Articles: Centenary – Testimonials

The strange and wonderful early years of the ILO / Marius Viple

It was in the month of June 1920 that the International Labour Organization took the decision to set up its headquarters at Geneva. I would like to tell you briefly in what circumstances and how this first great battle of the headquarters was waged and won which led to the establishment, once and for all, of the independence and autonomy which the ILO has always claimed for itself and which from then onwards was never again seriously questioned by anyone.

Despite his urgent request,1 l had not yet joined Albert Thomas in London in April or May 1920.2 He was spending a few days in Paris and had just returned from a lively session at the Chamber of Deputies – for besides being Director of the ILO he was a socialist Deputy, the respected leader of a great party, and he took his task very seriously. During dinner that night, he informed me that he had had enough of seeing the ILO move from Paris to Washington, from Washington to Paris, then from Paris to London and soon to Genoa, that he had decided to make a stand to get it finally established in Geneva, cost what it might.

“It will not be easy,” he told me, “for the Secretary-General of the League of Nations and his political collaborators are against Geneva. So is the League Executive Council; and the Allied Supreme Council is in charge of the entire movement. I have the Peace Treaty on my side, because it is stated there (article 7) that the headquarters of the League of Nations shall be at Geneva, but it also provides that the League Council may at any time decide to set it up elsewhere. President Wilson is no longer there to defend the city of his choice. And it is now clear that the United States will not take part in the League, although they did so much to further its establishment. It is now the definite desire of the Governments that Brussels should be the headquarters instead of Geneva, because Brussels is nearer to London and Paris, and the British and French Cabinets have every intention to seize this opportunity to take charge of the international organizations now coming into being. This is what I am determined to avoid at all costs. The time has come for me to denounce all these intrigues publicly, but I would ask you first of all to go to Geneva tomorrow and to let me know on your return whether the Thudichum Schoo3 which, I am told, might be rented to us, could be utilized as the headquarters of the ILO.”4

This is how I came to Geneva for the first time; and 48 hours later I reported to my friend that, in my opinion, the Thudichum School would provide suitable accommodation for the ILO.5

Then, without delay and without respite, an unforgettable diplomatic battle was waged. With incredible daring, which struck the international circles speechless, Albert Thomas unhesitatingly opposed the two countries that were undoubtedly nearest to his heart – England and France – and then openly resisted the new plans of the League Council and the Entente Governments. In an official document addressed to the Governing Body, but distributed to the Press, he wrote:

“It may well be asked whether this change of headquarters is likely to antagonize a number of powers which had interpreted the choice of Geneva as evidence of complete impartiality. We quite firmly state that we cannot sacrifice the future of the ILO or indeed its life to the hesitations and schemes of the League Secretariat and the Executive Council.”6

Timidly, with great misgivings, the majority of the Governing Body followed its Director.7 Geneva was chosen and on 11 June the Secretariat of the League was informed of this decision. A few days later, a number of officials who had remained in London took up their working quarters at the Ecole Thudichum.8

Early in July, further members of the improvised team, headed by the Director, who had just attended the International Maritime Labour Conference at Genoa (15 June to 10 July), reached Cornavin train station and were received by the famous ushers clad in yellow and red and greeted by the city and Cantonal authorities, who expressed their profound gratitude to Albert Thomas.9

The League Secretariat and its Council reacted strongly and their ill humour persisted. Treaties of cooperation already concluded between the two growing international organizations were denounced. In the autumn of the same year, however, the first League Assembly, which it had been planned to hold at Brussels, was finally convened at Geneva;10 and this is where the League Secretariat took up its residence, provisionally at first, then definitively. By its bold policy, conceived and carried out by one politician who possessed political means and relations second to none, the ILO had dragged them all with it. In addition, he had shown that the International Labour Organization would not hesitate to keep its own counsel.11 Its avowed independence and its much-needed autonomy date from the first battle that was waged and won. They were of great assistance to the Organization in every phase of international life, especially in the course of the tragic days of the summer of 1940, when on its own authority it decided to leave Europe for America. This vital decision enabled it to survive the War.12

First ILO Headquarters in Geneva, 1920-1926

The rest you know. The Thudichum Institute soon became insufficient. Its small students’ rooms, formerly occupied by a few students from the Balkans, were overflowing with life and overcrowded with collaborators recruited without competition all appointed by direct choice, and who turned out to be excellent officials, working night and day with passion for an ideal that meant a great deal to them. Wooden huts were gradually added to the main building.

This cramped temporary installation, the Bohemian quarters, as Albert Thomas called them, did nothing to convey the impression to all and sundry that the international organizations meant business and had come to stay. Plans were drawn up, discreet propaganda was made among friendly governments, credits were voted, and the present ILO Palace built.13

Only those who lived through that atmosphere of creation can remember what it was like. Press campaigns were started, some Parliaments approached, but the initiative of the Director of the ILO was considered too bold and it was denounced. Then the storm broke. In the midst of the building operations, the Governing Body, by a majority vote, decided to suppress one of the floors planned to meet all the needs of the Organization. This measure was technically unjustifiable, but it was a deliberate political gesture, as was proved later, when to replace the floor in question two wings had to be added, the building having become too small; but in this way, it lost the architectural character intended for it.

The storm did not abate. A majority decision was taken in the Governing Body whereby none of the posts previously provided to keep pace with the normal development of the establishment was to be filled. All the credits applied for were rejected.14 The following year our budget, which amounted to some 6 million francs, was suddenly cut down by 1 million, which led to the dismissal of a large number of able and devoted officials.

In addition to these drastic financial measures, intended to call a halt to any new initiative on the part of the Director, there was a resounding political attack by the French Government, which denied the power of the ILO in the matter of agricultural labour. The matter was brought before the Permanent International Court of Justice at The Hague.15 Without authorization of the Governing Body, Albert Thomas, although a Frenchman, a former Minister, and a former member of the War

Through these storms, the authority of the ILO was finally established outside. But it must be admitted that most of the Governments had envisaged it merely as a modest documentation directorate, and as a service for the implementation of the articles of the Peace Treaty, which could very well find its place among the other directorates of the League Secretariat-General; while the workers had always dreamed of making it into the powerful and efficacious universal organization which it gradually became. At that time, to obtain an annual budget increase of 50,000 francs was regarded by us as a major victory. Yet it was during these years of struggle that the Organization’s most constructive work was done. Almost every year, every Government of Europe was visited, then South America, North America, and the Far East.16 In most cases, as a result of such visits, Ministries of Labour were set up where they did not yet exist. And the experts who accompanied us prepared the first draft social insurance legislation for a large number of countries, Albert Thomas having stimulated the interest of the Governments in social legislation. Many Conventions, of the utmost importance, were adopted at our Conferences and then ratified by the Parliaments.17

In addition to political conflicts, there arose in the organization of the Office’s services difficulties of language, of comprehension, of methods of work, and daily misunderstandings. All the problems that beset a new international administration arose at the same time. But gradually this new international personnel, recruited in more than 35 countries, learned to think and to work in common to improvise its own rules, methods and traditions.

The fears of the Governments abated, the workers’ confidence increased, until it became strong and unshakeable. And while the League was still feeling its way, our experience stood out as the most single success.

No bitterness remained as a result of this harsh period of constructive fighting. It may just be recalled from this somewhat melancholy phrase of our first Director, which figures in one of his Geneva speeches:

“Those who build must know that they will be hurt. They must be able to resist attack. Like the citizens of Jerusalem, they must work on the ramparts with their sword girded to their loins.”

To build with one hand, to fight and defend oneself with the other, this was the keynote of the strange but wonderful early years of our ILO.

1 It seems more likely that the “urgent request” was on the part of Viple himself. In a document dated 21 February 1920 (file CAT 4/33/2), Thomas wrote that he had “promised Viple to see how he could be used by the ILO, subject to the financial possibilities given him by the Governing Body”. Viple was appointed on 14 May, retroactively from 8 May 1920. His appointment as press officer was probably linked with the decision to move the headquarters from London to Geneva, thus being unable to continue using the joined service with the League of Nations. William Martin had been brought in by the League to organize a press service, which the ILO shared in London..

2 There are two possible dates for the meeting, either when Albert Thomas was in Paris from about 6 to 18 April or during his brief stay during the first days of May, when he was on his way to Germany.

3 The Thudichum School (owned by the family of that name) was the building also known as La Châtelaine. It is now the headquarters of the ICRC.

4 Viple has somewhat exaggerated his own role in the installation of the ILO in Geneva. Already in February 1920 the Deputy Director, Harold Butler, had visited Geneva and made detailed recommendations (file G. 6/8). Dr. Parodi of the League of Nations was charged to negotiate the rental of the Thudichum building on behalf of the ILO and an option was formally submitted on 6 March, subsequently accepted on l7 March 1920 (file G.6). A minute dated 17 March probably prepared for the discussion at the March Session of the Governing Body states: “Mr. Butler and I (Albert Thomas) visited the town (Geneva) and considered that Mr. Thudichum’s school was admirably suited to the needs of the Office”(file 9.6). On 22 March, the Governing Body authorized Albert Thomas “to be empowered to complete arrangements for the establishment of the ILO in Geneva”(minutes of the GB, 3rd Session, 1920, p. 8). As a result, Butler could on 29 March telegraph: “Bail signed by Director”(file G.6).

5 As there are no records on file regarding Viple’s visit and its objectives, one can only speculate why Albert Thomas thought it important to send him to Geneva, considering that the decision on renting the Thudichum building had already been taken. A 48-hour return trip Paris-Geneva would have left little time for Viple to carry out any detailed inspection or negotiations. Has Viple dramatized the event? It is possible that he went to Geneva from 8 to 13 May, which would explain why his appointment was retroactive.

6 4th Session of the Governing body, June 1920.

7 The decision was taken by the Governing Body on 8 June 1920.

8 The London staff was first to arrive, and the Office in Geneva was opened on 7 July 1920 (file G. 6/7). The staff from the 2nd  International (Maritime) Labour Conference in Genoa (15 June to l0 July 1920) arrived by a special train on 14 July 1920. Viple is mistaken with regard to the dates.

9 Albert Thomas arrived in Geneva on 14 July 1920.

10 The First Assembly of the League of Nations opened in Geneva on l5 November 1920 (see also footnote 1 above).

11 2e Edward Phelan wrote in his book, Yes and Albert Thomas (second printing, New York,1949), p.242: “Albert Thomas saw this clearly. He realized that the International Labour Organization must develop as it were a personality of its own.”

12 As Wilfred Jenks later wrote (The ILO in wartime, Ottawa, 1969): “The ILO could survive collapse of the League because, paradoxically, its autonomy from the League gave it a vitality which remained unimpaired by the paralyses of the League.”

13 The foundation stone was laid on 21 October 1923 and the building occupied on 6 June 1926.

14 This relates to the 1923 budget.

15 1922. Phelan in his book (op. cit., pp. 137-la2) gives a vivid description of this important event.

16 As Phelan wrote (op. cit., p. 178), “The full story of Albert Thomas’ missions would make a book in itself. Each presented its own problems and few were without some incident worth recording.”

17 By 1930, there were 30 Conventions and 39 Recommendations; 408 Conventions had been ratified by the member States.

Alice Golay (alias Rivaz) and the ILO / Ivan M.C.S. Elsmark

Alice Rivaz (1901-1998) is well known as an important literary personality, not only in her native French-speaking Switzerland but also among French language readers – and from translations into German and ltalian – throughout continental Europe. Over the years she has been awarded several prizes, among which the Schiller Prize (1942 and 1969), the City of Geneva Prize (1975) and the Grand Prix Ramuz (1980). It is however not the intention here to deal with literary achievements as such, but to try to trace her life in the context of the ILO. In writing this article I have read with pleasure most of her books, and can only recommend my former colleagues to do the same.                                           

Who was Alice Golay?

Behind the pen-name Rivaz is hidden that of an ILO official, Alice Golay, who for more than 25 years served in such positions as shorthand-typist, documentalist and research assistant. At a time when career prospects for junior staff were limited, and even less for a woman, she had to renounce her inclinations in order to earn her daily bread as an office worker. Few of her superiors or colleagues took notice of her talent and personality and the files1 contain only scattered information.

Although she wrote thousands of abstracts and drafted reports and articles, nowhere do we find her name in an ILO publication. Her life’s work was to be in the world of letters.

The daughter of a “red” socialist.

Alice Golay was born in Rovray (Vaud) on 14 August 1901 where her father at the time was a school teacher. In l9l0 the family moved to Lausanne where Paul Golay devoted himself entirely to

journalistic and political activities in the Partie ouvrière socialiste vaudois. “My father was a black beard of thick velvet, a pipe behind a large newspaper,” and she herself was referred to as “the chief socialist’s small girl,” as she recalls in her book I’Alphabet du Matin (the Morning Alphabet). A forceful orator and pamphleteer, he was a member of the Grand Conseil, the Conseil Communal de Lausanne and, from 1925, of the Conseil Natioral.

Music early became an important part of Alice’s life and in 1920 she graduated from the Conservatoire de Lausanne as a piano teacher. To her disappointment her small hands did not permit her to accede to virtuoso classes, and the theme of failure and being unable to fulfil an artistic ambition later appears in several of her books. Thus, seeing neither a future as a piano teacher nor being willing to seek material security in marriage she took, in 1921, an accelerated steno and typing course to prepare for secretarial work.

It was not easy for Alice Golay to find an office job due to the political involvement of her father. His advanced views, “ses-Idées” as his daughter said, “threw him into a difficult social and political struggle” … “at a time when socialism was the scarecrow of decent people, in a country where the lowest form of middle-class and religious conformism reigned”.

How Alicc Golay came to the ILO.

Paul Golay was a man of action. On the suggestion of Emil Ryser, a friend and ILO official, he wrote in October 1921 to the ILO Director Albert Thomas to obtain employment for his daughter, emphasising her good general educational level and knowledge of English. In a sympathetic reply, Albert Thomas suggested that Alice should enter a competition for vacancies as shorthand-typist. Thus, on 25 March 1922 she sat for a two-hour examination, but, unprepared as she was, she failed, placing number 36 out of 44 candidates, ostensibly due to insufficient familiarity with ILO subjects.

Undaunted, Paul Golay wrote again, frankly exposing his daughter’s dilemma. He pointed out that in spite of her qualifications her career was “severely handicapped as the daughter of a militant socialist. Her father’s political life fetters and paralyses her”, she is rejected by the bourgeoisie and even prevented from taking up studies as a teacher. And he continued: “Certainly, it would be ridiculous to expect the ILO to provide asylum for those who are handicapped because of their political views, or those of their family. But I wonder if it would be totally incorrect, without requestirig favours, not to take these circumstances into account”.

Not before 12 April the following year could Alice Golay participate in a new competition but this time she was well prepared and passed as number one! If she then expected to be employed, she was to be disappointed. Although recruited from 24 May to 10 Iuly 1924 for the 6th  Session of the International Labour Conference, no opening was offered to her. Was it simply bureaucratic inertia? Paul Golay again turned to Albert Thomas who decided that the first relevant vacancy should be offered to his daughter. Hence, in March 1925 she was again proposed for the Conference, and subsequently engaged by the Office.

In the Typing Pool

Alice Golay entered the ILO on 15 June 1925 as a shorthand-typist (class B-monolingual) in the Typing, Multigraph and Roneo Branch. It must have been somewhat of a cultural shock for the young pianist to enter the busy offices of the typing pool under the strict command of its head, Geneviève Laverrière2, whose image we recognize as the authoritarian and beautiful Mrs. Fontanier in the novels Comme le Sable and Le Creux de la Vague. In these novels she remembers the Pool as a unit with many young women of different nationalities working in a “very feminine atmosphere which prevailed in Mrs. Fontanier’s branch”, each having “chosen this new and attractive career of an international official, … but at the same time started an existence different from her own and that of her surroundings” (Le Creux de la Vague). As she later described the dilemma in Comptez vos Jours, “separated because I am not married, because I have no children” … ” separated from my fellow-countrymen because I earn my living not among them but among foreigners,” … ” separated from myself because I am torn away from what I was, without being the one I am to be when I have shed the slough”.

In her books she recalls the view approaching the ILO lakeside building: “A large park with old trees, a gray frontage hidden behind the branches. But when following the small footpath covered with dead leaves, … one arrives at a parking lot, and what immediately meets the eyes is not a pretty bourgeois residence, but large barracks as ugly as a factory”.

In her diary and novels she describes the lake, the park “which surrounded the immense building … a marvel of softness and mystery”, the marbled entrance hall, the long corridors, the “mysterious” typing pool, the offices with in-trays full of documents and journals, the walls “decorated” with files, the desks covered with books and papers, the busy officials with their briefcases, the talks on professional and sentimental issues, the homes with the photograph of Albert Thomas! She observed it all and wove it into her novels as a backdrop to the essential human sentiments of love, hope, disappointment, egoism, and the fate of women in an often hostile society.

Alice Golay

At first she rented a room at quai des Bergues but in 1932 she settled into a new small flat (two rooms and a kitchen) on 5 rue Théodor Weber, which was to remain her home until 1992. For Alice Golay, Geneva appeared as “la Babylone helvétique“, so different from the world she had previously known. Like Hélène in her book Le Creux de la Vague, “year by year, the new life had taken a larger and larger part, while the old one less and less”. Thus while at first her chief Mrs. Laverrière regretted “a certain tendency to chattering and concealed inactivity during working hours”, she quickly seems to have adapted herself to the office routine and already in May 1926 she won an internal competition and was promoted to clerk-1st class.

The toils of a documentalist

It was a new challenge for Alice Golay when, in June 1926, she was transferred to the Documents Service of the General Information Section. In the job of dépouilleuse she spent the next thirteen years, a period of her life on which she frequently drew in her novels.

Her duties were to analyse and prepare abstracts from incoming French language periodicals and documents. In this work her good analytical and drafting skills came to great use, and she was noted for her “well chosen selection of information” and “the intelligent and careful drafting of abstracts”, unfortunately “blemished with typing and spelling errors”.

The workload was extremely heavy and her chief, Miss Marie Schappler, was highly demanding and kept detailed output statistics, as can still be witnessed from the files. “Exigent of her staff and of herself … strenuous in her work and devoted to the service” (as stated in a report), she lived mainly for the Office and expected her collaborators to do the same. Alice Golay suffered under the burden and in Jette ton Pain she describes how she “at the Office was sinking under an excessive workload, obliged each day to produce 35 abstracts from newspapers and periodicals, not counting French parliamentary debates”, which figured among her daily tasks, frequently obliging her to take the papers home and work till late into the night to finish the work. Her endeavours were appreciated and in 1939 her chief complimented her as “one of the best dépouilleuse” in the unit.

First literary steps

ln Le Creux de la Vague the heroine makes the following remarks about her career: “I have really made a good choice, she suddenly thought with a pang, shutting the door of her car, as if she had waited twelve years to pose this question and was starting to dream of a life which could have been hers if she had wanted”. The choice in life – and to have the courage to make it – is a theme which frequently occurs in her works. ln Comptez vos Jours she poses the question of the role of women in an age where the offices “slowly develop a new form of female servitude and greatness?”.

Feminist, pacifist and socialist, Alice Golay was very much aware of the social and political turmoils of her time. Geneva had been hit by a serious economic crisis and unrest which in 1932 culminated in a large demonstration suppressed by military force. Against this background she made a first attempt in 1935 to write a novel but the manuscript was later destroyed. A new impetus to her literary interest was the creation in 1936 of the book-club La Guilde du Livre. On the suggestion of its director, Albert Mermoud, she wrote an article about the Guilde, and during her holidays at Côte des Maures in July the following year she started writing the first fragments of Nuages dans la Main (Clouds in your Hand), which was to be published in 1940.


Somewhat naively Alice Golay got herself involved in a sordid affair which could have had serious consequences for her. A colleague, Heidi Flubacher-Stöcklin, had befriended a certain Yves Le Gallou (alias Marcel Dupan or René Landais) whom she assisted in selling an expensive property in Barcelona, ostensibly for the benefit of his infant son. During Le Gallou’s stay in Geneva, Alice Golay had permitted him to spend some nights at her loft, and to keep a suitcase there, believing that he was a conscientious objector without resources. It later emerged that he was a known imposter, swindler and thief, and had been using the suitcase for hiding stolen goods. After his arrest, Alice Golay was called as a witness in the case, which was widely reported in the Geneva papers. As a result she was suspended from her functions as from 27 December 1939, pending a disciplinary inquiry. When the court laid no charges against her, she voluntarily resigned on 3l January 1940 under the general scheme for wartime staff reduction receiving from the Pension Fund some 20,000 Frs.

A new life

In her diary (Carnets 1939-1982) she wrote: “My last day at the Office. I spent it putting order in my drawers and cupboards. … I have worked fourteen years and eight months behind these walls, fed up of spending my life shut up from morning to night just to earn it. But today I feel somewhat heartbroken at the idea of leaving. This table, this office, these two big windows opening onto the beautiful trees, the changing sky with the passing clouds, all that, during fourteen years and eight months I have looked at while working. An office which, little by little, becomes a kind of second home where one lives all day. In particular an office such as ours, as Liliane said to me yesterday, where we have experienced many things other than just earning a living … Yes, many other things, our friendship, our love affairs. This is where, year by-year, our hearts have grown long and strong roots”.

Like many who abruptly stop working, the departure from the daily routine left an unexpected void. She confessed in her diary: “Yesterday was the first day of freedom. How often have I not wished for this freedom which would permit me to write! But my reaction was unexpected. I neither felt like writing, nor painting, nor playing music. For the first time I would have preferred to work at the office”. … “I had not realised to what extent I needed the others, the presence of my friends and c-workers. This impetus, this excitement, this internal energy which I thought was my own, it was they who gave it to me. When I meet someone, I start living again. I see and listen again. For that reason I was able to write these three pages, because I communicate with the others”.

Wartime and literary pursuits

The war broke out in Europe; she was now unemployed, but for her it was “the very best gift: time to write”.

In July 1940 she had completed Nuages dans la Main which was published by La Guilde du Livre in December that year on the recommendation of the well-known author C. F. Ramuz. For her parents, her literary pursuits came as a surprise, and their reactions were mixed. Paul Golay wrote her a letter listing in detail what he considered the “faults” in the work and recommended that she start all over again; her mother appealed for suppression of certain pages which she thought “scandalous”.

To protect her family and patronym, Alice Golay chose the pen-name Alice Rivaz (from a village not far from her birthplace). Later in her book Ce Nom qui n’est qas le Mien (The Name which is not my own) she reflects on this dual personality which she had assumed, navigating between an Homerian Scylla and Charbydis, with a wish to hide in privacy while stepping forward to be known and recognised.

In 1942 René Juillard obtained the publishing rights for France. Some linguistic changes were undertaken as well as reference to Hitler and the war because of the occupation. In the preface the academician Edmond Jaloux criticised certain “helvétismes et négligences de style”, which actually had been corrected in the new edition and he attacked the international organizations, and in particular the ILO. This led to a conflict with Alice Golay, who only discovered the text in proofs; on her insistence the reference to the ILO was omitted. Like her father, she had courage and could stand firm.

In the following years she wrote several novels under her pen-name Alice Rivaz, of which Comme le Sable was published in 1946 and Paix des ruches in 1947, an anthology of French poetry 1942), while together with her former colleague, Suzanne Fontana she translated the novel by John Brophy: Immortal Sergeant. Under her own name she also contributed articles to several journals, mainly on feminist and social issues. To supplement her income she held various temporary jobs, in particular with the Anglo-American Press Bureau, which later provided background to her novel La Paix des Ruches from 1947.

Hard times at the ILO

With the end of the war the Press Bureau closed in August 1945 and she found herself without employment. Hence, on 5 April 1946, she applied to the ILO for reintegration, but only after the return of the “Working Centre” to Geneva and the intervention of Charles Schürch, the Swiss trade unionist, was she re-engaged from November 1948, not as a documentalist but as a registry clerk! A surprising decision considering her past career and literary achievements, but there seems to have been no other vacancies and she badly needed a job.

The three years that followed probably the most unsatisfactory physically taxing for her. Assigned to indexing of incoming correspondence, she had neither the experience nor the physical strength to deal with the tasks imposed on her. The staff worked under the watchful eye of the Registrar, Gustave Dubourg, and his assistant, Mrs. Marthe Barambon who from a glass window in the neighbouring office followed the progress. There is no doubt of the purely manual requirements of the job; as Dubourg noted: “in addition to the professional qualifications of the candidates, physical strength is of importance, as entries in the various registers obliges the person to remain standing up for long hours”.

Her literary activities came to a halt and in her diary she complained: “Seven months of silence and indescribable moral sufferings in a state of rigidity, in spite of my change of life and return to the ILO and the obligation to concentrate on a new job which they say is temporary, but which is completely against all my likings and does not correspond to my professional knowledge, a real manual labour carried out standing, consisting in moving and replacing index cards in draws which are very difficult to open and close. … I discover now the fatigue in the body, the muscles, the legs, the back the neck only creating one profound need: to go to bed once the drudgery of the day is finished and wipe it out in sleep”.

Her report for 1949 is critical of her insufficient knowledge of Registry work and procedures while acknowledging her good will and interest in ILO activities. As a result the Promotion Board prolonged her probation period and withheld the annual increment while considering “that Miss Golay was probably not suited for the duties required of her in the Registry and further recommends that if and when a vacancy occurs in another Section or Service, Miss Golay should be given an opportunity of a transfer”.

The next year the report was more favourable and her appointment was confirmed. Things also started to look brighter. She was temporarily promoted to AMD (Assistant Member of Division, a junior professional post) and on 1st September 1951 transferred to the Manpower Division.

Family affairs

Unfortunately this turn for the better was accompanied by personal worries. Her father Paul Golay had died in June 1951. Together with her mother she rapidly compiled a volume of his political writings (a selection from his some 7000 articles) which was published the same year as Terre de Justice. Both father and daughter were talented writers, but Paul Golay had no literary ambition, his writing was a tool in a struggle for his convictions. Her mother, Marie Golay, then moved to Geneva to stay with her daughter in her small flat. Life together proved a serious strain in spite of their loving relationship. For Alice Golay, it was a new obstacle in finding time to write. She later drew on this experience in chapter IX of Comptez vos Jours, and in Jette ton pain she describes with feeling and honesty the tension between the two, slightly disguised as Mme Grace and her daughter Christine.

A new beginning

At the ILO Alice Golay had at last returned to a post where her abilities and experience were appreciated. After four months in the Vocational Training Section she won a competition and was appointed as research assistant in the Employment Section from 1st January 1952. A plan to send her to Belgium to acquire experience of employment service had to be abandoned because of her family situation. In her new job she found a challenging, although often exhausting, activity and, more important, a friendly and more human relationship among the staff and with her superior.

A nice custom at the time was for the Director to congratulate members of staff on promotion. Alice Golay received such a letter from David Morse on 7th January 1952 to which she replied on 11th January, thanking him for the confidence shown in her and assuring that she would do her best to accomplish her new tasks in the best interests of the Office, thus participating in achieving the common goal of social justice.

Her direct chief was Donald L. Snyder who thought her “conscientious and hardworking, [with] good judgement and reliability”, … “co-operative and intelligent, and a valuable and effective member of the Section”. Her duties during the next eight years spanned widely-differing areas dealing with employment situation and labour market issues through the employment services, questions relating to older workers and women, preparation of some 600 abstracts annually, assisting in research and occasional translation of texts. Not necessarily an exciting occupation for a person of her sensitivity.

Although her name does not figure as the author (most staff-work appeared anonymously) she wrote notes for Industry and Labour and the International Labour Review (two articles, June 1954 and July 1955, on the employment of older workers and on older women), a report for the Textiles Committee (1958), a chapter in the report The Age of retirement for the European Regional Conference (1955) and a report on employment of older women workers prepared for the UN Committee on the Status of Women (9th Session, March 1955). On the latter she revealed in her diary that she “knew nothing about the subject” and “to have to fabricate such a study in six weeks all on her own was madness.” – But still she did it!

She was longing for time for her literary work. In her diary she counts the time spent on her daily activities: “At the Office: 8 hours; working at home for the Office: 2 hours minimum; four journeys by tram of ½ an hour each: 2 hours; three meals: 2 ½ hours. Total: 14 hours”. – And she adds: “Under these conditions, how can I dream of writing even notes in this diary?”

Alice Golay had a good relationship with her colleagues, and one them, Antoinette Béguin, still remembers her as “a charming person, kind-hearted, soft-spoken and friendly. She took an interest in people, but was never intruding or indiscreet. She had a sense of humour, but with kindness and never at other people’s expense”. Office life gave her inspiration but as she explains, those “who surround you in daily life, with whom you work at the office, those whom, in your thoughts, you can’t avoid modifying, deforming, partially erasing, and at the same time adding something to them, exaggerating certain of their gestures, giving them qualities and faults which are not necessarily theirs, behaviours in which you encase them – thus having the impression of lifting them above themselves, or on the contrary debasing them, or indeed reincarnating them in a completely new person to become a character in a novel”.

Free end recognized

On 4 May 1958 Alice Golay noted in her diary: “Mother has died in the course of a long sleep without agony …”. Her grief at the loss was mixed with a feeling of relief, to be free again to take charge of her own life. A second event was the offer of a contract by the Foundation Pro Helvetia which hastened her decision to devote all her time to writing. “Small fact with great consequences because it incites me to resign from the ILO earlier than I thought I could” … “Hope to realize at last what I dreamt about for such a long time”, as her diary records. Thus on 12 February 1959 she gave notice with effect on 15 August; she was then 58 years old and free again to pursue her literary interest, as well as music and painting.

It is with a certain sadness that one reads the entry in her diary: “Today, 31 July 1959, my last day at the ILO. … If I add the years I worked at that organisation, between the two wars and after the last, it comes to twenty-five years and some months, all my best years lost, except for the time during the war when I for the first time had leisure to write.

In the years to follow she published i.a.: Sans Alcool (1961), Comptez vos Jours (1966), Creux de la Vague (1967), L’Alphabet du Matin (1968), De Mémoire et d’Oubli (1973), Jette ton Pain (1979), Ce Nom qui n’est pas le Mien (1980), Trace de Vie, Carnets 1919-1982 (1983) and Jean-Georges Lossier, Poesie et Vie intérieure (1986). Many of her books are currently being reissued by the publishers L’Air, so readers again can enjoy her works. Her writings have been honoured by many prestigious literary prizes and a memorial tablet has been placed on the building at 5 rue Théodor Weber where she lived from 1932 until 1992. Her last years were spent at the old people’s home “Mimosas” where she died on 27 February 1998.


1 In particular the files P. 1648, P 6/8 pt..II, P6/14/1 and PD 6/1/20.

2..She has « su maintenir une exacte discipline au sein d’un personnel nombreux, hétérogène, qui travaille dans des conditions sensiblement plus pénibles que celles qui prévalent dans les autres services”. (Quoted from the 1935 report.)

Pour le Centenaire de l’Organisation internationale du Travail / Natan Elkin

Ma plus grande réussite en 25 ans de travail à l’OIT : l’identification du délégué cubain à la Commission de la législation internationale du travail !

A l’approche de la retraite, dans les derniers jours de juin 2016, il m’a semblé que je devais distraire mes collègues du Département des normes internationales du travail de l’immense tristesse causée par mon départ par le récit de ce qui me semble avoir été le résultat le plus notable de mon travail, pendant 25 ans, au Bureau international du travail.

Mon exploit le plus important en tant que membre du Bureau a été de rectifier le nom du délégué de la République de Cuba qui figure sur la photo historique de la Commission internationale de législation du travail, prise à Paris, au début de la Conférence de paix, le 25 janvier ou le 1er février 1919, selon les recherches que j’ai effectuées pour élaborer ce texte.

1919-01-Comision de la Legislación Internacional del Trabajo


1.  A. Fontaine — 2. L. Jouhaux — 3. Baron Capelle — 4. Baron Mayor des Planches — 5. E. Phelan — 6. Dr. G. E. di Palma Castiglione — 7. Fosty — 8. Coronel Lister — 10. Gordon L. Berry — 11. Guy H. Oyster — 12. Mme. Jackson — 13. G. M. Hodgson — 14. E. Mahaim — 15. Comte Zoltowski — 16. E. Benés — 17. Dr. Martínez Ortiz — 18. A. N. Hurley — 19. H. M. Robinson — 20. H. B. Butler — 21. E. Vandervelde — 22. P. Colliard — 23. Samuel Gompers — 24. G. N. Barnes — 25. Sir Malcom Delevingne — 26. L. Loucheur.

Pendant de très nombreuses années, la photo de la Commission de la législation  internationale du travail a été exposée, parmi d’autres vestiges des archives du BIT, à proximité de la cafétéria de la salle du Conseil d’administration. Tout ce temps, en buvant les tasses de café au lait et de thé que je consommais quotidiennement pendant mes années en tant que fonctionnaire, je n’ai cessé d’admirer le visage du numéro 17 sur la photo, le seul nom latino-américain, parmi tant de personnalités européennes distinguées. Le nom indiqué pour le numéro 17 était celui de Sánchez de Bustamente. Antonio Sánchez de Bustamente y Sirven (1865-1961), que j’appelle respectueusement Don Antonio, l’éminent auteur du Code de droit international privé, dont j’ai entendu parler à la Faculté de droit de Buenos Aires et qui continue à être étudié dans les bons cours de droit en Amérique.

Les moustaches du chiffre 17 retenaient aussi mon attention, puisque je n’ai jamais réussi à faire pousser sous mon nez une moustache digne de ce panache.

En mars 2016, lorsque j’ai atteint l’âge de la retraite, pendant les trois mois au cours desquels mon contrat avec le Bureau a été prolongé, j’ai été invité à préparer une mission au Panama pour débloquer le processus de ratification de la convention (no 169) relative aux peuples indigènes et tribaux, 1989.

Afin de préparer mes présentations au Panama, et étant donné que tout le monde m’avait demandé à plusieurs reprises pourquoi l’OIT s’occupait des peuples autochtones, j’ai pris le temps d’analyser le texte du Traité de Versailles.  Ma belle-mère Jacqueline D. m’avait offert un précieux exemplaire original de ce texte. Ce n’est qu’en touchant les pages jaunies du Traité de paix que l’on comprend que la Société des Nations avait, parmi ses priorités, la promotion des conditions de vie des peuples et des communautés “non encore capables de se diriger eux-mêmes dans les conditions particulièrement difficiles du monde moderne” (article 23, page 34 du texte officiel). L’Organisation du travail devait élaborer des conventions internationales du travail qui peuvent ou non être appliquées dans les colonies (article 421 du Traité de Paix aux pages 421-422 du texte officiel). En conséquence, de 1935 à 1955, l’OIT a adopté des normes sur les travailleurs “indigènes” dans les territoires coloniaux.

Le Panama a ratifié quatre des cinq conventions sur les travailleurs « indigènes » dans les territoires coloniaux qui ont été adoptés jusqu’en 1955 et elles sont toujours en vigueur pour ce pays. En outre, quand j’écris ce texte, la Convention no 107 relative aux populations aborigènes et tribales, adoptée en 1957, est toujours en vigueur pour ces deux pays. Si je voulais faire avancer la ratification de la Convention n° 169 au Panama, il m’a semblé important de rafraîchir mes idées en relisant le Traité de Versailles et de présenter ce contexte historique à mes interlocuteurs locaux.

Onze pays d’Amérique latine (Bolivie, Brésil, Cuba, Équateur, Guatemala, Haïti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Pérou et Uruguay) et très peu de délégués ont assisté à la Conférence de paix. Pour le Panama, il y avait le nom d’Antonio Burgos, ministre plénipotentiaire du Panama à Madrid, au sujet duquel je n’ai pu, lors de ma visite au Panama en 2016, recueillir aucune information particulière. Ce n’est que deux ans plus tard que j’ai consulté le bilan lucide de la Conférence de Paix et de la situation européenne publié par le délégué panaméen, en Italie, en 1925[1].

Alors que je préparais une visite au Panama, je me suis arrêté à nouveau au nom du délégué cubain qui avait signé l’Acte de la Conférence de Paix : Antonio Sánchez de Bustamante, qui a souligné ses titres les plus appréciés : Doyen de la Faculté de Droit et Président de la Société cubaine de Droit International, diplômes qui ont sans doute accru le respect pour sa personne et son pays.

Martinez Ortiz, le délégué cubain à la Commission de la législation internationale du travail, réapparaît sur la photo.

En ces jours de mai 2016, alors que je préparais encore la mission au Panama, Fiona Rolian – l’animatrice du groupe d’amis et de retraités de l’OIT sur Facebook – a eu l’idée de publier la photo que je reproduis ci-dessous, dans laquelle un personnage se distingue avec une belle moustache aux cheveux gris, que je ne pouvais qu’associer immédiatement au numéro 17 de l’image de la Commission de la législation internationale du travail.

1919-Washington Conference-Ethelwert Stewart et sa moustache blanche

Cependant, les moustaches blanches de la photo précédente ont été immédiatement attribuées à Ethelbert Stewart, directeur du U.S. Bureau of Statistics.

Pour dissiper tout doute sur le visage de Don Antonio, j’ai cherché et trouvé sa photo sur Internet. Don Antonio avait un visage très triangulaire, avec une petite pointe de barbe blanche, qui ne coïncidait pas du tout avec le visage rond de celui qui portait ses moustaches blanches à la Commission de la législation internationale du travail.

Samedi 25 janvier 1919 : Don Antonio appareille de La Havane et le Dr Martínez Ortiz participe à la première réunion de la Commission de la législation internationale du travail.

Sur le site Facebook susmentionné, où certains retraités de l’OIT passent une part importante de leur temps précieux, Fiona Rolian a également partagé une page de la publication illustrée The Cuba Review, qui offre un rapport sur le départ de Don Antonio à la Conférence de Paix.

D’après ce qui a été publié dans The Cuba Review, nous savons que Don Antonio a embarqué le 25 janvier 1919, en route pour la France. “Les délégués ont quitté New York par le navire américain Orizaba et sont arrivés à Paris le 8 février. Avant l’arrivée du Dr Bustamante, Cuba était représentée à la conférence par Rafael Martínez y Ortiz, ministre en France”.

1919-The Cuba Review-Cuba Delegation to Peace Conference

En cherchant des informations sur Rafael Martínez Ortiz, j’ai trouvé dans un blog une photo du personnage qui correspondait le mieux au numéro 17 de la Commission de la législation internationale du travail. C’était le blog de Jorge Ferrer, un Cubain vivant à Barcelone, écrivain et traducteur du russe vers l’espagnol[2].

Jorge Ferrer a éveillé ma curiosité pour la vie et l’œuvre de Rafael Martínez Ortiz et m’a donné la première source de l’histoire d’amour que j’ai racontée à mes collègues en disant adieu à l’OIT. Je ne vais pas non plus anticiper une histoire d’amour réservée à ceux qui ont la patience de lire ce texte jusqu’à le fin.

En effet, il n’a pas été facile de vaincre la résistance des responsables des archives du BIT, mes chers Remo Becci et Jacques Rodriguez, et de les convaincre que le numéro 17 sur la photo n’était pas le prestigieux don Antonio, mais un médecin inconnu appelé Martinez Ortiz. Cependant, lorsque Remo Becci a révisé les versions précédentes des indications qui accompagnaient la photo de la Commission de la législation internationale du travail, le nom de Sánchez de Bustamente ne figurait pas dans une première version de la vignette, mais plutôt le nom de Martínez Ortiz.

Jacques a dû l’accepter sur Facebook : Après vérification, et grâce à la perspicacité de Natan, nous avons effectivement reconnu que la personne dont la silhouette correspondant à la vignette no.17 sur la photo de la Commission de la Législation internationale du Travail, n’était pas celle de Antonio Sánchez de Bustamante mais celle de Rafael Martínez Ortiz. Nous ferons la correction dans nos archives. Merci Natan Elkin d’avoir contribué à corriger cette erreur quelques 90 ans après.

Notons également qu’en 1926, lors de l’inauguration du premier siège du Bureau international du Travail, un document illustré reproduit la photo de la Commission de la législation internationale du travail, avec le nom (erroné) de Don Antonio. Je remercie Stanley Taylor, un autre membre éminent des Amis de l’OIT, qui a eu la gentillesse de partager, en juin 2018, le livret sur l’inauguration du bâtiment, publié en 1926.

1926-Building Inauguration Booklet

1926-Building Inauguration Booklet-vignette

Je répète que, très peu de jours après avoir quitté le Bureau, il me semblait avoir atteint le point culminant de ma carrière professionnelle : corriger une erreur qui durait depuis 90 ans et permettre aux nouvelles générations de connaître le nom et le visage du délégué cubain qui a souffert du froid de Paris, avec le sourire, entouré des très éminentes personnalités qui composaient la Commission de la législation internationale du travail.

La date et les personnalités de la photographie: 25 janvier / 1er février 1919

Les comptes rendus détaillés du Commission de la législation internationale du travail ont été publiés au Journal officiel du Bureau et sont disponibles sur Internet[3]. De cette façon, il est possible d’identifier, avec le numéro correspondant dans la vignette de la photo, les personnalités qui se sont rencontrées le 25 janvier 1919 pour entamer les discussions qui ont abouti à la création de l’OIT.

Le procès-verbal de la séance du samedi 25 janvier 1919, tenue au ministère du Travail, Hôtel du Ministre, Salle à manger, se lit comme suit :

La Conférence des Préliminaires de Paix, dans sa séance plénière du 25 janvier 1919, […] a décidé de nommer, pour l’étude de la législation internationale du travail, une Commission composée de quinze membres, à raison de deux membres pour chacune des Grandes Puissances (Etats-Unis d’Amérique, Empire britannique, France, Italie, Japon) et de cinq membres élus pour l’ensemble des Puissances à intérêts particuliers. Dans la Réunion tenue par ces Grandes Puissances, le 27 janvier  1919, la Belgique a été choisie pour désigner deux Représentants et Cuba, la Pologne et la République Tchéco-Slovaque chacun un Représentant. (…). La composition de la Commission, à la suite de la désignation de ses Représentants par chacun des Etats intéressés, se trouve ainsi être la suivante :

Etats-Unis d’Amérique : Hon. A. N. Hurley (18), Président de la Commission des transports maritimes ; M. Samuel Gompers (23), Président de l’American Federation of Labor.

Empire britannique : The Rt. Hon. G. N. Barnes (24), Ministre sans portefeuille ; Sir Malcolm Delevingne (25), K.C.B., Sous-Secrétaire d’Etat permanent à l’Intérieur.

France : M. Colliard (22), Ministre du Travail et de la Prévoyance sociale ; M. Loucheur (26), Ministre de la Reconstitution industrielle.

Italie : Le baron Mayor des Planches (4), Ambassadeur honoraire, Commissaire général de l’Emigration ; M. Cabrini, député.

Japon : M. Otchiai, Envoyé extraordinaire et Ministre plénipotentiaire de S. M. l’Empereur du Japon à La Haye ; M. Oka, ancien Directeur des Affaires commerciales et industrielles au Ministère de l’Agriculture et du Commerce.

Belgique : M. Vandervelde (21), Ministre de la Justice, Ministre d’Etat ; M. Mahaim (14), Professeur à l’Université de Liège, Secrétaire de la section belge de l’Association internationale pour la protection légale des travailleurs.

Cuba : M. de Bustamante, Président de la Société cubaine de droit international, Professeur à l’Université de la Havane. Remplacé provisoirement par : M. Rafael Martinez Ortiz (17), Envoyé extraordinaire et Ministre plénipotentiaire de Cuba à Paris.

Pologne : Le comte Jean Zoltowski (15), Membre du Comité national polonais (Délégué provisoire).

République Tchécoslovaque : M. Bénès (16), Ministre des Affaires Etrangères.

A la fin de la réunion, la commission disposait d’un bureau dans lequel chacune des cinq Grandes Puissances obtenait une place, bien que le ministre Loucheur (26) s’opposât cordialement à la nomination de deux secrétaires généraux et acceptait seulement que H. B. Butler (20) soit attaché à A. Fontaine (1).  La composition du bureau était la suivante:

Président : Samuel Gompers (23) (Etats Unis).

Secrétaire général : M. Arthur Fontaine (1) (France).

Secrétaire général adjoint : M. H. B. Butler (20) (Empire Britannique)

Secrétaires :

Etats-Unis d’Amérique : M. Guy H. Oyster (11).

Italie : M. G. E. di Palma Castiglione (6).

Japon :  M. Yoshisaka.

Belgique : Comte G. de Hemericourt de Grunne.

Liaison avec le Secrétariat général de la Conférence : M. J. Duboin.

Le procès-verbal nous permet également de déterminer que le Dr Martínez Ortíz était présent le 25 janvier et les 1er, 4 et 5 février. Après ces quatre réunions, le Dr Martinez Ortiz a été remplacé par Don Antonio. Parmi les quatre fois où le Dr Martínez Ortiz était présent, le ministre des Affaires étrangères de la République tchécoslovaque, Eduard Benes, n’était présent que les 25 janvier et 1er février. Il n’y avait pas d’autre jour où le Dr Martínez Ortiz et Benes auraient pu coïncider. Par conséquent, la photo a été prise le 25 janvier ou le 1er février 1919.

Visages souriants et tensions entre alliés

En souhaitant la bienvenue le 25 janvier 1919, le ministre Colliard propose que Sam Gompers soit élu président de la commission, ce qui donne lieu à des manifestations unanimes de soutien. Le comte Zoltowski a déclaré dans le procès-verbal qu’il était “heureux de voir M. Gompers élu Président” et a ajouté quelques mots que je suppose que Gompers a mieux compris que les autres membres de la commission: « Les ouvriers polonais ont trouvé aux Etats-Unis un excellent accueil ; ils sont répartis dans les usines d’un grand nombre de pays et ont grand intérêt à l’établissement d’une législation internationale ». Sam Gompers est né à Londres, en 1850, dans une famille juive d’Amsterdam et a suivi des cours dans une école juive laïque pendant son enfance. Quand Sam avait 13 ans, la famille Gompers s’est installée dans le Lower East Side de New York. Les ouvriers polonais que le comte Zolotowski avait à l’esprit étaient, dans une large mesure, des Juifs, victimes de meurtres collectifs, comme ce fut le cas à Lemberg, deux mois seulement avant la réunion de la commission, du 21 au 23 novembre 1918[4].

Si j’évoque les événements de Lemberg qui, à l’époque, se trouvait en territoire polonais et aujourd’hui en Ukraine (la ville s’appelle Lviv), c’est pour souligner que, malgré les sourires unanimes que l’on voit sur la photo, les affrontements entre les pays qui sont sur la photo se sont également multipliés à cette époque. Le 23 janvier 1919, l’armée tchécoslovaque s’était emparée de la ville de Tesen sur le territoire polonais[5], mais cela n’empêcha pas l’éminent Eduard Benes (16) d’être photographié juste à côté du comte Zolotowski (15).

Le samedi 24 janvier 1919, le Président Woodrow Wilson, présent à la Conférence, tenta d’imposer l’ordre entre les délégations : les actes de force porteront gravement préjudice aux revendications de ceux qui utilisent de tels moyens sous-entendant que ceux qui emploient la force mettent en doute la justice et la validité de leurs revendications et impliquent que leur but est d’établir leur souveraineté par la contrainte plutôt que par préférence raciale ou nationale et l’association historique naturelle… S’ils attendent justice, ils doivent renoncer à la force et remettre leurs revendications de bonne foi aux mains de la Conférence de paix. [Texte en anglais repris de l’ouvrage de Carole Fink mentionnée à la note 5: “the presumption that those who employ force doubt the justice and validity of their claim” and imply that their purpose was to “set up sovereignty by coercion rather than by racial or national preference and natural historical association… if they expect justice, they must refrain from force and place their claims in unclouded good faith in the hands of the Conference of Peace”].

Voyant qu’un délégué cubain était membre de la commission, je suppose aussi que Gompers, a ressenti une émotion personnelle. Comme son père, Samuel avait travaillé dans la fabrication de cigares. En 1875, il est élu président de la section locale 144 de l’Union internationale des fabricants de cigares et, jusqu’à sa mort en décembre 1924, il a occupé la première vice-présidence du Syndicat des fabricants de cigares. Les biographies de Gompers soulignent ses relations avec Cuba : “Gompers, qui avait des liens avec les travailleurs cubains du cigare aux États-Unis, a appelé les Américains à intervenir à Cuba ; il a soutenu la guerre avec l’Espagne en 1898. Il a cependant rejoint la Ligue anti-impérialiste, après la guerre, pour s’opposer au projet du président William McKinley d’annexer les Philippines[6]“.

Le code génétique de l’OIT se trouve sur la photo

L’OIT est définie comme une institution “tripartite” au sein de laquelle un consensus est recherché entre les représentants des gouvernements, des employeurs et des syndicats pour atteindre les objectifs de l’Organisation. L’origine du tripartisme se trouve dans cette commission de la conférence de paix qui, en plus d’avoir des délégués gouvernementaux, avait associé des personnalités représentant les syndicats (Sam Gompers (23), Leon Jouhaux (2)), les employeurs, A. N. Hurley (18) et la société civile, comme E. Mahaim (14), professeur à l’Université de Liège et secrétaire du comité belge de l’Association internationale de législation du travail.

L’Association internationale de législation du travail, association privée créé à Bâle en 1901, avait des correspondants dans différents pays et cherchait à diffuser et à analyser les législations novatrices adoptées au niveau national pour réglementer les conditions de travail. Sir Malcolm Delevingne (25), sous-secrétaire anglais à l’Intérieur, était également un membre actif de cette association, tout comme Arthur Fontaine (1), directeur de l’Office du Travail.

Les personnalités les plus en vue sont en première ligne de la photo : Sam Gompers (23), président de la principale confédération syndicale nord-américaine, avec les quatre ministres des grandes puissances : Pierre Colliard (22), ministre français du Travail, à sa gauche ; et G. N. Barnes (24), ministre britannique sans portefeuille, et Louis Loucheur (26), ministre français de la Reconstruction industrielle, à sa droite. Ainsi que E. Vandervelde (21), ministre belge de la Justice, avec son acolyte E. Mahaim (14), un représentant de l’Association internationale de législation du travail, ont réussi à se glisser dans la première rangée.

Albert Thomas, qui avait précédé Louis Loucheur (26) comme ministre français de l’Armement, sera élu premier directeur du Bureau grâce à l’action conjointe d’Arthur Fontaine (1) et de Léon Jouhaux (2) qui parviennent à battre le candidat britannique Butler (20). Quand A. Thomas meurt (mai 1932), Butler (20) occupera la direction du Bureau jusqu’en décembre 1938. L’Américain John Winant, qui était déjà directeur général adjoint, a servi pendant une courte période (1939-1941) comme directeur. Une autre personnalité déjà présente sur la photo, E. Phelan (5), dirigera le Bureau jusqu’en 1948 (reconverti de britannique en irlandais).

Le prix Nobel de la paix de 1951, décerné à Léon Jouhaux (2), personnalité marquante du syndicalisme français, se distinguera comme représentant syndical au Conseil d’administration de l’OIT. De même pour A. Fontaine (1), qui avait été élu premier président du Conseil d’administration du BIT, occupera ce poste jusqu’à sa mort (septembre 1931).  Gabriel Ventejol (1919-1987) appartenait au même mouvement syndical français que Jouhaux, CGT Force Ouvrière, qui l’a accompagné et l’a finalement remplacé comme représentant syndical au conseil d’administration. En 1977 et 1984, Gabriel Ventejol a présidé deux séries de discussions sur les normes internationales du travail qui demeurent le substrat de la politique normative de l’OIT et certaines des questions en suspens sont toujours d’actualité pour l’Organisation.

Ma conclusion est que le profil des personnalités qui se sont réunies en 1919 pour créer l’OIT continue à conditionner la vie de l’Organisation à ce jour. L’actuel directeur général, Guy Ryder, est un syndicaliste britannique profondément enraciné à Bruxelles, siège des principales organisations syndicales social-démocrates et chrétiennes. A l’exception d’une décennie chilienne de Juan Somavía (1999-2008), les directeurs généraux britanniques (Butler, Jenks et Ryder) / irlandais (Phelan) ; français (Thomas, Blanchard) ; nord-américains (Winant, Morse) et, évidemment, un belge (Hansenne) ont alterné au Bureau.

Quatre aristocrates sur la photo

Le Baron Edmond Mayor des Planches (4) a eu une carrière diplomatique fructueuse en Italie, bien qu’il soit né à Lyon (France) dans une famille juive du canton de Vaud (Suisse), selon l’encyclopédie Treccani.

A gauche du Baron Edmond (4) et à droite de Léon Jouhaux (2), il y a un chapeau et une moustache chaplinesque correspondant au jeune Baron Robert Capelle (3). Le Baron R. Capelle a poursuivi une carrière diplomatique jusqu’à ce qu’il devienne chef de cabinet du ministre E. Vandervelde (21) (en 1926). Par la suite le Baron R. Capelle a été nommé secrétaire du roi Léopold III, qui lui donnera la dignité de comte. Le Comte Robert devra répondre aux accusations de collaboration avec l’occupant nazi qui ont conduit à l’abdication du roi Léopold III. Je suis intrigué qu’ils soient côte à côte sur la photo, L. Jouhaux (2), qui a résisté et combattu le nazisme, et le comte Robert (3), qui a collaboré à l’occupation nazie de son pays.

On trouve également le Comte Zoltowski (15), qui figure en tant que membre du Comité national polonais. En effet, la République de Pologne n’a été créée qu’à la fin de la Conférence de Paix. Et la famille Zolotowski a été enterrée à Buenos Aires par Lázaro Costa, la plus réputée compagnie de pompes funèbres, au seul cimetière digne de son rang, La Recoleta.

OIT Centenario-Condes en la Recoleta


Le dottore Guglielmo Emanuele di Palma Castiglione (6), né à Turin en 1879, appartenait également à une famille noble. Après s’être occupé des migrations[7] au ministère des Affaires étrangères, il entre au Bureau le 1er février 1920 et prend sa retraite en décembre 1937. G. E. Di Palma Castiglione a publié, dans une prestigieuse revue florentine, une analyse de la XIe session de la Conférence internationale du travail[8] qui a retenu l’attention de Antonio Gramsci dans la prison fasciste[9].

Cuba à la Conférence de Paix

Cuba a été le dernier territoire américain à obtenir son indépendance de l’Espagne lorsque le traité entre les États-Unis et l’Espagne a été signé à Paris en décembre 1898. Ce n’est qu’en 1902 que Cuba a élu un président né sur l’île, Mario García Menocal. Le général Menocal a occupé la présidence pendant deux mandats consécutifs (1913-1917 et 1917-1921). Toujours alignée sur la politique étrangère américaine, la décision de Menocal de déclarer la guerre à l’Empire allemand et de participer à la Première Guerre mondiale a été le premier acte international du pays.

La déclaration de guerre a été accompagnée de quelques aspects curieux et propres qui montrent leur volonté d’être visible sur la scène internationale. Cuba adopte une “loi sur l’aide financière aux alliés’’ qui autorise des crédits pour le soutien à des hôpitaux, des ambulances des hospices que pourra établir la Croix-Rouge cubaine en Europe et pour le soutien des soldats et des membres de leurs familles qui ont été victimes de la guerre. Cette loi a créé la “Commission cubaine pour la propagande de la guerre et l’assistance aux victimes”. La population cubaine a également été encouragée à contribuer à l’effort de guerre des Alliés en faisant des dons d’espèces et de produits, principalement aux victimes de la guerre en France.

Il est important de rappeler une autre information, parue dans The Cuba Review, concernant les efforts déployés par le Gouvernement cubain pour appuyer sa délégation à la Conférence de paix: le Président Menocal a signé un décret autorisant un crédit de 40.000 dollars, dont 10.000 dollars seront affectés aux dépenses personnelles du voyage et aux dépenses pour trois mois de la délégation de la République de Cuba à la Conférence de Paix, les 30.000 autres dollars devant être utilisés pour toutes dépenses que la délégation pourra engager pendant son séjour à Paris.

L’Orphelinat de guerre cubain à Paris

La Esfera, le plus prestigieux journal illustré espagnol de l’époque, dans son édition du 3 mai 1919, a fait écho de la volonté de Cuba d’exprimer sa solidarité avec les victimes de la guerre en Europe. Dans l’édition du 3 mai 1919, une page entière signée Eduardo Zamacois[10] loue la performance de Cuba en Europe. La photo de la Première Dame, Doña Mariana Seva de Menocal, en sa qualité de Présidente du Comité des Dames de la Croix-Rouge, illustre la partie supérieure de la page du journal, tandis que dans la marge inférieure gauche figure la photo du Dr Martínez Ortiz, Ministre de Cuba à Paris.

Zamacois sobre Rafael

Eduardo Zamacois ne peut s’empêcher de consacrer un compliment au Président Menocal et mentionne le diplôme de génie civil qu’il a obtenu à l’Université Cornell et son activité professionnelle. Le président Menocal, également connu sous le nom de “el mayoral de Chaparra[11]” était “le directeur de la société sucrière la plus riche du monde”. En effet, c’était une activité rémunératrice pour les sucreries de placer du sucre cubain aux Etats-Unis, à un prix préférentiel, pour soutenir l’effort de guerre des alliés[12].

L’article de Zamacois souligne que le Dr Martinez Ortiz, ministre cubain à Paris, a proposé la création immédiate d’un “orphelinat de guerre” dans lequel cent enfants appartenant aux deux nations qui ont le plus souffert – la Belgique et la France – pourraient recevoir une éducation et un abri décents. L’initiative cubaine de protection des enfants européens est due, selon l’article, “au sénateur Cosme de la Torriente, et sa réalisation est due à la décision rapide du général Menocal et de son épouse, une femme toute tendre, douce comme une page de l’Évangile, en qui rivalisent la noble beauté du cœur et la chaude beauté créole du visage’’.

Si les lignes du journaliste pouvaient être mises à jour dans la langue officielle de l’OIT, on pourrait dire que les enfants européens recevront une éducation et un abri “décent” dans un orphelinat cubain à Paris. Toute mention de “la beauté créole chaleureuse du visage” de la Première Dame serait également supprimée des textes officiels. Il conviendrait d’examiner la relation entre Ana Torriente, la collègue qui a pris ma relève au Département des normes internationales du travail, et les initiatives de certains de ses nombreux illustres ancêtres, y compris certainement le sénateur Cosme de la Torriente, qui, selon Zamacois, a eu l’initiative de créer un orphelinat de guerre cubain à Paris.

Selon Zamacois, le gouvernement cubain couvrait tous les frais d’entretien des enfants belges et français qui seront installés dans l’”orphelinat de guerre cubain”. Dans le règlement de l’orphelinat, il avait été prévu que “l’étude de la langue espagnole est obligatoire”, avec l’intention d’attirer de nouveaux immigrants belges et français à Cuba.

Le délégué du Panama assure la coordination avec Cuba

Avant d’aller plus loin, il serait utile de savoir que la délégation cubaine jouit de la confiance des autres délégations latino-américaines présentes à la Conférence de paix. Selon Antonio Burgos, le délégué du Panama, “les forts – le Conseil suprême des Alliés – tenaient constamment des sessions secrètes, discutaient, résolvaient, exécutaient et ne faisaient connaître aux petites puissances que certaines de leurs décisions en session plénière. Dans ces délibérations, on nous a permis, pour les apparences, de faire valoir notre point de vue, mais sans que notre opinion soit prise en compte et moins que n’importe quelle de nos attitudes, contraires ou favorables, pourrait nuire les questions résolues au préalable par les seigneurs du Conseil suprême”[13].

Les délégués latino-américains, qui se réunissaient chaque semaine à l’hôtel Meurice, ont suivi les judicieux conseils de Don Antonio et accepté que seules les initiatives présentées par les grandes puissances alliées et associées (Etats-Unis, Empire britannique, France, Italie et Japon) puissent se développer à la Conférence de Paix[14].

La Paix de Versailles à la Chambre des représentants : le “triomphe cubain à Paris”.

En octobre 2009, mon cher ami et collègue Germán López Morales, en sa qualité de directeur du Bureau de l’OIT pour le Mexique et Cuba, a pris l’excellente initiative d’organiser une manifestation à La Havane au cours de laquelle, entre autres choses, nous avons promu la convention (no 144) sur la consultation tripartite (normes internationales du travail), 1976. La convention n° 144 vise à renforcer le tripartisme et les mécanismes de consultation entre les autorités gouvernementales et les représentants des organisations d’employeurs et de travailleurs.

Pendant l’année 2009, le Bureau n’a pas échappé à la frénésie qui entoure l’Organisation chaque fois que l’année grégorien termine en 9. Le document que j’ai élaboré pour présenter la convention no 144 à Cuba devait contribuer également à commémorer l’anniversaire de l’Organisation et, en liaison avec les autorités locales, j’ai souligné ce qui était possible de voir que Cuba avait fait pour adhérer à la convention sur les consultations tripartites concernant les normes internationales du travail.

Avec assez d’innocence, il m’a semblé évident qu’il serait bon de féliciter nos interlocuteurs cubains du travail de Don Antonio à la Conférence de Paix. De plus, nous avions la photo qui montrait que Cuba avait été présent au moment magique et exclusif de la création de l’Organisation internationale du travail.

Avec la collaboration d’une stagiaire mexicaine excellente et inoubliable, le Dr Montserrat González Garibay, j’ai eu la chance de trouver un document inattendu : le discours prononcé par Fernando Ortiz[15], en sa qualité de vice-président de la Chambre des représentants, à la séance du 4 février 1920, séance consacrée à l’examen de l’adhésion de Cuba à la Société des Nations.

Selon Don Antonio, la prestation de la délégation cubaine méritait d’être considérée comme un “triomphe cubain à Paris”. Malheureusement, je n’ai pas accès à la documentation gouvernementale soumise à la Chambre des représentants ni au discours prononcé par Don Antonio.

La lecture du pamphlet publié par F. Ortiz[16] laisse planer des doutes sur le triomphe de Cuba à Paris. F. Ortiz critique en termes généraux le gouvernement Menocal pour avoir retardé la présence de Don Antonio à Paris et souligne les actions de “notre adroit ministre plénipotentiaire à Paris, le Dr Rafael Martínez Ortiz “. Par la suite, F. Ortiz se félicite de l’intervention du Dr Martinez Ortiz devant les autorités françaises pour empêcher une augmentation des droits de douane français sur les importations de tabac cubain – “un simple problème d’ajustement du tarif douanier qui a été résolu avec l’habilité et l’expertise que chacun reconnaît au Dr Martinez Ortiz ” (page 7).

F. Ortiz indique que “[…] notre premier Délégué a dû représenter Cuba aux premières sessions des Conférences et obtenir un succès, après avoir obtenu de ce congrès des nations que la République de Cuba puisse être représentée… précisément dans une des sections les plus importantes, dans laquelle va se développer la législation mondiale du travail ” (page 8).

Selon F. Ortiz, “l’un des délégués belges” (Emile Vandervelde ou Ernest Mahaim) a proposé au Dr Martinez Ortiz de participer à la Commission de la législation internationale du travail “représentant toute l’Amérique du Sud, avec l’accord de nos sœurs d’indépendance, de lignage et de culture”… “Cuba fut admis comme le porte-drapeau de toute une civilisation” (pages 8-9).

Don Antonio aurait affirmé devant la Chambre des représentants que, grâce à la création de l’Organisation du travail, la Conférence de paix avait aboli “l’esclavage économique du travailleur”. Bien que F. Ortiz reconnaisse que “la charte fondamentale du prolétariat” a été rédigée à Paris, il tempère l’ardeur de Don Antonio et s’arrête à l’article 427 du Traité de paix qui énumère les neuf principes et méthodes auxquels une importance particulière et urgente est accordée afin d’atteindre les objectifs de l’Organisation du travail.

F. Ortiz développe un argument en opposant la lettre de l’article 427 du Traité de paix à la réalité des travailleurs cubains (pp. 27-28) qui mérite d’être rappelé :

(…) « Le traité stipule que le travailleur ne peut plus être considéré comme une marchandise[17], tandis que le délégué de Cuba, comme celui d’autres gouvernements, penserait peut-être que dans sa patrie, le travailleur continue d’être une marchandise, librement échangée, impuissant face à l’assaut de l’offre et de la demande, comme le sucre ou le tabac, sans que l’embauche mérite une protection spéciale dans notre législation.

Ce traité établit que le travailleur doit gagner un salaire minimum suffisant pour satisfaire ses besoins selon la nature et la culture ; alors que, là aussi, le travailleur n’a que son propre syndicat comme défense et l’État a des employés qui ne reçoivent que 40 ou 50 pesos par mois, insuffisants pour une vie saine et décente.

Il est inscrit dans la charte fondamentale du travailleur que la libre syndicalisation des employeurs et des travailleurs est libre, alors qu’ici… ni l’exercice le plus inoffensif du droit de réunion n’est permis, ni le syndicalisme généralement garanti quand il n’est pas pratiqué pour accumuler des biens. Le temps de travail quotidien n’a pas encore été légiféré dans nos régions, alors qu’il est déjà devenu un précepte du traité de paix, (…).

La réparation des dommages subis par les accidents du travail, qui apparait dans le texte du Traité, dispose à Cuba d’une consécration légale pompeuse mais pas appliquée et falsifiée par les règlements gouvernementaux.

Les femmes qui, dans le Traité de paix, conquièrent le droit international à la protection publique en tant que travailleuse et en tant que mère, ne méritent pas d’être protégées par la loi à Cuba.

Les signataires du traité de Versailles veulent que chaque État dispose d’un corps d’inspecteurs du travail, composé d’hommes et de femmes, peut-être pour encourager les gouvernements qui, comme celui de Cuba, n’ont pas encore réussi à organiser un centre gouvernemental et officiel capable d’affronter et de diriger tous ces conflits sociaux avec la compétence et l’énergie requises. »

Cette relecture d’une disposition conventionnelle à la lumière des réalités nationales sera une ressource oratoire fréquemment utilisée par les délégations à la Conférence internationale du Travail. Cette méthode permet d’exagérer à quel point on se rapprochait ou s’éloignait au niveau local des objectifs d’une disposition des normes internationales du travail.

En tout état de cause, F. Ortiz était conscient de la portée universelle des idéaux de l’OIT et, en concluant son discours, il a dit avec insistance :

“Aux membres de cette assemblée d’une jeune nation : les libertés que nous consacrons ici n’empêchent pas que d’autres libertés issues de la réforme républicaine du gouvernement et la liberté individuelle doivent être respectées par les pouvoirs publics ! Que l’ingéniosité diplomatique de Versailles soit mieux respectée que l’ingéniosité traditionnelle de Cuba !   (…)

 “Si nous continuons à nous abandonner aux ambitions incultes et aux impulsions réactionnaires de l’injustice, notre situation dans le monde sera plus que modeste : nous continuerons comme avant, à la lisière du chemin de la vie : paresseux, endormis, sans entendre les cris des nations qui marchent et demandent, en haillons, l’aumône de la justice et du respect de notre souveraineté, aux grandes nations qui, au galop de leur civilisation, nous laissent sur le chemin de l’avenir, haletant et mordant la poussière du progrès qui s’éloigne.”

Imaginant que mes interlocuteurs cubains d’octobre 2009, connaissaient les paroles que F. Ortiz avait prononcé en 1920, et qu’ils pourraient objecter que l’OIT n’avait pas non toujours épuisé le mandat de 1919, je me suis permis d’ajouter un commentaire personnel qui disait :  Dans le contexte actuel, certaines des affirmations précédentes sont toujours valables : le fossé entre le droit international du travail et son application dans un grand nombre de pays est encore considérable. Le principe de la consultation tripartite contenu dans la convention no 144 prend de l’importance dans ce contexte en tant que pont entre la réalité nationale et les principes internationaux.

Un peu plus d’un an après le débat au Parlement, la délégation cubaine a obtenu une véritable victoire à la Société des Nations. Le triomphe cubain s’est produit à Genève dans la belle matinée du 14 septembre 1921, lorsque la délégation cubaine, dirigée par l’illustre Cosme de la Torriente, a obtenu l’élection de Don Antonio comme juge à la Cour permanente de justice internationale[18]. Quelques années plus tard, cependant, la réélection de Don Antonio rendra furieux C. Wilfred Jenks alors qu’il était encore étudiant à l’Université de Cambridge, avant de commencer une brillante carrière au Bureau.

Jenks : Don Antonio et ses amis, une nuisance pour la Société des Nations

Malgré toutes les bonnes choses à penser de Don Antonio, peu de temps avant d’être recruté au service juridique du Bureau et d’entamer une brillante carrière qui aboutira au poste de Directeur général, Jenks[19] affirme qu’il existe un ‘Latin-American problem in the League of Nations’.[20]

Selon Jenks, les problèmes de la Société des Nations sont dus au fait que Cuba a réussi à bloquer le consensus requis pour l’entrée en vigueur de la réforme du Statut de la Cour permanente. Avant de participer au consensus, la délégation cubaine a voulu s’assurer que Don Antonio renouvelle son mandat de juge à la Cour permanente :

[…] it was loudly whispered in the Assembly couloirs that the only motive of the Cuban Government was a desire to protect the vested interest of a particular member of the Court. Then came the Court elections and Judge Bustamante, the individual in question, was triumphantly re-elected to his position by the caucus and their allies[21].  

En effet, selon Jenks, trois pays des “Caraïbes” (Colombie, Cuba et… El Salvador) ont eu l’audace de demander par écrit de leur réserver des postes de juges, ce qui a permis à Jenks d’exprimer son inquiétude quant à l’absence du Brésil et du Chili à la Cour permanente :

[…] Chilean[22] and Brazilian[23] candidates of great personal distinction failed to secure election and three judges were chosen from the Caribbean States. For the Portuguese variant of Latin-American law no place has been found upon the new court and the three Latin-American judges who will take office on January 1st are therefore less representative of the principal legal systems of the world than were their two predecessors.

Jenks identifie les deux autres audacieux mousquetaires (les délégués de la Colombie et du Salvador à la Conférence de la Société des Nations) coupables d’avoir triomphé dans leur manœuvre et obtenu leur propre nomination à la Cour permanente :

But Judge Bustamente will doubtless revel in the company of Dr. Guerrero[24], of Salvador, and Señor Urrutia[25] of Colombia, both of whom signed the letter claiming three Latin American places on the Court, the Statue of which their governments had not then ratified although they had signed in 1920

Bien qu’il soit compréhensible que le jeune Jenks ait eu ses préférences parmi les pays d’Amérique latine, rien ne permet de dire qu’El Salvador soit un pays des Caraïbes. En tout état de cause, les personnalités des juristes Urrutia et Guerrero, ainsi que celle de Don Antonio, étaient parfaitement adaptées en tant que représentants de la culture du continent. L’attitude militante du jeune Guerrero anticipe son comportement exemplaire en tant que président lorsqu’il parvient à soustraire les archives de la Cour permanente à l’armée allemande qui occupe La Haye pendant la seconde guerre mondiale.

Sans entrer dans une analyse du travail accompli par les juges latino-américains de la Cour permanente, tout indique que Don Antonio était un bon juge. Le juge Sánchez de Bustamante a émis deux opinions dissidentes : en ce qui concerne la compétence de la Cour permanente, dans l’affaire des concessions Mavrommatis en Palestine, août 1924, et dans le jugement sur les emprunts serbes, juillet 1929. Don Antonio s’opposa également à la majorité de la Cour permanente dans l’arrêt rendu en juillet 1923 sur la Carélie orientale.

Stanley Taylor a publié sur Facebook une photo des délégués latino-américains qui ont participé à la VIIIème réunion de l’Assemblée de la Société des Nations (septembre 1927), honorée par Motta, président de la Confédération suisse, et Thomas, directeur du Bureau, prise le lundi 26 septembre 1927, publiée par La Patrie Suisse, le 5 octobre 1927, où apparaissent Guerrero et Urrutia.

1927-La Patrie Suisse-Delegues latinoamericains SDN

A la page 171 de la brochure publiée par le Secrétariat de la Cour internationale de Justice, La Cour permanente de Justice internationale, 1922-2002, il y a une belle image, prise en mai 1937, du Dr Guerrero marchant sur les rives de la Meuse près de la ville hollandaise de Limmel, en conversation avec Don Antonio, et à ses côtés, sa jambe droite bien avancée et la main gauche dans la poche, le greffier de la Cour permanente, Julio López Oliván[26].

1937-Don Antonio Dr Guerrero Julio Lopez Olivan

Cuba, 1928 : 16 conventions internationales du travail ratifiées

Jenks reconnaît dans son article qu’en 1931, Cuba était le Membre latino-américain ayant ratifié le plus grand nombre de conventions internationales du travail (16 ratifications), un nombre si élevé que les États-Unis d’Amérique n’ont pu atteindre ce chiffre un siècle après la création de l’OIT. Ceci dit, sauf pour des périodes exceptionnelles, les États-Unis ont un dialogue social fluide et des consultations tripartites efficaces, alors qu’à Cuba, malgré mes efforts, il n’y en a toujours pas.

On ne peut éviter une autre parenthèse et revenir aux aventures de Rafael : le Dr Martínez Ortiz étant Secrétaire d’Etat de la République, le Bureau enregistre – les 7 juillet[27] et 6 août 1928[28] – la ratification par Cuba de 16 conventions internationales du travail. Jacques Rodriguez m’a permis de consulter les 16 instruments de ratification : tous les documents portent la signature du Président Machado et le sceau du Secrétariat d’Etat… mais les instruments de ratification ont été signés par J. M. Fernández, en sa qualité de “Secrétaire de la Santé et des Affaires sociales et d’Etat intérimaire”.

Malgré la crise économique internationale, le Dr Martinez Ortiz avait d’autres activités importantes à mener qui l’ont forcé à quitter son bureau….

La vie et la carrière du Dr Martínez Ortiz

Rafael est né à Santa Clara le 20 décembre 1857. Rafael était le fils de José Martínez Ortiz, originaire de Santander en Espagne, et de la Cubaine Cristina López-Silvero Ledón. Son nom et prénom d’origine étaient Rafael Martínez López.

Les grands-parents paternels de Rafael étaient Joaquín López-Silvero et Rudesinda Ledón. Le chirurgien Francisco Javier López(-Silvero) Ledón, son oncle, le frère de sa mère, était bien établi à Arenys de Mar, comme me l’a communiqué Hug Palou i Miquel, le directeur des Archives historiques Fidel Fita de la Mairie d’Arenys de Mar, près de Barcelone.

Après des études de médecine à Barcelone, Rafael retourne à Cuba et entame une carrière politique qui le mènera à la Chambre des représentants et au poste de secrétaire des Finances et de l’Agriculture pendant quelques mois en 1910.

En janvier 1912, le Dr Martinez Ortiz publie “Cuba. Les premières années de l’indépendance”, un livre dans lequel il se présente comme “témoin des événements qui ont eu lieu pendant la période constitutive de notre nation”. La première édition est dédicacée “À la ville de Santa Clara consacre cette œuvre. L’auteur”.

La deuxième partie du travail est consacrée à l’intervention américaine et à la mise en place du gouvernement de Tomás Estrada Palma, aux élections présidentielles de 1905, à la guerre civile, à la deuxième intervention américaine et au rétablissement de la République. Ce volume est publié à Paris en septembre 1920, alors que le Dr Martínez Ortiz représente son pays auprès du gouvernement français et participe à la Conférence de Paix. En 1926, Martínez Ortiz sera membre correspondant de l’Académie d’Histoire, par Santa Clara.

La troisième édition de l’ouvrage est également publiée à Paris, en 1929[29]. Dans cette édition, le Dr Martínez Ortiz ajoute une nouvelle dédicace :

HONORABLE PRÉSIDENT DE LA RÉPUBLIQUE, LE GÉNÉRAL GERARDO MACHADO ET MORALES. Monsieur le Président : Ce livre est dédié, dès sa première édition, à notre bien-aimée Villaclara ; mais je veux vous offrir, Honorable Président, fils le plus éclairé de notre ville natale, la troisième édition qui paraît aujourd’hui de mon œuvre, formée avec les souvenirs patriotiques des premières années de la vie nationale. Par conséquent, Monsieur le Président, je vous prie d’accepter l’offre simple et cordiale de votre ami et «coterráneo », Rafael Martínez Ortiz.

Jorge Ferrer assure que le travail du Dr. Martínez Ortiz mériterait toujours d’être lu et raconte dans sa note une scène que le Dr. Martínez Ortiz relate de la première rencontre entre Rafael Montoro[30] et Tomás Estrada Palma[31], où le président nouvellement élu assure à l’ancien dirigeant autonomiste : “Cuba sera la Suisse des Amériques ! Montoro montre la rue et demande : “Et où sont les Suisses ?”.

A l’occasion de la publication de la troisième édition de sa chronique de l’indépendance, le Dr Martínez Ortiz est secrétaire d’Etat, poste qu’il a occupé de novembre 1926 à décembre 1930.

Il convient de noter que Martínez Ortiz a été distrait par deux tâches collatérales : publier, à Paris, la troisième édition de son histoire de Cuba et faire construire, également à Paris, un mausolée dédié à la mémoire d’Emilia Rovira y Presas, son premier amour, un mausolée installé au cimetière municipal d’Arenys de Mar, en périphérie de Barcelone, sur la rive de la Méditerranée.

Sur l’amour perdu du docteur Martínez Ortiz à Arenys de Mar



Jorge Ferrer, écrivain et traducteur cubain basé à Barcelone, m’a rappelé l’article de Montserrat Calas, intitulé Ronda de Amor en Sinera, publié dans El País, le 24 mars 2000. L’histoire semble être une histoire d’amour banale entre la belle jeune femme d’une famille puissante (Elivra Rovira y Presas) et le fils du facteur du village (Rafael Martínez Ortiz). Le jeune homme prospère lorsqu’il part pour les Amériques, mais son être le plus cher meurt de chagrin, ne sachant pas que sa famille a intrigué pour lui cacher la correspondance amoureuse qu’elle avait reçue de Cuba.

Selon El País, les événements se sont déroulés comme suit :

Emilia Rovira était une belle jeune fille d’Arenys de Mar, fille d’une famille aisée – son père était procureur – qui tomba amoureuse de Rafael Martínez, un humble garçon, fils du facteur de la ville. Sa famille a entravé l’amour des deux jeunes gens et Rafael a décidé d’aller en Amérique pour faire fortune et revenir plus tard pour épouser sa bien-aimée. Mais la famille Rovira a intercepté les nombreuses lettres d’amour que le jeune homme a écrites de l’autre côté de l’Atlantique. A La Havane, Rafael a fait une carrière politique, a été Secrétaire d’Etat et représentant de Cuba à Paris. Ne recevant pas de réponse à ses lettres, il a cru qu’Emilia l’avait oublié et il avait épousé une jeune Cubaine aux Antilles. Emilia attendait le retour de son bien-aimé, mais le manque de nouvelles a fini par la consumer, jusqu’à ce que le chagrin et la tristesse prennent fin d’elle. Elle est morte de chagrin à l’âge de 33 ans.

Quelques temps plus tard, Rafael, déjà propriétaire d’une fortune importante et ayant une position sociale reconnue en tant que politicien et médecin, retourne à Arenys pour des raisons de travail. Apprenant son histoire, il commanda la construction d’un panthéon de marbre surmonté du buste d’Emilia, sculpté à partir d’une photographie que la jeune femme lui avait donnée peu avant son départ en Amérique. Le tombeau, qui a coûté 1.877 pesetas, a une dédicace discrète : “Son ami d’enfance, le Dr Rafael Martínez Ortiz, consacre ce souvenir à sa mémoire”. Rafael avait l’intention d’enterrer les restes de sa bien-aimée et de les transporter au panthéon, mais la famille de la jeune fille s’interposa à nouveau entre les deux amants et ne le permit jamais. Avant de fermer la tombe, Rafael déposa à l’intérieur une rose qui, selon la légende populaire, resta intacte.

El Mundo, à la même date, publie un article signé Jordi Andreu, avec le titre : Epilogue pour une histoire d’amour. Selon El Mundo, Rafael est né à Cuba et étudiait la médecine à Barcelone. La famille Rovira Oliver y Presas Canut a refusé que leur fille Emilia Mercedes Esperanza de Rovira Presas s’installe à Cuba avec le jeune docteur Rafael.

Le texte publié par El Mundo se lit ainsi :

Rafael MARTÍNEZ-ORTÍZ et Emilia ROVIRA ont commencé leur histoire d’amour à Arenys de Mar, où il avait déménagé de Barcelone, où il avait vécu et étudié la médecine. Cubain de naissance, il a souvent visité la ville du Maresme parce qu’il y avait un parent. C’est ainsi qu’il rencontra celle qui sera l’amour de sa vie.  Mais ils ne se sont jamais mariés. La famille d’Emilia, d’origine aristocratique, a refusé de donner son consentement. Apparemment, la cause qui aurait pu empêcher son mariage est le fait qu’elle aurait dû abandonner sa famille pour s’installer à Cuba, “ce qui ne correspondait pas aux idées de l’époque”, a déclaré hier Elvira Ortiz, une des descendantes.

Rafael se rendit à Cuba, d’où il écrivit régulièrement à Emilia. Mais la jeune femme est morte de chagrin et d’amour à l’âge de 32 ans parce qu’elle n’a jamais reçu les lettres que Rafael MARTÍNEZ ORTÍZ lui avait envoyées. Les astuces de la famille d’Emilia les ont empêchés de vivre leur histoire d’amour et ont intercepté le courrier pour qu’Emilia n’ait pas de nouvelles de son bien-aimé.

A Cuba, Rafael MARTÍNEZ-ORTÍZ est devenu une figure publique importante au lendemain de la guerre d’indépendance. Il a fait une importante carrière politique sur l’île des Caraïbes, d’où il a été envoyé à Paris en tant que représentant politique. Rafael, qui s’est marié à Cuba, a également fondé un journal sur son île natale.  En 1926, il a été envoyé en Europe, ce qui lui a permis d’aller à Arenys de Mar afin de savoir où se trouvait feue Emilia ROVIRA. Après avoir appris la fin tragique de la jeune femme, MARTÍNEZ-ORTÍZ fit construire un panthéon de marbre noir où il voulait que les restes de son ancien amour soient placés. Rafael a commandé le panthéon à un sculpteur français, qui a sculpté un buste avec la belle image de l’Emilie à partir d’une photographie qu’elle avait donnée à Rafael avant son départ. Mais l’opposition des parents a persisté, et ils ont refusé ce transfert.

En effet, Rafael a étudié la médecine à l’Université de Barcelone. C’est encore Hug Palou i Miquel qui a mis de l’ordre dans mon histoire, en confirmant que Rafael Martínez Ortiz est né à Cuba et en identifiant le chirurgien Francisco Javier López(-Silvero) Ledón, oncle de Rafael, frère de sa mère, installé à Arenys de Mar.

Le mausolée d’Emilia

 En mai 2018, avec mon fils Ariel, nous avons quitté Samois-sur-Seine, aux abords de la forêt de Fontainebleau[32] et sommes arrivés en voiture au cimetière municipal à Arenys de Mar. Le cimetière est situé sur la colline qui offre une vue panoramique sur la mer. Martinez Ortiz a choisi un emplacement particulièrement stratégique pour placer son mausolée au sommet de la colline. Lors de son inauguration, le mausolée dominait tout le cimetière de sa hauteur, ce qui était peut-être un message éternel laissé par le Dr Martinez Ortiz à ceux qui se sont opposés à ses amours de jeunesse.

Le regard sur le buste d’Emilie ne fait qu’augmenter la tristesse de l’endroit.

Selon Hug Palou i Miquel, la municipalité d’Arenys de Mar reçut le buste d’Emilie durant l’été 1929 et l’été suivant, les pièces du mausolée furent envoyées pour être assemblées dans le cimetière municipal.  Palou i Miquel a bonifié ce récit en apportant les précisions suivantes: “En realité, le  Dr. Martínez-Ortiz a été en contact permanent avec José Casdemont, le curé de la paroisse, son représentant dans tout cette affaire, et il a aussi échangé périodiquement avec le maitre de l’ouvrage du mausolée, Antonio Rossell. [Casdemont et Rosell] ont recu les pièces et le buste”.

Comme l’indique l’inscription à droite du mausolée, c’est un entrepreneur de pompes funèbres français, les établissments Thoin, à qui le Dr Martínez Ortíz a confié le mausolée et un sculpteur français qui a sculpté le buste d’Emilia.

Les établissements Thoin pousuivent leurs activités au 4 avenue du Cimetière, adjacent au cimetière parisien de Saint Ouen (à ne pas confondre avec le cimetière de la mairie de Saint Ouen, très proche de la sortie du métro Mairie de St Ouen, depuis la très populaire ligne 13). Pour se rendre aux établissements Thoin, longez les belles rues de Saint Ouen et vous trouverez la (petite) avenue du Cimetière.

En arrivant au salon funéraire, j’ai trouvé une très bonne équipe, surprise par les photos que je leur ai montrées du monument que l’entreprise avait construit en 1929 et transporté en 1930. Malheureusement, ils n’avaient pas conservé d’archives de l’époque permettant d’identifier le sculpteur du buste. Il n’y a pas non plus de restes de la correspondance que le Dr Martínez Ortiz a probablement échangée avec les établissments Thoin pour discuter de la construction du monument et de son transfert de Saint Ouen à Arenys de Mar.

Comme on me l’a dit au salon funéraire, le mausolée a été construit en marbre granitique provenant d’une carrière vosgienne dont l’exploitation a été interrompue il y a des années. L’assemblage des différents blocs de marbre dans le mausolée a été réalisé à l’aide d’agrafes de ferraille, une technique traditionnelle d’ajustement des pierres.

Notes pour conclure et encore parler du centenaire de l’OIT

Quand j’ai commencé ce document, en relatant l’histoire de la naissance de Rafael Martínez Ortiz à Arenys de Mar qui avait été publiée dans El País, j’ai supposé que l’amour de Rafael pour Emilia et aussi pour la Catalogne avait duré toute sa vie.

Rafael Martínez Ortiz, un jeune homme né à Arenys de Mar, malgré sa passion pour l’indépendance et la politique étrangère de Cuba, son pays d’adoption, avait secrètement maintenu son engagement envers Emilia et la Catalogne, son pays natal, et vécu une bonne partie de sa vie à Paris.

L’histoire de Rafael, un diplomate latino-américain bloqué à Paris, recoupe dans une certaine mesure des éléments de ma propre vie. Lorsque j’ai quitté l’Argentine en août 1976, sans être directement influencé par la situation politique de l’époque, j’ai obtenu une bourse pour étudier le droit européen à l’Université catholique de Louvain. Dès mon arrivée à Leuven, la ville flamande où la Faculté de droit fonctionnait encore, j’ai participé au voyage organisé par le service pour les étudiants étrangers de l’UCL qui proposait une visite à Paris durant le long week-end de la célébration de l’armistice de la Première Guerre mondiale, une fête très importante en Belgique et en France.

Cette visite commémorative de l’armistice de novembre 1918, moment historique directement lié à l’origine de l’OIT, m’a permis d’établir, en novembre 1976, une liaison avec une belle et jeune parisienne. Pour mémoire, j’ai réussi à me faire accepter de la belle et jeune parisienne en lui parlant du droit européen des transports, l’intégration européenne était le sujet qui, à l’époque, nous passionnait mutuellement. La romance a été interrompue quand j’ai choisi d’épouser à Rome, à ma fiancée argentine, la mère de mes enfants Ariel et Javier.

Contrairement à Rafael et Emilia, la jeune parisienne et moi avons gardé secrètement les lettres que nous avons échangé entre Louvain et Paris. Vingt ans plus tard, séparé de la mère de mes enfants, je suis retourné à Paris et j’ai réussi à regagner l’attention de la belle parisienne, sans trop insister sur le droit communautaire ou les normes internationales du travail. Mon retour ne semble pas avoir été si désagréable étant donné que même sa propre mère a accepté de m’offrir une copie originale du Traité de Versailles de 1919, une source primordiale pour la rédaction de ce document.

Plus prosaïquement, la même semaine où j’ai pris ma retraite, j’ai obtenu la nationalité suisse, mettant fin à un de mes rêves du début de ma carrière de fonctionnaire international. Lorsque j’ai rejoint l’OIT, je ne pensais pas à mon pays d’origine et je croyais naïvement que travailler dans une agence des Nations Unies ferait de moi un “citoyen du monde”. Le Laissez-passer des Nations Unies a été le sésame qui m’a ouvert les portes de tous les pays et les couloirs privilégiés dans les aéroports pour le personnel des compagnies aériennes et les diplomates.

En rédigeant ce document, j’ai pu mieux connaître les circonstances vécues lors de la Conférence de Paix et le rôle joué par les seuls Latino-Américains présents à la Commission de la législation internationale du travail où l’acte fondateur de l’OIT a été élaboré. Le fait que le seul personnage latino-américain sur la photo prise le 25 janvier ou le 1er février 1919 soit finalement de Santa Clara ne cesse d’exciter mon imagination argentine.

Cependant, il m’a toujours semblé que la connaissance du contexte historique (géographique et économique) et la discussion des arguments de toutes les parties, fondés sur le droit, devrait persuader les secteurs impliqués dans un conflit social de renoncer à la violence. Mettre la violence de côté et accepter des procédures qui permettent de parvenir à des accords et à un consensus est au cœur des discussions en cours sur la consultation des peuples autochtones établi par la convention no 169.

Nous avons quitté Genève pour prendre notre retraite en Espagne et j’ai été très surpris de me retrouver en plein « procès » catalan. Le point de contact précis entre le « procès » catalan et les questions que j’ai abordées dans ce document se trouve dans le livre de Ph. Sands[33], qui prend comme point de départ le massacre des Juifs à Lemberg en novembre 1918 pour discuter les concepts de crime contre l’humanité et de génocide élaborés par deux juristes “lemberiks”, Hersch Lauterpacht et Rafael Lemkin.

La situation de la Catalogne était présente à la Conférence de Paix lorsque certaines délégations se sont opposées à la possibilité pour toute minorité de présenter ses revendications à la Société des Nations, sans aucun filtre du secrétariat et sans le consentement des gouvernements concernés : “It would clearly be inadvisable to go even the smallest distance in the direction of admitting the claim of the American negroes or the southern Irish, or the Flemings or Catalans to appeal to an interstate conference over the head of their own government. Yet if the right of appeal is granted to the Macedonian or the German Bohemians it will be difficult to refuse it in the case of other nationalist movements[34]”.

Un autre responsable britannique, en mai 1919, Sir James Headlam-Moreley, a indiqué :

“… il serait très dangereux de permettre aux habitants ou aux citoyens de tout État de faire appel directement à la Société des Nations, et pas seulement par l’intermédiaire de leurs gouvernements. Si ce principe est violé, on pourrait arriver à une situation où, par exemple, les francophones du Canada, les juifs américains, les catholiques d’Angleterre, les Gallois, les Irlandais, les Écossais, les Basques, les Bretons ou les Catalans pourraient se tourner vers la Société des Nations et dénoncer les abus dont ils ont été victimes[35]“.  

Les revendications catalanes n’ont pas pu être discutées devant la Société des Nations[36]. Outre les obstacles formels, les initiatives catalanes auraient dû surmonter les réticences de l’un des fonctionnaires les plus éminents de la section pour la protection des minorités, Pablo de Azcárate[37], qui, entre 1922 et juillet 1936, a travaillé dans cette section et en a également été le directeur[38].

Ce qui m’a surpris dans la performance de Pablo de Azcárate dans la section sur la protection des minorités est résumé dans cette phrase, écrite en juillet 1929 : « je ne crois pas possible d’affirmer que la Société des Nations soit appelée à prêter secours aux minorités, mais plutôt à garantir l’exécution des Traités sur les Minorités »[39].

À mon avis, cette pensée de Pablo de Azcárate reflète les difficultés que rencontre l’OIT lorsqu’elle laisse en suspens certaines questions particulièrement difficiles, notamment en ce qui concerne les minorités ethniques.

Les minorités ethniques se plaignent à l’OIT des persécutions dont elles sont victimes. Les mécanismes de contrôle de l’OIT ne semblent pas à la hauteur des attentes des groupes les plus vulnérables quant au respect des engagements pris lors de la ratification des conventions internationales du travail[40].

Les circonstances actuelles sont trop proches des conditions qui existaient lorsque la Société des Nations et l’OIT ont été créées. Nous assistons à une recrudescence atroce de la violence, qui nous éloigne de la paix durable avec la justice sociale dont ont rêvé les membres de la Commission de la législation internationale du travail en 1919.

Si discuter de “l’avenir du travail” est intéressant, les questions en suspens depuis 1919 ne sont toujours pas résolues.


En premier lieu, je voudrais remercier Hug Palou i Miquel, le Directeur de l’Archive municipal d’Arenys de Mar de m’avoir fourni des informations sur Rafael Martínez Ortíz et la construction du mausolée. Il m’a aussi indiqué que je ne devais pas confondre le nom officiel du cimetière municipal d’Arenys avec le mot « Sinera » utilisé dans le recueil de poésies « Cementiri de Sinera ». En effet, le poète catalan Salvador Espriu, dans le recueil mentionné, a utilisé, en sens inverse, les lettres qui composent le nom de la ville d’Arenys.

Je tiens à exprimer ma profonde gratitude à Pierre Sayour d’avoir établi la version française de mon texte. Pierre a été un de rares collègues du département des normes internationales du travail qui m’a toujours frappé par sa modestie. Pierre est un grand syndicaliste avec lequel j’ai été, quelquefois, en total désaccord.

Pour ne pas froisser la proverbiale modestie de Pierre, je voudrais terminer par le récit d’une histoire qui concerne Cuba, la mère de Pierre et mon travail au Bureau : Madame Sayour occupait un poste stratégique quand j’ai fait mes premiers pas, en tant que stagiaire, au département, entre septembre 1986 et mars 1987. Pendant mon stage, j’avais continué à travailler comme consultant pour le Secrétariat économique de l’Amérique latine, le SELA, et j’avais été invité, au nom du SELA, à participer à une réunion ministérielle du Groupe des 77 prévue à La Havane, en vue d’une conférence de la CNUCED. Un vol charter de la compagnie aérienne cubaine allait amener le personnel de la CNUCED et autres dignitaires qui devaient assister à la conférence.

Je voulais donc interrompre mon stage au BIT, ce qui n’était pas du tout du gout de celui qui avait manœuvré pour me donner l’opportunité d’avoir un vrai travail, mon très cher ami Héctor Bartolomei de la Cruz. Héctor n’avait pas eu des difficultés à comprendre que je voulais partir sous les cocotiers et abandonner le travail au département à ce moment crucial de la relecture, après la réunion de la commission d’experts que Héctor avait, à l’époque, la haute responsabilité de coordonner.

Je devais donc contrarier Héctor et obtenir l’aval de quelqu’un de plus haut placé, Monsieur Dao, le chef de service. Pour appuyer ma démarche, devant moi, Madame Sayour a interpellé à M. Dao, le chef de service, en lui disant qu’il ne pouvait pas me retenir si j’avais un engagement (payé) ailleurs.

Et je suis parti à Cuba, où j’ai logé au Hilton, fumé un cigare, donné la main à Fidel, mangé des langoustes, visité la Bodeguita del Medio et autres endroits mythiques.

Malgré mon escapade cubaine, le département a accepté de me reprendre pour le reste de ma vie professionnelle.

Avant de conclure, je voudrais aussi remercier Germán López Morales qui pense que j’avais été trop modeste de dire que le seul succès que j’ai eu dans ma carrière avait été de corriger le nom du délégué cubain dans la photo de la Commission de la législation internationale du travail. Prenant un café à La Biela, à quelques pas de la tombe du Comte Zolotowksi, Mario Ackerman s’est souvenu de l’énergie que j’avais mise pour obtenir que la commission d’experts se prononce sur le besoin de protéger les travailleurs en cas de licenciement injustifié. Je crois que d’autres collègues auraient pu défendre, avec le même succès, le besoin de garder le dogme du plein emploi, productif et librement choisi ou de s’assurer de l’efficacité des consultations tripartites en matière de normes internationales du travail.

Pour clore ce récit, je voudrais convoquer une dernière fois l’esprit qui a régné au moment de la photo prise en 1919 et le souvenir de quelques collègues et de ma famille qui ont tellement contribué au fait que le travail au Bureau ait été particulièrement agréable.

[1]  Burgos, A., Contrastes europeos y orientación americana, Roma, Tipografía Failli, 1925.

[2] La photo du docteur Martínez Ortíz accompagne l’article de Jorge Ferrer intitulé “Primera transición…”, publié le 16 juillet 2007/16 août 2010.

[3] BIT, Commission de la législation internationale du Travail. Bulletin officiel, vol. I, (Genève), pp. 1-260 – Disponible en :

[4] En 2017, sous le titre Retour à Lemberg, Philippe Sands a publié un livre magistral : East West Street. On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes against Humanity”, 2016. Voir plus loin une autre reference à l’ouvrage de Ph. Sands, note 32.

[5] “On January 23 [1919], the government of Czechoslovakia, capitalizing on Poland’s distraction, sent troops across the demarcation line established on November 5, 1918, by the two national councils, a frontier that largely conformed to the province’s ethnic composition. […] The next day, January 24, 1919, the Great Powers issued a “solemn warning” against further coups de main. Echoing their earlier empty admonitions to Romania and to Poland, the council proclaimed its collective moral and political authority over the entire region of Eastern Europe”. Fink, Carole. Defending the Rights of Others. The Great Powers, the Jews, and International Minority Protection, 1878-1939, Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 142-143.

[6] Informations sur la page Wikipedia relatives à Samuel Gompers.

[7] Di Palma Castiglione, G. E., Italian Immigration into the United States 1901-4, The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 11, No. 2, Sep. 1905. Disponible sur:

[8] Nouvelle Anthologie, 16 août 1928, fascicule 1354, pages 504-517

[9]  Gramsci, A. Quaderni del Carcere, cuaderno II, párrafo 84.

[10] Eduardo Zamacois est né à Cuba en 1873 et est mort à Buenos Aires en 1971. Romancier et journaliste bien connu en son temps, ses œuvres sont complètement tombées dans l’oubli.

[11] Cuba pendant les années de la Première Guerre mondiale,

[12] “Les États-Unis ont organisé l’achat mondial des récoltes cubaines et les prix ont été déterminés par leurs mécanismes de contrôle pour la guerre, de sorte qu’en 1917-1918 a été payé à 4,60 cents la livre et en 1918-1919 à 5,50 cents la livre. C’était la principale contribution que Cuba apportait aux alliés de la guerre mondiale. D’autre part, durant cette période des capitaux américains se sont portées massivement sur Cuba, au point où l’île est devenue le premier bénéficiaire des investissements américains sur le continent. Lopez Civeira, F., El dulce cubano en la Primera Guerra Mundial, 6 août 2104,

[13]  Burgos, A., Contrastes europeos y orientación americana, Rome, 1925, pages 117-118.

[14] Burgos, A., ibíd., pages 118-119.

[15] Fernando Ortiz (La Havane, 1881-1969). La Fondation Fernando Ortiz de La Havane ( offre les informations suivantes : F. Ortiz commence ses études de droit à l’Université de La Havane et obtient un baccalauréat de l’Université de Barcelone en 1900 et un doctorat à Madrid en 1901. En 1902-1905, il travaille au service consulaire cubain en Italie et suit les cours de criminologie de Cesare Lombroso et Enrique Ferri. Avec un prologue de Cesare Lombroso, F. Ortiz publie Hampa Afro-cubana. Los negros brujos. Apuntes de etnografía criminal, 1906. Pendant une décennie (1917-1927), F. Ortiz a été élu à la Chambre comme représentant du Parti libéral. F. Ortiz est considéré comme “le précurseur des études sur la culture africaine à Cuba… dans son ouvrage fondateur, le  Contrapunteo cubano del tabaco y el azúcar [1940] introduit le concept de transculturation, considéré par Bronislaw Maniloswski comme une de ses plus grandes contributions à l’anthropologie culturelle”. Aux États-Unis, un livre a été publié en son honneur : Cuban Counterpoints : The Legacy of Fernando Ortiz, sous la direction de Mauricio A. Font et Alfonso W. Quiroz. Lexington Books, 2005.

[16] Cuba en la Paz de Versalles. Discurso pronunciado en la Cámara de Representantes en la sesión del 4 de febrero de 1920 por Fernando Ortiz, Vicepresidente de la Cámara por el Partido Liberal. La Universal, 1920. Publication cataloguée à la Library of Congress, qui ne figure pas dans la liste des publications de la Fondation Fernando Ortiz.

[17] Le principe dirigeant selon lequel “le travail ne doit pas être considéré simplement comme une marchandise ou un article de commerce” a été adopté par la Commission de la législation internationale du travail lors de sa réunion du 11 mars 1919 à Paris, à l’unanimité, par 11 voix pour tous ses membres. Ce texte a été incorporé à l’article 427 du Traité de Versailles. La Déclaration de Philadelphie (mai 1944), qui a été incorporée dans la Constitution de l’OIT, simplifie l’expression de 1919 et dit : “Le travail n’est pas une marchandise”.

[18] Cosme de la Torriente prononça deux discours pour souligner l’importance du vote en faveur de Don Antonio et les difficultés diplomatiques surmontées pour obtenir son élection, en mars 1922, à l’occasion de la cinquième conférence annuelle de la Société cubaine de droit international. James Brown Scott (États-Unis), Alejandro Álvarez Jofré (Chili) et Luis Anderson Morúa (Costa Rica) étaient présents. Cosme de la Torriente, ‘Bustamante and the Permanent Court of International Justice and Cuba’ et ‘The United States of America and the League of Nations’, International Conciliation, septembre 1922.

[19] C. Wilfred Jenks (1909-1973) a été le sixième Directeur général de l’OIT. Voir la biographie très détaillée : Jaci L. Eisenberg, ‘Jenks, Clarence Wilfred’ in IO BIO, Biographical Dictionary of Secretaries General of International Organizations, Edited by Bob Reinalda, Kent J. Kille and Jaci Eisenberg,

[20] The Contemporary Review, February 1931, pages 209-218.

[21]   Ibíd., p. 211.

[22] Alejandro Álvarez Jofré (1868, Santiago du Chili – 1960, Paris) a réussi à être juge à la Cour internationale de Justice de 1946 à 1955 en écrivant ” les fameux Avis dissidents d’une des affaires sur le Sahara occidental, cité par Henkin et Schachter comme base du droit international du développement. Il a écrit d’innombrables ouvrages sur le droit international public “, selon Wikipédia. Voir également la référence à Álvarez Jofré à la note 18.

[23] A la Cour permanente, seuls deux juges brésiliens ont siégé : Ruy Barbosa de Olivera (1922-1923), puis Epitacio da Silva Pessôa (1924-1930). Information tirée d’une publication du Secrétariat de la Cour internationale de Justice : La Cour permanente de Justice internationale, La Haye, 2012, p. 206.

[24] José Gustavo Guerrero (San Salvador, 1876 – Nice, 1958) a étudié à l’Université d’El Salvador, où il s’est distingué par son activité politique militante contre le général Rafael Antonio Gutiérrez, président de son pays. Il a dû poursuivre ses études de droit à l’Université nationale du Guatemala, où il a obtenu son diplôme en 1898. Cette année-là, M. Guerrero retourne à son pays où il entreprend une activité politique qui l’amène à devenir ministre des Affaires étrangères (1927-1928) et à présider l’Assemblée de la Société des Nations de 1929 à 1930. M. Guerrero a été magistrat et président de la Cour internationale permanente de Justice jusqu’à sa dissolution en 1946. M. Guerrero a été nommé à la Cour internationale de Justice et en a été le premier président (1946-1949).

[25] Francisco José Urrutia Ollano (Popayán, 1870 – Bogotá, 1950), juriste, homme politique et diplomate colombien. Après avoir été ministre des Affaires étrangères (1908-1909, 1912-1914), il a représenté la Colombie devant la Société des Nations et l’OIT. En 1931, il préside le Conseil de la Société des Nations et obtient sa nomination comme juge à la Cour permanente (1932-1942).

[26] Julio López Oliván (1891-1964) diplomate espagnol, en poste à l’Ambassade de la République espagnole à Londres, il aurait soutiré des fonds de la République en faveur de l’achat d’armes pour les rebelles. Quand Pablo de Azcárate est nommé par la République à Londres, López Oliván s’installe à La Haye où il devient Greffier de la Cour Permanente (octobre 1936-1946). López Oliván a été nommé Greffier de la Cour internationale entre 1953 y 1960. Sur Pablo de Azcárate voir notas 35-39.

[27] Les ratifications suivantes ont été enregistrées le 7 juillet 1928 : convention n° 13 (céruse (peinture)), convention n° 16 (examen médical des mineurs (travail maritime)), convention n° 22 (contrat d’engagement des gens de mer), convention n° 23 (rapatriement des gens de mer).

[28] Les ratifications suivantes ont été enregistrées le 6 août 1928 : Convention no 3 (protection de la maternité), Convention no 4 (travail de nuit (femmes)), Convention no 5 (âge minimum (industrie)), Convention no 6 (âge minimum (mineurs)), Convention no 7 (âge minimum) (travail maritime)), Convention no 3 (protection de la maternité), Convention no 4 (travail de nuit (femmes), Convention no 5 (âge minimum), Convention no 6 (âge minimum) (industrie) et convention no 7 (âge minimum)) 8 (indemnisation du chômage (naufrage)), convention n° 17 (indemnisation des accidents du travail), convention n° 18 (maladies professionnelles), convention n° 19 (égalité de traitement (accidents du travail)), convention n° 20 (travail de nuit (boulangerie)).

[29] Maison d’édition “Le livre libre” 141, Boulevard Péreire, Paris, 1929. La version numérique des deux volumes peut être consultée à la Biblioteca Digital Hispánica :

[30] Rafael Montoro (1852-1933), fondateur et idéologue du Parti libéral autonome, auquel appartenait également Martínez Ortíz.  Rafael Montoro a été secrétaire d’État sous la présidence du général Machado, tout comme Martínez Ortiz.

[31] Tomás Estrada Palma (1835-1908) fut le premier président élu de Cuba (1902-1906).

[32] Selon El Mundo, le Dr Martínez Ortiz mourut à Fontainebleau en 1932. A la mairie de Fontainebleau, on m’a dit qu’il n’y avait pas de tombe au cimetière municipal au nom de Rafael Martínez Ortiz.

[33] Ph. Sands, Retour à Lemberg, op. cit., page 110.

[34] Alfred Zimmern, Paper on the League of Nations, FO 371/4353 (PC 29/29), cite par C. Fink, Defending the Rights of Others, op. cit., page 154 note 136.

[35] J. Headlam-Moreley, Memorandum on the Right of Appeal of Minorities to the League of Nations, 16.V. 1919, in A memoir of the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, Londres, 1972, pp. 108-109, cité et traduit de l’anglais vers l’espagnol par Xosé M., “A memoir of the Paris Peace Conference”, 1919, Londres, 1972, pp. 108-109. Núñez Seixas, La cuestión de las minorías nacionales en Europa y la Sociedad de las Naciones (1919-1939) : el contexto histórico de la actuación de Pablo de Azcárate, in Pablo de Azcárate, Minorías Nacionales y Derechos Humanos, Congreso de los Diputados, 1998, page 67.

[36] Xosé M. Núñez Seixas, Nacionalismo y política exterior: España y la política de minorías de la Sociedad de las Naciones (1919-1936), Hispania (Madrid), 55:189 (1995: enero/abril).

[37] La Commission des affaires étrangères du Congrès des députés et de l’Université Carlos III de Madrid ont publié un livre en l’honneur de Pablo de Azcárate, Minorías Nacionales y Derechos Humanos, Madrid, 1998. L’œuvre comprend une contribution de son fils Manuel Azcárate, l’étude précitée de Núñez Seixas et la traduction espagnole d’une monographie de Pablo de Azcárate publiée en anglais.

[38] Pablo de Azcárate a démissionné de son poste à la Société des Nations et a accepté la représentation diplomatique de la République espagnole, d’abord à Paris puis à Londres. A Londres, Pablo de Azcárate a remplacé Julio López Olivan. Sur Julio López Olivan, voir note 26.

[39] Nuñez Seixas, Nacionalismo y política exterior, op. cit., note 90.


Traduction en français par Pierre Sayour

Second illustrated contribution to the ILO centenary / Natan Elkin

It says in Don Quixote that “second parts are never any good”, which should have discouraged me from writing this second contribution following the resounding success of my first contribution to the Centenary of the International Labour Organization.

The discovery of new photographic evidence of the Latin American delegates and an encounter with Liza Burgos, a descendant of the Panama delegate at the Peace Conference, prompted these few lines. Dr Martínez Ortiz’s hair, Antonio Sánchez de Bustamante’s gaze and Antonio Burgos’ head moving while Clemenceau spoke to the delegations at Trianon and Saint-Germain-en-Laye justify this new reflection before the ILO centenary comes to an end.

My research also uncovered the first statement on the prospects of the future of work, which was given by a British delegate on 14 February 1919. My loyal readers will also learn that, on 1 February 1919, George L. Berry, future Democrat senator for Tennessee, appeared in the photo of the Commission on International Labour Legislation.

In this document, I have new information about the Polish count, Jota Zoltowski, and offer the chance to access the film of my trip through the lands of the Potocki counts, recalling, in this centenary year, of the book on international labour standards published by Geraldo Von Potobsky and Héctor Bartolomei.

A new photo of Dr Martínez Ortiz

1919-01-25-Dr Martinez Ortiz en la apertura de la Conferencia de Paz

In my previous post, I developed a thesis with two hypotheses: the only photo of the Commission on International Labour Legislation in which the Cuban delegate, Dr Rafael Martínez Ortiz, can be discerned had been taken either on Saturday, 25 January 1919 or on Saturday, 1 February 1919. Indeed, these were the only two days that the distinguished representatives of the Czecho-Slovak Republic (Edvard Benes) and the Republic of Cuba (Rafael Martínez Ortiz) were in attendance at the meetings of the Peace Conference.

Following in the footsteps of Stanley Taylor, who developed a passion for uploading his private collection of L’Illustration on the site for former officials of the ILO, I also decided to look for more documents in my mother-in-law’s personal collection of the French newspaper.

According to L’Illustration, at 3 p.m. on Saturday, 25 January 1919, Henri Poincaré, President of the Republic, opened the Peace Conference in the Clock Room of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

L’Illustration published an eloquent description of the event:

Les peintres d’histoire éterniseront cette scène unique. Comme cadre, le ministère des Affaires étrangères. Plus précisément, le salon dit de l’Horloge, au rez-de-chaussée du ministère. On y accède par les deux perrons de la façade, quai d’Orsay. Le salon, comme l’ensemble des appartements, date du Second Empire. Il est rouge et or. Ses trois larges fenêtres, encadrées de rideaux de soie à ramages, ont vue sur la Seine et les Tuileries. Au fond, une immense cheminée de marbre dans laquelle est encastrée l’« horloge ». Face aux fenêtres, trois baies font communiquer le salon avec une galerie.

Rafael Martínez Ortiz is seen from behind, on the right edge of the photo, sporting his thick, white hair. With a little concentration, one can make out the beginning of his famous moustache. According to the seating plan published by L’Illustration, Martínez Ortiz occupied seat 29. The seats of the delegates of Guatemala and Panama, which were on the other side of the horseshoe, were without their occupants, Joaquín Méndez and Antonio Burgos.

Dr Martínez Ortiz seems to have fixed his gaze on Lieutenant Paul Mantoux, the officer interpreting Poincaré’s opening statement. While Martínez Ortiz’s attention is focused on the speech, his back is turned, allowing his thick, white hair to be admired by the honourable Joao Pandiá Calógeras, who would later be thought of as the “Clausewitz of Brazilian foreign relations”. Sitting on Martínez Ortiz’s right is the Greek Minister for Foreign Affairs, Nicolas Politis, who immerses himself not in listening to the interpretation of the speech but in reading something likely more productive.

1919-01-18-Martinez Ortiz asiste a la apertura de la Conferencia de Paz-de espaldas pelo blanco muy tupido

Opposite Martínez Ortiz, on the other side of the table, are the three chairs reserved for the Belgian delegation, although only two delegates were present that day: Paul Hymans, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Jules Van den Heuvel.

At the end of Poincaré’s speech, President Wilson proposed — and those present raised their hands in agreement — that Georges Clemenceau be elected president of the Conference. L’Illustration’s reporter noted a mistake by the interpreter, who had Lloyd George saying that he considered Clemenceau to be “France’s greatest old man” before correcting it to “Mr Clemenceau is France’s grand young man ”. The report concluded that: All that remains is for the delegates to go and have a cup of tea together. The big day ended on friendly terms. The meeting close at 4.50 p.m.

There were three items on the Conference agenda, which would be dealt with in committees: (1) responsibility for the war, (2) penalties on crimes committed during the war and (3) international legislation in regard to labour. All three were new issues, with social matters taking on equal importance with military matters.

In front of President Wilson, and on behalf of the English world of work, Barnes heralds “the rising dawn”

1919-01-L Illustration-Barnes au nom du monde du travail en Grande-Bretagne salue l aube qui se leve

In its 22 February 1919 edition, L’Illustration recorded the moment when the attention of world leaders was focused on the newly formed ILO. Before returning to Washington on 14 February 1919, President Wilson read the provisions that had been adopted to create the League of Nations.

The drawing in L’Illustration shows the minister Georges N. Barnes, one of the leaders of the Labour Party, “with his very short-sighted eyes, his honest and lively face”, who, referring to the newly-formed ILO, calmly declared that:

You will be generous, impartial, altruistic, without imperialist selfishness; you will be concerned about workers’ wages and their working conditions.

Those words about the ILO are still relevant today.

In 1919, Georges N. Barnes was the first Briton to make a statement about the future of work, gaining the attention of Wilson, Clemenceau and Balfour, and of the delegations present at the Paris Conference.

Two soldiers in the photo of the Commission on International Labour Legislation, 1 February 1919

It always seemed to me that there were at least two extra people in the photo of the Commission on International Labour Legislation: two people in military uniform, one on the far left and the other on the right of the photo, on the second row.

1919-02-01-Dos militares en la foto

The soldier on the far left of the second row is an American. The vignette in the ILO Archives refers to him as “Gordon L. Berry” and a Gordon Lockwood Berry certainly existed. On 7 January 1932, the New York Times published an obituary about Gordon Lockwood Berry recalling that, among other things, Gordon Lockwood Berry had worked for the League of Nations in the humanitarian operation that enabled 22 million children to be transferred from Turkey to Greece.

However, documents published by the US State Department’s Office of the Historian, in the “Labor Section of the American Commission at the Peace Conference”, refer to a “Liaison Officer: Major George L. Berry, U. S. A.”.

George L. Berry, a Democrat senator at the inauguration of the ILO.

George L. Berry was a prominent trade unionist, with links to Sam Gompers. He was also senator for Tennessee in 1937-1938. The US Senate published an eloquent summary of his life:

BERRY, George Leonard, a Senator from Tennessee; born in Lee Valley, Hawkins County, Tenn., September 12, 1882; attended the common schools; employed as a pressman from 1891 to 1907 in various cities; served during the First World War in the American Expeditionary Forces, with the rank of major, in the Railroad Transportation Engineers 1918-1919; president of the International Pressmen and Assistants’ Union of North America 1907-1948; also engaged in agricultural pursuits and banking; delegate to many national and international labor conventions; appointed on May 6, 1937, as a Democrat to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Nathan L. Bachman and served from May 6, 1937, to November 8, 1938, when a successor was elected; unsuccessful candidate for nomination in 1938 to fill the vacancy; resumed the presidency of the International Pressmen and Assistants’ Union of North America, and also his agricultural pursuits at Pressmen’s Home, Tenn., until his death on December 4, 1948; interment in Pressmen’s Home Cemetery.

In this Centenary, with the kind assistance of Fiona Rolian and other ILO Friends on Facebook, the Organization has succeeded in identifying other figures of the Commission on International Labour Legislation.

More should have been made of the career of George L. Berry during the Centenary celebrations. It is not often that a person linked to the ILO occupies a seat in the US Senate.

Colonel Lister: a Comintern agent in the photo?

The person on the right of the photo bears the name of a Comintern agent: Colonel Lister, about whom terrible things are said in all the books about the Spanish Civil War and who was not thought of fondly by Jorge Semprún either. It couldn’t be possible that a Spaniard in uniform, even with Soviet training, could have slipped into the Peace Conference.

The solution to the enigma is found in L’Illustration, the 3 May 1919 edition, which provides us with a photo of three individuals: Colonel Lister, of the British army, French Colonel Henry and Mr. Oudaille. These three were gathered in the royal gardens of Versailles to receive the German delegation summoned to sign the conditions for peace.

1919-05-03-Colonel Lister Colonel Henri et Oudaille attendent les delegations allemandes

The Colonel Lister in the photo of the Commission on International Labour Legislation was Lt. Col. Frederick Hamilton Lister (1880-1971). This excellent summary is from the military archives:

Born 1880; educated at Radley College and Royal Military Academy, Woolwich; commissioned into Royal Artillery, 1900; seconded for service with the Punjab Frontier Force, India, 1902-1911; Capt, 1911; graduated from Staff College, Camberley, Surrey, 1914; served in World War One, 1914-1918; posted to General Staff, 1914; Maj, 1915; awarded DSO, 1916; General Staff Officer 1, British Mission, Belgian General Headquarters, Western Front, 1917; General Staff Officer 1, General Headquarters, France, 1917-1918; Brevet Lt Col, 1918; General Staff Officer 1 in charge of British Mission to 1 French Army, 1918; General Staff Officer 1, Supreme War Council, Versailles, 1918-1919; British Representative, Allied Mission, Enemy Delegations, Paris, 1919; service in South Russia as General Staff Officer 1, British Mission to White Russian Gen Anton Ivanovich Denikin, 1919-1920; accompanied French operations in the Rif Mountains, Morocco, 1926; Lt Col, 1927; retired 1931; member of HM’s Body Guard of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms, 1932-1950; died 1971.

Although the little French colonel Henry is hiding his hands, he is not Colonel Hubert Henry, who had played such a terrible role in the Dreyfus Affair and died long before, in 1898. The research of Bertrand M. enabled me to identify an officer named Edmond François Henri (1872-1931).

 The Counts Zoltowski and Potobsky in Argentina

On the left of the Commission on International Labour Legislation photo, in the second row alongside the future Senator George L. Berry (in American military uniform), is Guy H. Oyster, the private secretary of Sam Gompers, and, next to him, Count Zoltowski.

In the minutes of the Commission on International Labour Legislation, it is said that Count Zoltowski answered to the name of Jean. The question is how certain is it that Count Zbigniew Zoltowski, who was buried on 16 February 1973 in the suffocating heat and humidity of Recoleta, is the same person who endured the Parisian cold of 1 February 1919?

OIT Centenario-Condes en la Recoleta

According to information from specialist sites, the Zoltowski family received the countship quite late, in 1840, which rules out the likelihood that the Zoltowskis counts would have greatly multiplied by 1919.

The other information that I found out about Count Zbigniew went along the same lines:

Polish diplomat and Count. He was Plenipotentiary Minister of Poland in the exile in Argentina, during the communist regime in his country. Together with his son Jan was able to bring humanitarian aid to Polish refugees in Europe through the Red Cross and also attended Polish political refugees in Argentina. He was awarded by the Polish Government in London with the great band of the Order of the Rebirth of Poland.


The Zoltowskis’ title could be inherited by the firstborn child, which explains why, on announcing the death of his son, on 21 April 1988, Jan Damascen Edmund retained the title of Count (and a Knight of the Order of Malta). Jan is the Polish version of Jean, the name his father identified with at the Peace Conference.

Jan married an Argentine woman whose name seems predestined to celebrate the ILO centenary and the future of work: María Luz.

Unlike her distinguished father-in-law, who had participated in drafting the founding constitution of the ILO, the three families represented by María Luz’s surnames — the Obligado, Nazar and Anchorena families — left no specific souvenir of their contribution to social justice. Had they put their estancias on the humid Argentine Pampas to full and productive use, they could have certainly helped reduce world hunger.

In any case, another honourable representative of a Polish count’s family was very much involved in the international labour standards, as borne out by a book published in Buenos Aires in 1990. Geraldo W. Von Potobsky, known at the ILO as Von Pot, was chief of the freedom of association service.

Libro Von Potobsky

In the eighteenth century, the Potocki counts ruled over the vast territories of Polish Galicia, where Jewish communities had lived for centuries before being systematically exterminated between 1939 and 1945.

So, why should a book published by an Argentine descendant of the Potocki counts and my friend Héctor Bartolomei, with a prologue written by Dr Ruda (President of the International Court of Justice and of the Commission of Experts), deserve a mention in this note on the ILO Centenary? The answer can be found in the film of my trip through Galicia (now in Ukraine) and Bessarabia (now Moldova), territories that had belonged to the Potocki counts and from where, after the most atrocious crimes had been committed, the concepts of genocide and crimes against humanity emerged. During the same trip, in Bessarabia, I visited the hometowns of the family of the Minister of Justice who abolished the death penalty in France.

At Trianon: the presentation of the peace terms to the German plenipotentiaries

In the book Contrastes europeos y orientación americana, published in Rome in 1925, Antonio Burgos recalls that it was “one of the most exciting acts that I have ever attended. At the main entrance to the historic palace, every delegation was received with full military honours by a resplendent French regiment; doorman in traditional uniform gently guided the Allies’ plenipotentiaries to the meeting room. The room was not especially sumptuous, featuring thick damask curtains, a simple tapestry adorned with a historical portrait and, in the centre, a large table in the form of a horseshoe. Seated at the head of the table was Clemenceau, with Wilson on his right and Lloyd George on his left. The other Allied delegations took their places on the sides of the horseshoe and, at the bottom edge, were eight or nine empty seats for the German plenipotentiaries”.

Although the ceremony had barely begun, Antonio Burgos, a perceptive diplomat of a young Republic, was already pondering the consequences of the events he was witnessing.

1919-06-en el Trianon-Bustos Clemenceau

While Clemenceau gave his speech, Antonio Sánchez de Bustamante, seated at the end of the left side of the horseshoe, with his white beard and moustache, fixes his gaze on the French leader. Next to him, the silhouette of Joaquín Méndez of Guatemala, looking straight ahead, can just be seen, followed by the delegate of Haiti, Tertulien Guilbaud; the former President of Honduras, Policarpo Bonilla; the delegate of Liberia, Charles D. B. King; and, from Nicaragua, a member of the Chamorro family. Like Antonio and Tertulien, Salvador Chamorro is looking at Clemenceau.

The only delegate ostentatiously avoiding looking at Clemenceau, by turning his head towards the German delegation, is Antonio Burgos of Panama.

1919-06-06-Don Antonio tourne Clemenceau

A few years later, Antonio Burgos reflected that “the absurdities contained in the Treaty of Versailles were revealed to the world when the document was still just a project being discussed by the interested parties. One by one, the events that have occurred have confirmed the reasonable predictions that were made by the Treaty’s critics”. To support this position, Burgos cites his own impressions and the publications of three eminent Europeans: L’Europa senza pace, by Francesco Saverio Nitti; War Memoirs, by David Lloyd George; and The Economic Consequences of the Peace, by John Maynard Keynes.

In the Stone Age Room: the presentation of the peace terms to the Austrian plenipotentiaries

1919-06-07-Don Antonio-J Mendez en el Chateau de St Germain en Laye

In its 7 June 1919 edition, L’Illustration recounts the event in which the peace terms were presented to the Austrian plenipotentiaries at Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle:

[…] C’est une étrange pièce qui porte à l’entrée cette indication gravée : « Salle de l’âge de pierre ». Il y avait là des collections d´ossements préhistoriques qu’on a enlevées pour la circonstance. Mais on a laissé des cartes murales représentant la Gaule à l’époque des cavernes et aussi des pancartes où on lit : « Alluvions quaternaires », « Ossements d´animaux d´espèces éteintes ». Bizarre mélange d’un présent dramatique et d’un obscur passé enfui dans le silence des siècles » […]

The next photo, of the left side of the horseshoe, shows Antonio Sánchez de Bustamante, with his white beard and moustache, looking towards the camera as he sits in the fourth seat of the second row of the left side of the horseshoe, which constitutes the table of the Allied delegations. Joaquín Méndez, the delegate of Guatemala, is seated to his left, calmly reading a document, not paying attention to Clemenceau’s speech.

1919-06-07-Don Antonio J Mendez extracto

It’s not possible to distinguish Burgos, who is sitting in the same row as Méndez and Sánchez de Bustamante, in the third seat from the head table.

There’s a nice story on Wikipedia about Joaquín Méndez. In 1914, Méndez was ambassador to the United States when he found out that Rubén Darío was down and out in New York. Darío had tried to earn a living giving talks to promote peace in Europe.

In one of the works published in the Studia in honorem Lía Schwartz (University of La Coruña, 2019), the information about Rubén Darío’s attempted pacifist venture on his arrival in New York in 1914 is corroborated. Having spent three years in Paris, and having abandoned his wife and son in Barcelona, Rubén Darío and Alejandro Bermúdez, his secretary, presented Archer Milton Huntington with a proposal for a project called “PROPAGANDA PARA LA PAZ A TRAVES DEL CONTINENTE AMERICANO” (advertising for peace in the American continent).

The two intrepid Nicaraguans were seeking funding for 46 lectures aimed at denouncing the indescribable carnage in Europe and promoting peace, which should be “the supreme ideal of every good man and the highest aspiration of the peoples”. The talks would make visible “the need for the American people, led by the United States and in agreement with Spain, to be the first to manage peace in Europe, since special circumstances favour such lofty and plausible goals”.

Anticipating the daily tasks of any self-respecting international civil servant, the amount requested for giving 46 lectures was $50,000, which, in August 2018, is equivalent to just over $1.2 million, according to the precise calculations of professor Alison Maginn, of Monmouth University, in “Rubén Darío’s Final Chapter: Archer Milton Huntington and the Hispanic Society”, one of the works published in honour of my aunt, Lía Schwartz. Anyone who has watched the film of my trip to Galicia and Bessarabia in its entirety will have seen extracts of the tribute paid to Lía at the Instituto Cervantes in New York on 30 April 2019.

Despite Huntington’s efforts, by April 1915 Rubén Darío was sick and penniless in New York. Three people took care of him: Juan Arana Turrol, a poor and unrenowned Colombian; Salomón de la Selva (1893-1959), a Nicaraguan poet, a British soldier during the Great War and a union leader, alongside Sam Gompers, who set up unions in Nicaragua and Mexico. Salomón died suddenly in Paris, where he was Nicaraguan president Somoza’s ambassador; and Joaquín Méndez, the ambassador of Guatemala.

Thanks to the personal efforts of Joaquín Méndez, and the generosity of the Guatemalan Government, Darío moved to Guatemala in April 1915 and returned to Nicaragua several months later to die, according to Eddy Kuhl in “Aventura pacifista de Rubén Darío en Nueva York en 1914-1915” in Revista de temas nicaragüenses (March 2012).

I would like to conclude with some poetry

Despite his financial uncertainties, on 4 February 1915, in Havemeyer Hall at Columbia University, Rubén Darío read Pax!, a poem that contains this verse:

Se grita: ¡Guerra Santa!
acercando el puñal a la garganta,
o sacando la espada de la vaina;
y en el nombre de Dios,
casas de Dios en Reims y Lovaina
¡las derrumba el obús 42!…

To coincide with celebrations commemorating the Armistice of 11 November 1918 that formally ended the hostilities of the Great War, in November 1976, I travelled from Leuven to Paris, stopping at Reims. As I so often recount, it was in Paris that I began what was to become an enduring a romance with a young Parisian woman.

Reims Cathedral was effectively bombarded. However, as all Latin American students who arrived in Leuven in the Seventies well know, it was not a house of God but the library of the Catholic university that was destroyed by the imperial shells.

In this centenary year, I also wanted to preserve the name and memory of the valuable members of the Commission on International Labour Legislation that met on 1 February 1919 in Paris in order to draft the ILO Constitution.

The Cubans distributed sugar and dreamed of setting up orphanages for the Belgian and French war orphans. Rubén Darío fought, through his poems, for world peace.

A universal and lasting peace with social justice, as written on the fronton of the ILO for the next hundred years.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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