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ILO Centenary Cup

Category : News

On the initiative of the Association of Former International Civil Servants for Development (Greycells) and in cooperation with the Help Us to Help foundation and their respective presidents Alejandro Bonilla and Fabio Ramirez, a golf competition was organized on 15 September 2019 at the Evian Resort Golf Club to celebrate the ILO Centenary for the benefit of miners in the informal economy in Colombia. The competition brought together 25 participants, including active and retired ILO staff as well as members of the Evian Resort Golf Club, the International Golf Club of Geneva and Rotary Club Genève International among others.

This sporting and festive occasion linked with two others, the Summit for Social Justice in Mont Blanc, and the ILO’s 100 km New York bike event for “a just transition to a greener economy”. The ILO Centenary Cup reminded us of the importance of setting long- and short-term goals and doing everything possible to achieve them in the most effective way and in accordance with established standards. Each of the first 17 holes represented one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, while the 18th stood for a personal goal that each of us should define and achieve, both at the personal level and that of our loved ones.

The ILO and the Former Officials Section both supported the initiative, which provided another channel for discussing and publicizing the ILO Centenary. The competition was over 18 holes, taking about five hours; one participant said she had walked 15km on very uneven terrain.

Beneath the banners of the ILO and the Centenary, Alejandro Bonilla presented each participant with a commemorative diploma together with a medal and a pin, all marked with the Centenary logo. Fabio Ramirez spoke about the foundation’s work with Colombian female emerald miners, the beneficiaries of the event. To conclude the ceremony, after a few words on the ILO Centenary, François Kientzler, Executive Secretary of the Former Officials Section, presented the trophies to the winners in both men’s and women’s categories. Then, in a very relaxed atmosphere, glasses were raised to friendship on the golf course; participants on this sunny day were able to enjoy the beautiful green setting with superb views of Lake Geneva. All agreed to repeat the initiative next year.

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General Assembly of the ILO Staff Union Second session, 17 October 2019

Category : News

The GA agenda included the 2019 Annual Report of the Union Committee. This note does not report on this meeting but highlights some points of particular interest to our retired colleagues.

Catherine Comte, President of the Union mentioned at the beginning of the meeting three current issues.

United Nations reform: The ILO Governing Body reaffirmed the principle of tripartism; however, this principle must not be forgotten when setting up field structures under the reform that favours regional clusters and coordinating focal points.

Internal social dialogue: ILO action plans should be the subject of information, consultation or negotiation with staff representatives. The Administration issued broadcasts on working conditions this summer without involving the Joint Negotiating Committee. Complaints have been filed concerning the lack of consultation.

The decision of the ILO Administrative Tribunal: The ICSC does not recognize the Tribunal’s decision concerning the appeal of hundreds of employees against the reduction of the post adjustment in Geneva for category P and D employees. There are two Tribunals in the Common System, and the second has not yet announced its decision. The existence of the ILO Tribunal and the internal appeal procedures are under threat.

Retirees access to ILO offices in the regions. Regional delegates from the Union Committee spoke at the GA to outline their concerns. Among these were the questions of reimbursement of medical expenses, which can now be made via internet. This is progress for regional officials, but the question for pensioners remains. In this connection, François Kientzler, Executive Secretary of the Section of Former ILO Officials, spoke about the difficulties that retirees have in accessing ILO field office and the need to improve this. Retirees sometimes need help in submitting claims to the SHIF, and in the near future, some will no doubt want to make their claims online. Several regional delegates reported current practices for retirees and in some cases issues concerning office access. In the context of the United Nations reform, particularly where field services and activities are being consolidated, the issue of access to offices will have to be taken into account.

To conclude his intervention, the Executive Secretary of the Section of Former ILO Officials mentioned the commitment of retirees and their participation in the ILO’s Centenary Events during 2019. The Section will also be available to contribute to the events linked to the Centenary of the ILO Staff Union in 2020. Finally, he hoped that future retirees, particularly union members, would join without hesitation the Section of Former ILO Officials, which needs strengthening and renewing.

20 October 2019
François Kientzler

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Message no. 66 Editorial

Category : News

Dear retired colleagues,

Many of you attended the events organized by the ILO Administration and the Section of Former ILO Officials in 2019 to celebrate the ILO Centenary. The afternoon of 28 May, to which the Section invited you, was a great success due both to its content and participation. Similarly, the luncheon on 11 July held at the invitation of Guy Ryder, Director General, allowed many retirees and their spouses to meet. In this issue 66 of Message you will find various articles recounting these events. In addition, for those who could not attend and for those who live far away from Geneva, the historical videos included in the 28 May programme are available on our website on the Centenary page ( The site also includes most of your contributions to the ILO Centenary.

Ivan Elsmark, editor of Message for more than two decades, and who has spent much time and energy in the service of the Section of Former Officials and indeed all retirees, will leave the Section at the end of the year. The same is true of Marianne Stämpfli, office secretary and assistant to Mr Elsmark, who will also end her commitment to the Section after 19 years of faithful and regular service. I have had the opportunity to work with both of them for 10 years, especially on Tuesday mornings, and it has always been in a good atmosphere and humour despite the diverse and sometimes complex tasks that awaited us. I thank them on behalf of you all because, in conjunction with the members of the Bureau of the Section, over this time we have been able to achieve greater recognition of the Section by the ILO.

As this Centenary year ends, I have one wish: that even if you have been retired for many years you would join the Section, as our action depends on it. The Bureau of the Section of Former ILO Officials welcomed the success of its involvement in the Centennial events. We sent the invitation of 28 May to all ILO retirees, even those who are not members of the Section. The same is true of Message, which is widely distributed and our website is open to everyone. We do not discriminate but we would like to have financial support from more of you, and I am referring to those who are not yet members of the Section. Many of you joined and paid your dues on May 28 to support us. Until recently, we were able to finance our services with the member contributions we collected plus bank interest, but unfortunately this has not the case for 3 years and we are now drawing on our reserves. Please join the Section and support us, even if you have been retired for many years (see the membership form in this issue). You can e-mail us ( and make an appointment, call us on a Tuesday morning between 10am and 12am (00 41 22 799 64 23), or visit our office (6-006). We will be happy to welcome you and inform you about our activities.

Indeed, new challenges await the new Bureau of the Section, which will be elected at the end of 2019, including the continued publication of Message, the development of our website and the organization of the secretarial work. The Section’s Bureau is determined to continue its commitment to you and to meeting your expectations, representing you to the Administration and defending your interests on all social protection and pension issues. Thank you for supporting us.

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Union’s legal victory against Geneva post adjustment cut comes with a caveat

Category : Non classé

Following a decision by the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) to reduce the post adjustment in Geneva for staff in the Professional category, 231 officials lodged a complaint with the Administrative Tribunal of the ILO. At the request of the DG, the ILO Governing Body endorsed the implementation of the ICSC decision. Legal arguments challenging the decision were put forward, backed by the ILO Staff Union Committee (SUC) and Union Legal Adviser Chloé Charbonneau-Jobin. By Judgment No. 4134 of 3 July 2019 (128th Session), the Tribunal agreed with the complainants.

On Thursday 19 September 2019, the Staff Union reported to members on the full sequence of events. Together with long-time Union member and lawyer Martine Humblet, the Legal Adviser outlined the Tribunal’s findings. Fifteen arguments had been advanced to challenge the ICSC decision. Only two were ultimately needed to tip the balance in the Tribunal in favour of the plaintiffs. On one hand, the ICSC did not have the power to decide a variation in the post adjustment, as its Statutes only allow it to make recommendations. The UN General Assembly alone has that authority. On the other hand, the ICSC randomly modified the rule about index gaps by limiting it to 0% then 3%, whereas it was fixed at 5%; this was considered by the Tribunal to be manipulation and could not be justified by any technical or mathematical element.

Accordingly, in a User Broadcast on 3 July 2019, the Director General notified staff of the application of the Tribunal’s decision to all P- and D-level officials of the Organization in Geneva.

Following the presentation, SUC Chair Catherine Comte-Tiberghien spoke about the pitfalls that lay ahead. While officials of ITU, WHO, IOM and WIPO had achieved the same result, those of other organizations who had been party to legal proceedings in the other tribunal (UNAT) do not yet know the nature of its decision and are still subject to the old salary scale. So Geneva ends up with officials on different post adjustments, which is contrary to the principles of equal treatment. The ILO Staff Union has called for reform of the ICSC and the methods for calculating the cost of living. This is not a foregone conclusion. There are other consequences for P staff. Their health insurance contributions have been recalculated to take the salary changes into account. Similarly, the ceiling applicable to supplementary benefits is also increased.

The SUC Chair counsels caution going forward, given the situation created in Geneva in light of the ongoing UN reform and the likely decision of the UN General Assembly regarding the ICSC and the position of specialized agencies within the United Nations. Caution notwithstanding, the Union Chair then invited participants to repair to the Gobelins area and raise a glass in celebration of this victory, which had only been possible thanks to the determined mobilization of ILO staff over the past two years.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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