. Winant’s other two children at this time were in boarding schools and only came to Geneva occasionally during vacations. Winant belonged to a large family – both on his side and his wife’s – and many turned up in Geneva from time to time to learn what was going on.

Winant was an instinctive politician with a deep concern for human rights; his lifelong idol was Abraham Lincoln12. Winant often discussed his admiration for Lincoln based on his freeing of the slaves and would get very angry when any of us insisted that the role of Lincoln as slave freer was secondary to the economic situation that brought the civil war. Winant began his career as a history teacher at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, which he had himself attended. When he decided to go into politics he campaigned house to house as a liberal Republican seeking office in an almost entirely conservative Republican state. He served under Roosevelt as the Republican Member of the Social Security Board. Although to all the world he seemed to have become a Democrat, he never changed his party membership even while adopting the principles of the New Deal.

 The coming of the War

With the approach of the Second World War, the international situation deteriorated and with Fascism and Nazism rampant, the role of the Organization in case of war became the major issue under discussion in the Office with a sharp division between the “universalists” or “neutralists” and those who wanted the ILO to be an active supporter of the future united allies and plan for the future of international bodies.

As the world crisis came to a head, Butler faced an internal crisis in the ILO. The Director of the Paris Office had died in 1937 and the French Government insisted that Butler name Marius Viple as his successor. Butler refused to do this as he considered Viple inappropriate for the post. When his own Government did not fully support his position, Butler decided to resign and accept the post of Warden of Nuffield College, Oxford. On 28 April 1938, he officially announced to the Governing Body his desire to relinquish his post as Director and the campaign for his successor began.

Winant’s campaign reflected his own inherent position. He immediately went to Washington to find out how fully Roosevelt would support him if he were elected – both with respect to finances and politics – and how far he could count on both US labor leaders and employers to push for his election. Receiving warm support – and agreement that the US Government would exert pressure on his behalf- he announced that he would be a candidate and returned to Geneva to electioneer. This procedure almost cost him the election – because under staff regulations he had no right to seek government support, and because it demonstrated that he would seek to have US approval for his role as Director. The only other candidate was another Assistant Director, E.J. Phelan, a well-liked Irishman, who had played a leading role in the ILO from the outset – and who really deserved the position. But recognition of the importance of having a US citizen supported by President Roosevelt and not an Irish national to head the ILO under the circumstances of 1938 won the day. Phelan withdrew his candidacy14 and Winant was elected by the Governing Body at its 84th Session on 4 June 1938 – by 28 votes in his favour and 2 blank ballots. Phelan would probably have been elected under normal peace-time conditions but, in the critical political situation, could probably not have saved the ILO as Winant then did.

The 1938 Conference was another benchmark. It was the last Conference for Butler15, as Director and the first for Winant, as Director-Elect. The major issues turned on the procedures for ILO continuation in case of war, the role it should take, the establishment of emergency machinery (the Emergency Committee of the Governing Body16) and the election of a new Governing Body. Throughout, the US dominated the Conference. Frances Perkins, the US Secretary of Labor, fulfilled her earlier promise to Butler to chair the US delegation to the Conference. She had visited the ILO in 1936 but never before attended a Conference. She used the session to emphasize the President’s support as well as her own for the work of the ILO in case of war.

By the time of the June 1939 Conference, war was imminent. Psychologically the war had begun and all concerns were on what to do next. This was the only session of the ILC Cat which Winant served as Secretary-General. The first sentence in the Foreword of his Report, dated 10 May 1939, and entitled The World of Industry and Labour – reads as follows: At this time in presenting to you the Director’s Report, the opportunity of pointing to clear skies ahead is not given to me – and the enumeration of the accompIishments of the Organization during the closing year seems by itself inadequate. The Foreword concludes: In commending this Report to you, may I leave you with a single thought. Across from the International Labour Office is a statue symbolizing the workers of the world. It was erected in grateful memory to Albert Thomas. Cut in the stone is this sentence: “They did not take my life. I gave it. “Let us see to it that we do no less.

During this period, Winant asked a number of the senior staff to work out not only what the ILO could do in war-time17 but which of the staff should be used in what locations. From this request the future staff deployment plan was developed. First there was the A list – the indispensable key staff who would be maintained and moved to whatever location was to be the temporary headquarters. Then the B list – the nationally mobilizeable persons who would be put on leave and sent to their own countries if they wished. The C list would be given the choice of retirement or unpaid leave, and told to be ready to return when feasible. The staff on the small D list would be kept in Geneva for maintenance. These lists (General Instruction Nr 8 of 16 May 1940, with changes from time to time) were in fact used for the deployment that took place in July 1940. During the interim period, it was decided that if necessary the A list would go to Vichy, France, and all of us on the A list sent a large suitcase of clothes and any “essential documentation” to the Hôtel de Sévigny, in Vichy. Ultimately after the fall of France, the personal suitcases etc. were returned but the documentation remained until after the war when it was recovered unopened.

Meanwhile Winant went to the US (as well as to London etc.) to explore the various groups suggestions for war-time activities, and to prepare for the Second Conference of American States Members to be held in Havana, Cuba, 21 November to 2 December 1939. In spite of the war, the Havana the Havana Conference was very successful, and served as an enlightening experience for many of us unaccustomed to Latin-American courtesy. This was still during the dictatorship of General Batista, who thoroughly enjoyed the occasion. Although Winant was aware of Batista’s activities in Cuba, he found him personally charming and enjoyed the time spent with him18. A few months later the whole situation changed with the invasion of the Scandinavian countries, the fall of Belgium and France. Families of staff were sent home and many panicked that Geneva would be over-run. I remember being in Winant’s office one morning when Ernest Francis Penrose, a distinguished US economist whom Winant had hired, rushed into the office, saying we all must leave Geneva immediately – it wasn’t safe. He and several other Americans did go to the US at that time. By contrast several of us held regular picnics in the fields leading up to the Jura where we watched the Germans ambling around just across the frontier.

Shortly after, Switzerland, now surrounded by Axis-controlled territories, informed the ILO that it feared for its own neutrality if the League and the ILO carried out international meetings or negotiations in Geneva and suggested we find operating headquarters elsewhere. Winant then began negotiations for a move to the US initially assuming that this would be welcome. In spite of strong support from Secretary Perkins, from the AFL (American Federation of Labor) and the Employers representatives, Secretary of State Cordell Hull turned the ILO down. He feared that agreement to give the ILO temporary headquarters (with diplomatic standing) might endanger pending negotiations with respect to sending ships to Britain (a programme that later became “lend-lease”) and be used by those speaking for the group known as the America First against the War in Europe, a prominent group then headed by Charles Lindberg19?

Accepting the political situation in the US, Winant then consulted with some of the members of the Emergency Committee, and considered alternative locations, varying from the Azores to Brazil. In the course of these discussions Winant met Hume Wrong, the Canadian Government member of the Governing Body, who suggested that the ILO should go to Canada and undertook preliminary inquiries20. Winant went to Ottawa, on July 25 where Mackenzie King, the Prime Minister, quickly gave approval to the plans to host the ILO in Montreal21. Winant selected this city as the location because his close college friend, Dr. Wilder Penfield, head of the Neurological Institute of McGill University was ready to convince Dr. F. Cyril James, to provide adequate space on the McGill campus to house an ILO Working Centre. On 16 August, Winant sent a telegram to Cyril James22 accepting the offer. The ILO’s future was secured!

The next question was to obtain the approval of the Officers of the Governing Body and as many members of the Emergency Committee as could be reached. Negotiation of these issues while keeping them secret even from the staff concerned was necessary because Canada was an ally at war and some ILO members, as well as staff, were either neutral or enemy.

One element in the negotiations which preceded the determination of Canada as the wartime Centre was the procurement of transit visas first for the US and then for occupied France, Spain and Portugal – the only route out of Geneva. Winant got the State Department to agree to blind transit visas, which made possible the passage through to Lisbon without indication of ultimate destination. I made almost daily drives to Berne for about a week taking staff passports to get the agreed upon visas.

July 4th of 1940 was a dramatic day. Early in the morning Winant, with T. T. Scott, then his Chef de Cabinet, Kitty Natzio, a UK member of the staff and Betsey Mayer (Johnstone) US and one of his closest colleagues secretly drove out of Geneva, using his wife’s small Ford car.

Hoping that no-one would know of his departure, he found at the frontier Madame G. Laverrière (the former chief of the Typing, Multigraph and Roneo Branch), who had accepted national service, stamped their passports and of course immediately notified her colleagues at the Office! Their trip to Lisbon is a story by itself. At the Spanish frontier they encountered so many problems that they simply abandoned the car and took a bus on to Lisbon23.

That afternoon I met Carter Goodrich (Chairman of the Governing Body), Noel Field (then on the League staff who ultimately disappeared in Czechoslovakia) and Bill Schirer, a US journalist just in from Germany and sure that Germany would soon win and that Geneva would be over-run. After swimming we went to the usual US party and denied that Winant had left Geneva!

 Shortly after, in mid July 194024 I was ordered by Winant to go to Lisbon and I then drove out of Geneva with Carter Goodrich. As a young American with no passport problems and no desire to go to the non-belligerent US I was the ideal candidate for transfer agent in Lisbon.

When I arrived in Lisbon I found that Winant had finally got a plane home and that Kitty and Scott had gone on to London. Betsey Mayer, Ainsworth Johnstone and a few others were still waiting for transport, and for instructions as to what to do next. I was told to meet the first busload of Geneva staff and find them accommodation and passages. This busload was led by Adrien Tixier who, in the middle of the night, asked me where we could meet in the morning. My only thought was the night club where we had been meeting each evening – and so for the next two months the ILO staff met there every morning at 11. Before that I would have coffee at the Pan American Air lines, the Greek Lines and the American Export lines to learn what passages were available. After what were somewhat bitter staff meetings, I would go to the Aviz hotel where Phelan was staying. He had driven out by backroads with his wife and Ronald Mortished, another Irishman, who was urgently needed in Montreal at the new Centre.

For many days Phelan cabled – and telephoned – to Winant insisting that he must come to Lisbon and explain to the staff what he expected them to do and try to answer their questions and raise their moral. Finally Winant agreed to come for a one or two day visit. After meeting in September with ILO staff, the US Ambassador (an old friend) and Portuguese authorities, he was delayed in getting a return plane! When he finally got off, the plane was held up by weather in the Azores for several days – to Winant’s enormous frustration. He walked all over the islands – and bought three chess sets. The whole trip had taken 17 days!

Winant had agreed that Phelan should stay in Lisbon for a meeting of the League Supervisory Committee which was going to determine both the League and ILO budgets for the next two years. Phelan asked me to stay and serve as his secretary throughout the meetings where he would represent both the ILO and the League. Sean Lester, also an Irishman, who was then Acting Secretary General of the League (Avenol having resigned and returned to France), had been turned back at the Spanish frontier. Once the Committee meeting ended, Winant ordered me to come to Montreal – though I had hoped to go back to Geneva. I got Phelan and his wife and myself on the last American Export line ship The Excambion sailing – where we found ex-King Carol of Romania – and we had an uneventful return to New York3. We drove with the Phelans to Montreal after only one or two days in New York.

Arriving in Montreal we found the ILO Working Centre26 ensconced in the small chapel of which there are many pictures! The only separation between desks was the piled up pews. The only two private offices were the dressing rooms off the stage, one of which was occupied by Winant and the other reserved for Phelan However this situation was temporary, and adequate space was found in a few weeks.

The staff gradually found appropriate living quarters, many in boarding houses, others in small rental apartments and got down to their normal work. Winant initially stayed at the Ritz Hotel but then took an apartment where his family joined him for the Christmas holidays. – Although the Office by now had settled in Montreal Winant was never there for any long stretch of time.

Once the negotiations with the Canadian authorities were completed, and a work programme for the staff put in place, the future of the ILO seemed assured. It was at that time, shortly after the first Christmas in Montreal, that Winant received a telephone call asking him to go to Washington to meet with the President the following day.

His own description of the interview is given in his book Letter from Grosvenor Square in which Winant indicates that the President never directly asked him if he would serve as his Ambassador to the Court of St. James28. Several days later, after he had returned to Montreal, he learned, from the press, that “the President had sent his name to the Senate” for approval of his nomination. He knew by then that he wanted to be part of the direct war-time actions and that he could in fact do as much for the ILO in that position as its Director in Montreal.

Shortly after he went to New York where he set up an office at the Roosevelt Hotel, and began the operation of officially resigning from the International Labour Office and preparing to go to London as US Ambassador. He asked me and some other members of the staff to come to New York and help with these procedures, especially in informing the members of the Governing Body of his intention to resign28. That began a difficult period of drafting letters, with the aid of the Chairman of the Governing Body – while at the same time Winant was dealing with the elopement of his daughter. The family gathered in Concord for a formal wedding between his daughter Constance and a young Peruvian, Carlos Valando, that she had met after a Conference in Lima29 where she accompanied her father who represented the ILO together with Oswald Stein. Then, negotiations with the ILO Emergency Committee representatives completed, Winant said farewell and departed in February 1941 for London as the US Ambassador, replacing Joseph Kennedy.

The story of Winant’s extraordinary success as war-time Ambassador is outside the scope of this article-but in concluding the story of Winant’s ILO activities mention should be made of his continuing concern not only with its programme but also with its staff. He recruited several to work with him at the London embassy for various periods. He also assisted others of us in carrying out ILO missions in England, Scotland and Wales, and facilitated the participation of the delegations from the Governments in Exile to both the 194I Extraordinary Conference in New York and the 26th Session of the International Labour Conference, 1944, in Philadelphia. Finally, after he returned to the US and served on the Economic and Social Council of the UN, he was the US Government Delegate who voted for the acceptance of the International Labour Organization as a Specialized Agency.

Winant’s period of service on the Economic and Social Council was a tiresome and frustrating experience. He frequently found himself making statements from instructions by the State Department that he personally disagreed with. He did not have the same relationship with Truman that he had had with Roosevelt and could not therefore override the State Department. Rather than undertaking an open fight, Winant resigned and thus ended his foreign service on 19 December 1946.

John Winant with his family

Winant at the time was under contract with Houghton Mifflin Company to write a two volume book on his service as Ambassador. This was the first time he had ever written a book and he had great difficulty making himself complete the writing. Immediately after he left the Embassy he rented a small house in London and started work on the book – along with making a large number of farewell speeches around the country.

By the time he resigned from ECOSOC he had completed a substantial part of the first volume but was being pressed by the publisher to finish. In 1947 he was working alone in Concord, at his home, and from time to time inviting some of us to visit him on the weekends. He was also sounding out his former New Hampshire Republican colleagues on the political possibilities available to him – and getting negative responses. The Republican Party in New Hampshire was not interested in liberals or in people who had worked for Roosevelt. Winant’s urge to serve was as strong as ever – but he did not see any immediate openings in either the national or international scene.

On the 3 November in the afternoon when the first printed copy of his book was to be delivered, tired physically and mentally and in a very depressed and lonely mood, he took his own life. At almost that same moment Andrew Cordier and other leaders of the UN were considering his name as a possible candidate for Governor of Jerusalem. Had he known this he might have taken a different path – but we will never know.



1 He was born 23 February 1889; died 3 November 1947.

2 Abbie A. Rollins born 8 May 1909) joined the ILO 15 May to 15 August 1935. (IE)

3 Mary C. Healy (born 28 April 1914) joined the ILO from 20 August to 30 September 1935 and reappointed 1 July 1937 to 30 Novenrber 1940. (IE)

4 The delegation left New York on board “SS Manhattan” on 22 May 1935. (IE)

5 The National Recovery Administration was created in 1933 to establish and enforce rules for business practice. The laws enforced minimum wage and maximum hours of work. In May 1935, the Supreme Court invalidated the NRA and the legislation that created it. (IE)

6 GB. 71/6/1097. The GB papers were received by the US delegation on their arrival in Le Havre on 29 May, following the request to the ILO of 23 May 1935 of William G. Rice Jr., Representative of the Department of Labor in Geneva [file D 771/200]. (IE)

7 The Declaration does not literally refer to the Director per se but reads: ” … not to seek or receive instructions from any Government or other authority external to the International Labour Office.” (IE)

8 The Office used two letterhead forms, one with the mention of the League of Nations, the other without, for use in communications with nations not members of the League, e.g. USA. (IE)

9 Both nations having joined the ILO in 1934. (IE)

10 Ethel M. Johnson (born 20 November 1882) joined the ILO Washington Branch Office on 19 August 1935; she retired on 5 October 1943. (IE)

11 Reappointed is from 11 August 1937. (IE)

12 When during the war, we devised a code for communication, Winant’s name was Abe. Looking at the code today, it is a clear reflection of the atmosphere of the ILO in 1940. Avenol, the Secretary General of the League of Nations, was Uncle, while the League itself was Hill; Laval was Andrew; Geneva was Home, while Montreal was Mountain etc. (author’s note)

14 However, he was appointed Deputy Director as of 1 June 1939, the same post as Butler had occupied under Albert Thomas. (IE)

15 His resignation took effect as of 31 December 1938. (IE)

16 1938-42. lt consisted of four Government representatives and two members each from the Employers’ and Workers’ Groups. (IE)

17 At its 86th Session, February 1939, the Governing Body had adopted a report confirming the intention to have the ILO function as normally as possible in case of crisis. (IE)

18 I was on home leave when the war began and my passport was removed since I was an American woman and not permitted to travel then. Winant then assigned me to the Washington Office to help prepare for the Havana Conference – and attend it as staff. At the end of the Conference my passport was returned and we all returned to Geneva. (Author’s note)

19 The Administration feared the disapproval of a still isolationist Congress, and furthermore 1940 was an election year. There are conflicting views on the ILO refusal. See also Antony Alcock: History of the International Labour Organisation, London 1971, page 159. (IE.)

20 During a conversation in London at the beginning of July, the Legal Adviser C.W. Jenks suggested that the ILO opt for Canada. See his article: The ILO in wartime. Offprint of the Labour Gazette, Ottawa 1969. (IE)

21 Details concerning these negotiations and an extract from Mackenzie King’s Diary are available in The International Labour Organization: A Canadian View by John Mainwaring, published by the Canadian Ministry of Labour, Ottawa 1986. Also in French. (Author’s note)

22 “Thank you for your kindness in extending the ILO generous hospitality of McGill University which we gratefully accept. I shall send you shortly as you suggest information as to our space needs and will meet you in Montreal the first week of September. With deep appreciation”. Original in the McGill University, copy at ILO file Z I/II/4/4.   (IE)

23 I had to deal with the TCS (the Swiss AA) for years over the fact that the Carnet de Passage was never turned in. (Author’s note)

24 I think that it was either 17 or 18 July. We drove by the way of Cannes since we had planned to pick up two Kerr children (little ones) whose mother was in Canada and father in UK and take them to Lisbon, but when we got there it had been decided that they were better off staying with their aunt. (Author’s note)

25 I would assume that the ship left close to 24 and must have arrived in New York about 28 October. (IE)

26 This was the official term for the Office. The Headquarters per se remained in Geneva for legal reasons. (I.E)

27 “The President asked me many questions about the men I had known in Europe during my long sojourn there, and about conditions as I had understood them in Europe and Great Britain. There was a good deal to tell him… There was no mention of the Court of St. James.” (Cited from Winant’s book Letter from Grosvenor Square, page 11)

28 John Winant’s resignation took effect as of 15 February 1941. For a vivid description of these hectic days, see the article by Edward Phelan The ILO sets up its wartime centre in Canada, in Studies, Dublin, Summer 1955. Reprinted in Edward Phelan and the ILO (ILO 2009).  (IE)

29 The Inter-American Committee on Social Security.

  • 0

The resignation of Harold B. Butler Second Director of the ILO, 1932-38 / Ivan M.C.S. Elsmark

Little has been written on the reason for Harold Butler’s resignation. It is not intended here to pass judgement on persons or events, but to shed some light on the cause of the conflict which developed into a serious crisis for the ILO and the Director himself.

On 28 April 1938, Butler stated in the Governing Body that, although having been appointed in 1932 for ten years as Director of the ILO, he had indicated a preference for a seven-year term; hence, he now desired “to relinquish his post”. The conventional view, as expressed by Pierre Waline, is that Butler resigned “in order to regain his freedom to become Warden of Nuffield College at Oxford”.

The same opinion is found in the obituary in the International Labour Review and many other publications. As if to emphasize this version for posterity, the official portrait of Butler at the ILO shows him in his academic gown. Closer to the actual events are Butler’s recollections The Lost Peace, David A. Morse’s Cornell Lectures and Alcock’s History of the ILO, which briefly refer to a conflict with the French Government on the nomination of the Director of the Paris Office.

 A new director of the Paris Office

The origin of the crisis was the sudden death in August 1937 of the ILO Paris Office Director, Ferdinand Maurette, whereupon this key post fell vacant. In the following months, names of various candidates were presented, none of which were retained. Already on 8 September Butler had written to Justin Godart, the French Government representative on the Governing Body, that the appointment presented a “complicated issue” and sent an aide-memoire detailing the qualifications required. On 10 September Butler met in Paris with André Fevrier, Minister of labour. He handed him a copy of the aide-memoire, emphasizing the importance of appointing a “worthy successor” to Maurette who would combine “the highest intellectual and technical attainments with an intimate knowledge of the French social and industrial world”. Essentially, the person chosen “should not be so definitely committed to any political party as to be unable to command the confidence of both employers and workers in his impartiality”. While recognizing the difficulties finding the right person the Minister suggested the ILO official Marius Viple1 as “a suitable candidate”, to which the Director remarked that he was “politically a marked man and that he did not possess several of the necessary qualifications [which] the Minister admitted”. Some other names were mentioned and discarded and it was agreed that “neither should put forward a candidate for acceptance without first consulting the other”. It seems surprising that Butler himself, neither then nor later, had no preferred candidate to recommend. This certainly placed him in a defensive position in the battle over the Paris Office.

Marius Viple had been a political journalist of Humanité and other socialist papers and served during the war in the ministerial offices of Jules Guesde and Albert Thomas. In 1920 he joined the ILO as press officer and in 1923 replaced Georges Fleury as Chief of Cabinet. Albert Thomas had great confidence in him and his “intelligence [and] political instinct” but also asked him “to cultivate a more sympathetic understanding of customs and trends of thought which may be very strange to us Frenchmen and to be somewhat more indulgent towards individuals”. At the death of Albert Thomas, he became Chief of the Information and Press Service. There seems to have been friction between Viple and Butler for a long time, and it is clear that Butler considered he “could not have confidence” in Viple who was “unfit for the post” as Paris Director.

During the month of September 1937 the negotiations accelerated. From his conversation with André Fevrier, Butler got the impression that he was open to suggestions of other candidates.

Marius Viple

However, some ten days later, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Yvon Delbos intervened, informing Butler that “the French Government wished Viple to be appointed”. The “decision had been taken at a meeting of the inner cabinet, including Léon Blum, Paul Faure and Edouard Daladier,” and the “Government attached great importance to this appointment”. Also Léon Jouhaux (French Workers’ representative on the Governing Body) firmly supported Viple’s candidature. According to Butler’s notes, Jouhaux agreed that Viple “did not possess some of the necessary qualifications” (inter alia, ability to speak in public and knowledge of economic issues), but that his “knowledge of French politics and politicians would be valuable to the Office”. Butler further pointed out that “a principle of considerable importance was at stake. If governments were to dictate appointments on political grounds it would be impossible to staff and administrate any international institution properly”, a weighty argument to this day.

 Difficult negotiations

On 29 September 1937, Butler saw Léon Blum in Geneva who also “strongly urged Viple’s claim on grounds of personal friendship, his loyalty to Albert Thomas and the desire of the French Govemment to have him in Paris”. Butler repeated what he had said to Minister Delbos and added that he “could not have sufficient confidence [in Viple] to entrust him with the responsible duty of maintaining direct relations with the French Government” and himself. Blum thought the “Government had no intentions to force [Butler’s] hand” but “hoped very much” that he “would appoint Viple”.

During the October meeting in Prague of the Governing Body, Butler took steps to consult the Chairman of the Governing Body F. W. Leggett and the employers’ Vice-Chairman H.C. Oersted on the “important principles regarding the position of the Director which was at stake”. In Geneva the ILO Assistant Director, Adrien Tixier, who had close relations with the French Government, subsequently advised Butler to “orientate his choice towards Viple”. Camille Pône, Butler’s Chief of Cabinet) also informed Pierre Waline who substituted for Alfred Lambert-Ribot (French Employers’ representative on the Governing Body) of the issue.

In reply, Lambert-Ribot wrote on 16 October that he did not consider Viple having the necessary “high qualifications and impartiality” and asked to be consulted before any appointment was made. After that, the matter was left in abeyance when Butler sailed on a Far-Eastern mission on 28 October, only returning to Geneva late in January 1938. At that time, “the atmosphere [on the French side] was very hostile” and “various threats of non-cooperation had been uttered in responsible circles”, as reported by Tixier who had paid several visits to Paris.

Butler hesitates

It seems that in the beginning of the year 1938 Butler’s resistance was wavering. What actually happened next was to become a subject of dispute. As the records provide no proof for the correctness of conflicting versions, they shall be given here in some depth to permit readers to draw their own conclusions.

According to Butler, on the occasion of the 82nd Session of the Governing Body (31 January to 5 February) he met with Lambert-Ribot who “would view Viple’s appointment with considerable reserve” and, although “he would not impose a veto, he could not in any way approve the appointment”. Butler recalls that on 5 February he saw Godart and Jouhaux together (Lambert-Ribot having already left Geneva), the former stating that “his instructions were unaltered despite change in Government”. The Director thought it ‘undesirable and contrary to all precedent to appoint a man who was not acceptable to all three groups” and would not take the responsibility for it. He suggested a meeting in Paris under the auspices of the Minister of Labour to discuss the matter “with him in the presence of all three French members of the Governing Body”. This was agreed, though Jouhaux said that “the CGT could not agree to any other candidate”.

Butler also “gave them to understand that if agreement was reached between the three parties, [he] would be disposed to make the appointment against [his] better judgement to avoid an open breach between the French Government and the Office”. On 12 February he wrote to the new Minister of Labour, Paul Ramadier that “he was disposed to accept the recommendation [to appoint Viple, but before proceeding with a nomination, he wished to have the assurance that it would be accepted by the major organizations” and thus proposed a meeting in Paris to settle the matter.

Different points of view

On the other hand Tixier gives a different version of the events. He was not a witness, and as he remarks in a confidential memo to Butler of 19 March 1938 “he never knew the details of the conversations” but referred to personal conversations at the time with Godart and Jouhaux. Both had “indicated with great satisfaction that he [Butler] had decided to nominate Viple”, but neither of them had said that this promise had been “subject to an agreement by the three parties: Government, employers’ and workers’ organizations”.

Furthermore, at a meeting with the Assistant Directors (probably on 8 February), Butler himself had “mentioned his intention to nominate Viple as the Paris Director, without mentioning that this was subject to unanimous approval”. Tixier had expressed surprise when shown a draft of the letter to the Minister of labour and had said to Pône that the “condition was not in conformity with the agreement as indicated to him by Godart and Jouhaux,” deleting the relevant paragraph. The final letter was not shown to him and he was still unaware of its contents.

Viple (an interested party) later wrote that on 3l January 1938 Butler had said to him that he “intended to deal with the question of the Paris Office clearly and within a brief delay”. There followed a “frank and loyal” exchange of views which “dispersed misunderstandings”. On 7 February at 5 p.m. Viple was again called to Butler’s office and told that he had ‘decided to nominate [him] Director of the Paris Office”, a decision “officially announced” to Jouhaux already on the morning of 5 February and on 7 February (sic) to Godart, and the following day to the Assistant Directors. Since then Viple had “never been given other communications from the Director on this matter”. To this statement, Butler commented that the “description of events was incomplete” and added that Viple had “neither the qualifications nor the knowledge to be the successor of Roques and Maurette” as Director of the Paris Office.

Had Butler at the meeting with Godart and Jouhaux been caught off balance and persuaded to accept the French demand? Did he agree and then change his mind in the course of the discussion, the meeting in Paris with the Minister being an afterthought? Did he fail to express himself sufficiently clearly, and did Godart and Jouhaux understand the significance of the proposed Paris meeting? Was it to retract his position that on 12 February he wrote to the Minister of Labour requesting a tripartite meeting, realizing that he might have mislead Godart and Jouhaux? These and other issues still remain obscure and open to interpretation.

 A difficult situation

It cannot be excluded that Butler may have realized that he (unwittingly) could have misled Godart and Jouhaux. Certainly, he later wrote to the former: “If I after all have failed to indicate clearly my position and of that reason have caused an error, I owe you my excuses, which I willingly give”. Godart’s position vis-à-vis his Minister may well have been embarrassing.

It seems evident that Butler still was presenting as his main objection the need for a tripartite consensus, hoping for a rejection by the employers to settle the issue, although his personal objection to Viple might have been the main obstacle. Certainly he was unwilling to nominate a person whom he “considered unfit for the post of Director of the Paris Office and in whom he “could not have confidence” (an argument which according to his own admission he had been reluctant to use).

Whatever had taken place at the meeting, the letter from Lambert-Ribot of 17 February gave further weight to Butler’s argument. It restated the opposition to Viple’s nomination who had “nothing but concern about politics and a man of notorious incompetence” and that he “in no way could command the confidence of the French employers”. Finally, it was suggested that Butler should take a firm position and “gain time for better-qualified candidates to present themselves”.

One must recall the extremely difficult political climate on the eve of World War II. Thus Butler strongly objected to the French demand, pointing out that “if governments of democratic countries adopted such methods, the maintenance of any independence vis-à-vis authoritarian states would become impossible”. He also considered that it was undesirable and unprecedented to appoint a person who was not acceptable to all three interest groups.

Butler may still have entertained the hope of reaching an agreement, but on 3 March 1938 the French journal Candide published a strong political attack on Viple and his supporters, Jouhaux, CGT and the Government, as well as on the ILO Paris Office and its cost to the ta:<payers, while explaining Butler’s own attitude because he was English. As Butler wrote “it was not the article itself, but its implications which opened my eyes”.

Butler came to realize “that Viple had incurred enmities who would expose him and through him the Office, to attack”. He foresaw that he “should be bound to defend [Viple]”which he *might not be able to do conscientiously, and that further bad blood was likely to be caused between the French Government and [himself]”. Even if in France the three parties “had agreed on the appointment”, Butler himself “would nonetheless be solely responsible”. On the other hand, if he did not appoint Viple, an open breach with the Government and the CGT was inevitable, an unacceptable position for the ILO vis-à-vis one of the most important and influential member States and in a period of world crisis. “Moreover, reflection convinced [him] that in any event it was impossible to recreate confidence between the French Government and [himself”. These revealing considerations are quoted from Butler’s own statement of 6 March.

There is no doubt that it was between 4 and 6 March 1938 that Butler took the decision to cancel the planned meeting in Paris with the Minister of Labour (as proposed in his letter of 12 February) and go straight to London to offer his resignation to the Chairman of the Governing Body F.W. Leggett. On the eve of his departure, he had prepared a statement on the case and the dilemma in which he found himself. On 8 March he met Leggett who persuaded him to withhold the letter of resignation because it, as Butler wrote the following day, “… at the present moment might do serious injury. If I attribute it to personal motives, as has been my intention, it might be interpreted as deserting the Office in time of need because I no longer believe in its future; if, on the other hand, I invoke the difference with the French Government it would be clear that there are serious dissentions within the ranks of the Organization”. The two Vice-Chairmen Oersted and Mertens were subsequently consulted, but the crisis was not resolved. Also Godart was informed of the action Butler had taken. On 19 March Tixier wrote a seven-page memo to Butler, setting out his view and strongly advising him to come to terms with the French Government “the support of which is indispensable” for the ILO.

Butler stands firm

If Butler hoped that the appointment of a new Minister of Labour, P. Ramadier, would change the French position he was to be disappointed. On 16 May they had a full and frank exchange of views, at the end of which Butler said that as it was “impossible for him to agree to the French proposal” he would have to resign as “the only way to avoid a serious conflict with the French Government which would be extremely harmful to the ILO”. He followed it up in a letter the next day proposing that other candidates than Viple should be considered, to which Ramadier apparently responded on 27 May, firmly maintaining the position of the Government (letter not on file). Butler wrote again on 27 May complaining of the French refusal to take the Director’s right of a free choice of his staff into account, which “if imitated by other countries, would make it impossible to manage an international institution”. To this communication the Minister reacted only on 13 August, long after the resignation of Butler had been accepted, proposing that the filling of the post of Director of the Paris Office be suspended until the end of the year, that is after the departure of Butler as ILO Director.

Also Butler’s old friend on the Governing Body Justin Godart had remained unmoved by his arguments. It seems that neither he nor the other French partners had any serious sympathy and understanding with the ILO position.

In a long letter of 17 May to Godart (his last on the subject?) Butler wrote: “You accuse me of bringing an incident of national character unto an international sphere. I wish simply to say that, by its very nature, the ILO is exclusively an international institution and any appointment of an official can be nothing but an international matter”. He again tried to justify his position hoping that it would contribute “to disperse the misunderstandings which have arisen between us”, and suggesting a meeting in Paris on 24 May, about which (if it took place) there is no record on file. Few letters between them have survived on file, but it seems clear from Butler addressing him “Mon Cher President et Ami” and signing “Bien amicalement à vous” in September 1937 to May 1938 when the “Ami” disappears and the closing becomes the formal “Je vons prie de croire, …mes sentiments les meilleurs”, that he feels disappointed and personally hurt.

Prior to the April 1938 (83rd) Session of the Governing Body, an understanding was reached by which the Viple affair should not be exposed to the public, as it would harm the image of the Organization. Instead, Butler would base his resignation on the fact that although in 1932 he had been appointed for ten years, he had then expressed a preference for a seven-year term” which by now was about to come to an end and wished to engage in other activities (viz. as Warden of Nuffield College, Oxford). In his statement to the Governing Body, he said that *in order to avoid misunderstanding, he [Butler] had arranged with the Chairman to make this statement to the Governing Body some days ago and that he had prepared it before certain unauthorized and inaccurate statements had appeared in the press”. He was asked by some of the speakers to reconsider his position and the issue was left for final decision until the following meeting of the Governing Body.

The press had obviously got wind of the conflict, and for instance The New York Times published on 29 April a detailed article on the conflict and Butler’s resignation.

To make his own position clear, Butler spoke to the staff on 9 May, quoting his statement in the Governing Body. He then refuted various erroneous motives given to his decision to resign: neither family reasons, a well-paid post in Great Britain, pushed out by Chamberlain, disagreement with the Governing Body or a violent quarrel with Phelan! Nor had he resigned to make place for Winant as his successor, and he added: “Circumstances had arisen which convinced me after very long and painful reflection that I could no longer discharge my responsibilities as they should be discharged. The position of a Director is at no time an easy one. He is naturally subject to pressures.” … ” The Director is bound to take full responsibility for all his actions. And that is the responsibility which he can only assume if he possesses a necessary minimum of freedom of decision in administrative matters and if he feels that he commands the confidence of all the principal elements which compose the Organization.” … “There are also times and occasions when to provoke a serious conflict would do more harm than good and when it is better and more elegant to withdraw silently rather than to bang the door. The present is one of these times”. Words spoken as a man of honour and responsible international civil servant; perhaps less as a politician!

Butler presented his formal resignation to the Chairman of the Governing Body on 23 May, requesting “to be released of [his] duties as from December 3lst 1938′.

At the Meeting of the Governing Body (84th Session), Private Sitting, of 3l May 1938, the Chairman of the Government group (Godart) presented a draft resolution stating that “The Governing Body decides to accept, with much regret, the resignation of the Director,” … “and further decides to proceed with the election of a Director at a special meeting on 4 June 1938”.

Harold Butler and John G. Winant in 1938

To close the chapter, two candidates presented themselves as Butler’s successor, John G. Winant and Edward J. Phelan the latter withdrawing on 3 June 1938, thus permitting the unopposed election of Winant on 4 June with 28 votes in favour and 2 blank votes.

An understanding had in fact been worked out, by which the post of Deputy Director was reestablished’ and Winant, with the blessing of the Governing Body, immediately appointed Phelan as his deputy. A new team had been created, recalling that of Albert Thomas and Butler, a leadership composed of a politician supported by an administrator.

The ILO survived the crisis unharmed and some even more fateful events with the outbreak of World War II and the collapse of the League of Nations. Butler became Warden at Nuffield College, Oxford 1938-43, Commissioner for Civil Defence and from 194246 Minister at the British Embassy in Washington. As for Viple, he did not become Director of the Paris Office.

During the war, when the ILO’s Working Centre was established in Montreal, he remained in Geneva and subsequently Phelan appointed him Assistant Director-General in January 1947.

He resigned in December 1948 as a result of his election to the Conseil de la République Française.



  1. There are references to letters and notes no longer on file. The present article is based entirely on material in the ILO Archives. I am indebted for permission to reproduce material from the ILO Archives collection and for kind assistance given by the ILO and its archivist, Mr. Remo Becci.
  2. In 1938 Butler decided to resign in order to accept an invitation to be Warden of the newly established Nuffield College at Oxford”. International Labour Review, Vol. LXIIL No.4, Generra 1951.
  3. Marius Viple (1892-1949). Appointed to the ILO 8 March 1920 as press officer and attached to the Cabinet of Albert Thomas; 11 July 1923 acting Chief of Cabinet (nominated 1 January 1924. Appointed 11 July 1932. After the death of Albert Thomas, he was appointed Chief of the Information and Press Service. During the period when the ILO Working Centre was transferred to Montreal he was in charge of the ILO Office in Geneva and relations with the Swiss Government; on 1 January 1947 appointed Assistant Director-General. Resigned in December 1948, having been elected as mernber of the French Conseil de la République; he died on 3l October 1949.
  4. The post was first occupied by Butler himself and fell vacant in 1932 on his appointment as Director. After the appointment of Phelan as a successor to John Winant, the post was not to be revived before 1951 when Jef Rens became Deputy Director-General under David .Morse.

  • 0

The Three Keys, A symbol of Tripartism / Ivan M.C.S. Elsmark

The three golden keys shown on the cover of this issue of Message symbolise the tripartite structure of the International Labour Organisation..

Its origin goes back to the opening ceremony of the headquarters building by the lake in 1926. At this important event, the 6. June, the Chairman of the Governing Body. Arthur Fontaine (for the member Governments), together with the two Vice-Chairmen, Jules Carlier (for the employers) and Léon Jouhaux (for the workers), turned the keys in the central entrance gate.

Thereupon Arthur Fontaine declared: “Each group enters in the ILO through the same door, to collaborate on the same task. Each group has the duty to guard our building, and our statues and common purpose. For all of us who have worked at the ILO, the three keys are a living symbol of the Organization and its motto, “Si vis pacem, cole justitiam”, if you want peace, cultivate justice”.

Older colleagues will be undoubtedly remember the gilded lock, which was set at the central main gate towards rue de Lausanne, and place Albert Thomas at the time when ILO occupied the building. They will be pleased to learn that both the lock and the original three golden keys are still preserved in the ILO archives. – May they one day return for their intended use.

The delegations enters the gate to the new ILO building, 6 June 1926.