Labour History Review

The Ilo and the Regulation of White Lead in Britain During the Interwar Years: An Examination of International and National Campaigns in Occupational Health

Labour History Review (2004), 69, (3), 267–284.

Abstract

Despite the International Labour Organization's (ILO) significance for much of the twentieth century, little has been written on its early history. This case study examines the thin tightrope that the ILO had to walk in balancing the needs and demands of government, employers and labour related to the ILO's Convention No. 13 (1921), ‘White Lead in Painting.’ Great Britain was a leading producer of the pigment white lead prior to the First World War. A government investigation was published in 1915, but measures were shelved during the War. With the Peace, the focus of activity shifted to the ILO. Preparations were made for a meeting to be held in Geneva in November in 1921 to address the issue of painter health and prohibition of white lead in painting. For the ILO, the issue of white lead and its prohibition went badly even before the Geneva meeting. Special interests condemned the ILO for purportedly steering a course that favoured labour and competing pigment producers. The Geneva gathering was contentious, but a compromise was reached that called for the restriction of white lead when used on interior surfaces. The next step was ratification at national level, and in Britain a four year struggle ensued between advocates of prohibition and regulation. Industrial interests eventually secured regulation with a bill that was passed in 1926. The Labour Party did little to support painters. Concurrently ILO Director-General Thomas, discredited in Britain for his promotion of prohibition in France, sat by idly. Thomas never gave up hope that regulation would fail, but in fact lead poisoning statistics of painters did show a marked decline after 1926. However, Thomas was prophetic concerning the effects of white lead on painters, for he perceived earlier than most that low level exposures to the material could cause subtle yet serious physical deficits. Something the medical community has confirmed during the past two decades.

Access Token
£25.00
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

International Labour Office [hereafter referred to as ILO], White Lead, Geneva, ILO, 1927, p. 27. Google Scholar

For a critical overview of the ILO and industrial health, see P. Weindling, ‘Social Medicine at the League of Nations Health Organisation and the International Labour Office Compared’, in P. Weindling (ed.), International Health Organisations and Movements, 1918-1939, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 134-53. On the early history of the ILO see D. P. Moynihan, ‘The Washington Conference of the International Labour Organisation,’ Labor History, 3, 1962, pp. 307-34; A. Alcock, History of the International Labor Organisation, New York, Octagon Books, 1971. Albert Thomas is silent on the White Lead Convention in his International Social Policy, Geneva, ILO, 1948. International Health Organisations, and Movements, 1918-1939 134 53 Google Scholar

See H. Heldal, ‘Norway in the International Labour Organization, 1919-1939’, Scandinavian Journal of History, 21, 4, 1996, pp. 255-83. ‘Norway in the International Labour Organization, 1919-1939’ Scandinavian Journal of History 21 255 83 Google Scholar

The ILO, its ‘ban’ on white lead — while never specifying what the ‘ban’ on white lead exactly entailed — is discussed in D. E. Jacobs, ‘Lead-based Paint as a Major Source of Childhood Lead Poisoning: A Review of Evidence’, in M. E. Beard and S. D. Allen Iske (eds), Lead in Paint, Soil and Dust: Health Risks, Exposure Studies, Control Measures and Quality Assurance, ASTM STP 1226, Philadelphia, American Society for Testing and Materials, 1995, pp. 175-87; P. Reich, The Hour of Lead, Washington, Environmental Defense Fund, 1992, pp. 12-13. See also C. Warren, Brush with Death: A Social History of Lead Poisoning, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000, pp. 62-3. Lead in Paint, Soil and Dust: Health Risks, Exposure Studies, Control Measures and Quality Assurance, ASTM STP 1226 175 87 Google Scholar

P. C. English, Old Paint: A Medical History of Childhood Lead-Paint Poisoning in the United States to 1980, New Brunswick, NJ, Rutgers University Press, 2001, pp. 46-8. Old Paint: A Medical History of Childhood Lead-Paint Poisoning in the United States to 1980 46 8 Google Scholar

V.-Y. Ghebali, The International Labour Organization: A Case Study on the Evolution of U. N. Specialized Agencies, Dordrecht, Martinus Nijhoff, 1989, p. 8. The International Labour Organization: A Case Study on the Evolution of U. N. Specialized Agencies 8 Google Scholar

See C. D. Holley, The Lead and Zinc Pigments, New York, John Wiley and Sons, 1909, pp. 122ff. The Lead and Zinc Pigments 122ff Google Scholar

For statistics on the British Industry, see W. Tienes, Die Entwicklung der deutschen Bleiweiss-Industrie, Thesis, T. H. Munich, 1934, pp. 35-7. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

10 T. M. Legge, Report on the Manufacture of Paints and Colours Containing Lead, London, H. M. S. O., 1905; T. M. Legge and K. W. Goadby, Lead Poisoning and Lead Adsorption, London, E. Arnold, 1912; T. Oliver, Diseases of Occupation, New York, E. P. Dutton, 1908. Google Scholar

White Lead and its Suppression for Interior Painting, Manchester, n.p., n.d.[1923?], p. 17. Google Scholar

Report of the Departmental Committee Appointed to Investigate the Danger Attendant on the Use of Paints Containing Lead in the Painting of Buildings, London, HMSO, 1915, repr., 1921. Google Scholar

James T. Shotwell, ‘The International Labor Organization as an Alternative to Violent Revolution,’ The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 166, March, 1933, pp. 18-25; E. J. Phelan, Yes and Albert Thomas, New York, Columbia University Press, 1949, pp. 1-177; ILO, The International Labour Organisation and the First Year of its Work, Geneva, ILO, 1921. ‘The International Labor Organization as an Alternative to Violent Revolution,’ The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 166 18 25 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

League of Nations, International Labor Conference: First Annual Meeting, October 29, 1919—November 29, 1919, Washington, ILO, 1920, pp. 251-3. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

International Labour Conference, Third Session. Geneva, 1921. Prohibition of the Use of White Lead in Painting. Item 3(b) of the Agenda, Geneva, ILO, 1921. Google Scholar

ILO, White Lead, 1927, pp. 28-9. Google Scholar

See M. Fine, ‘Albert Thomas: A Reformer's Vision of Modernization, 1914-1932’, Journal of Contemporary History, 12, 1977, pp. 545-64. ‘Albert Thomas: A Reformer's Vision of Modernization, 1914-1932’ Journal of Contemporary History 12 545 64 Google Scholar

Without question, zinc oxide demanded considerable artisanal skill to apply, and extra coats of paint to achieve acceptable results. See P. Fleury, The Preparation and Uses of White Zinc Paints, trans, by Donald Grant, London, Scott, Greenwood, and Son, 1912, p. 4. By 1923 titanium pigments were just entering the market place; their manufacture in quantity and at acceptable cost remains more a question of meta-history, however, commercial processes remained difficult to develop. See Albert Thomas to Delvingne, File Hy/500/1/5, and Terrell's Paint and Varnish Co. to A. Thomas, 23 August 1923, File Hy/500/1/10, ILO Archives, Geneva. The Preparation and Uses of White Zinc Paints 4 Google Scholar

ILO, White Lead, 1927, p. 34. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Souris authored Tratté pratique de peinture industrielle, Louvain, n.p., 1901; La peinture au blanc de zinc, son employ Formulane de 100 dosages et preparations, Louvain, Fonteyn, 1902. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Hansard, 174, col. 2517. Google Scholar

International Labour Conference, Geneva, 1921, Item 6 [formerly iii(b)] of Agenda. Case Against Prohibition Stated by White Lead Makers of Europe, Geneva, 1921, p. 3. ‘Memorandum by White Lead Makers,’ File, ‘Lead Paint (Protection Against Poisoning) Act 1926,’ LAB 14/211, NA. Google Scholar

White Lead, 1927, p. 30. See also J. A. Gibson to Albert Thomas, 3 May 1921, File Hy/500/1/2, ILO. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

ILO, White Lead, 1927, p. 384 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

F. L. Cantineau, La Ceruse devant la Conference Internationale du Travail, Paris, C. Beranger, 1922. La Ceruse devant la Conference Internationale du Travail Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

International Labour Conference, Third Session Geneva, 1921, 11, pp. 732-3; Monthly Journal of the National Society of Painters, 2, July 1922, pp. 13-33. Google Scholar

ILO, White Lead, 1927, p. 404. Google Scholar

International Labour Conference, Conventions and Recommendations, 1919-1949, Geneva, ILO, 1949, pp. 56-60. Google Scholar

‘Sir Thomas Legge's Resignation and the Lead Paint Bill,’ The Nation and the Athenaeum, 40, 11 December 1926, pp. 382-3. Google Scholar

ILO, Year-Book, 1939-40, Geneva, ILO, 1940, end piece. Google Scholar

Report of the Governing Body of the International Labour Office Upon the Working of the Convention Concerning the Use of White Lead in Painting, Geneva, ILO, 1933, p. 4. Google Scholar

Monthly Journal of the National Society of Painters, 2, January, 1922, p.4. Google Scholar

Committee on Industrial Paints. Report of the Departmental Committee Appointed to Reexamine the Danger of Lead Paints to Workers in the Painting Trades, London, HMSO, 1923. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

White Lead and its Suppression for Interior Painting, Manchester, n.p., n.d.[1923?], p. 13. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Monthly Journal of the National Society of Painters, 2, May 1923. p. 9. Google Scholar

Hansard, 155, col. 1835; 156, col. 825; 156, col.1047; 156, col. 2297; 163, col.1795; 163, col. 2425; 163, cols. 2419-2482. Google Scholar

Painters’ Colic: How Caused and How Best Prevented, HMSO, 1923. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Our Belgian Brothers of the Brush’, Monthly Journal of the National Society of Painters, 3, March 1924, P. 44. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Clipping, Thomas Oliver, ‘Lead Poisoning. Less Danger to Painters’, The Times, 22 May 1924, File ‘Lead Paint (Protection Against Poisoning) Act 1926’, National Archives, LAB 14/211, NA. Oliver's letter to The Times had a profound influence in Parliament debates of 20 June 1924. Hansard, 174, cols. 2512-13. Google Scholar

Clipping, Ben H. Morgan, ‘The Lead Paints Bill,’ Morning Post, 20 June 1924; Clipping, ‘White Lead Paints, Geneva Convention. For and Against Ratification’, The Times, 19 June 1924, File ‘White Lead Convention. Position as to Ratification’, LAB 2/919/IL133/1924/PTII, NA. ‘The Lead Paints Bill,’ Morning Post Google Scholar

Clipping, James Tarbit, ‘White Lead Paints,’ The Times, 20 June 1924, ibid. ‘White Lead Paints,’ The Times Google Scholar

Clipping, J. A. Gibson, ‘Lead Paints. Prohibition in Interior Decoration’, The Times, 4 June 1924, ibid. ‘Lead Paints. Prohibition in Interior Decoration’ The Times Google Scholar

Hansard, 174, cols. 2497-2570. Google Scholar

The Bill was officially withdrawn on 8 December, 1925. See Hansard, 189, col. 407. Google Scholar

Henderson's biographers are silent on this matter. See C. J. Wrigley, Arthur Henderson, Bath, GPC Books, 1990, pp. 144-54; F. M. Leventhal, Arthur Henderson, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1989, pp. 126-32. Arthur Henderson 144 54 Google Scholar

Monthly Journal of the National Society of Painters, 4, June 1925, p. 11. Google Scholar

J. Scanlon, Decline and Fall of the Labour Party, London, Peter Davies, 1932, pp. 67-73. See also G. D. H. Cole, A History of the Labour Party from 1914, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978, pp. 156-71; K. Laybourn, A Century of Labour: A History of the Labour Party 1900-2000, Guildford, 2000, pp. 42-4; R. Taylor, ‘Labour In and Out of Government, 1923-1935’, in B. Brivati and R. Heffernan, (eds), The Labour Party: A Centennial History, New York, St Martin's Press, 2000, pp. 50-67. Decline and Fall of the Labour Party 67 73 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

On Craissac, see Souvenir Offert Par La Maison Leclaire A La Cérémonie D'Admission Au Grade D'Officier Dans la Légion D'Honneur De Son Ami Abel Craissac Le 2 November 1929 N. P., n.p., 1929. On pressure groups, see John Freudentheil to Albert Thomas, 6 June 1924, File Hy 500/1/6, ILO. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

British Industries, 7, 9 December 1924, p. 738. Google Scholar

Hansard, 182, col. 1828. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Memorandum by the Home Secretary, Lead Paint (Protection Against Poisoning) Bill, W. J. H., 6 April 1925,’ File, ‘Lead Paint (Protection against Poisoning) Act 1926, Draft’ LAB 14/218, NA. Hansard, 183, col. 469. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Hansard, 193, col. 56; 198, col. 2329; 198, cols 2921-2952. Google Scholar

Hansard, House of Lords, 65, cols 687-720; 65, cols 842-5. Google Scholar

Monthly Journal of the National Society of Painters, 6, September 1926, p. 9. Google Scholar

Sir W. W. Mackenzie, Report to His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Home Department on the Draft Regulations for Preventing Danger from Lead Paint, London, HMSO 1927, pp. 3-8. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Hansard, 203, cols 535-6; 209, cols 241-6. Extracts from Hansard (often mislabeled) were sent from M. R. K. Burge of the ILO Office in London to Geneva. File D 603/2000/25/2, ILO. Google Scholar

Mackenzie, Report to His Majesty's Secretary of State. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Home Secretary Clynes to Albert Thomas, 18 November 1930, File D603/2010/25/4, ILO. On Clynes, see J. R. Clynes, Memoirs, 1924-1937, London, Hutchinson & Co., 1937. Memoirs, 1924-1937 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

National Amalgamated Society of Operative House and Ship Painters and Decorators, Minutes of the General Council Meeting held on June 13th to June 18th 1927, Manchester, Cooperative Printing Society, 1927. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

See P. Bartrip, ‘The Rise and Decline of Workmen's Compensation’, in P. Weindling (ed.), The Social History of Occupational Health, London, Croom Helm, 1985, pp. 157-79. The Social History of Occupational Health 157 79 Google Scholar

ILO, Annual Review 1930, Geneva, ILO, 1931, p. 218. Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Details

Author details

Heitmann, John