Labour History Review

‘The Great Charter for the Liberty of the Workingman’: Labour, Liberals and the Creation of the Ilo

Labour History Review (2002), 67, (1), 29–47.

Abstract

This article explores the interaction of Anglophone labour and liberals in the process which led to the creation of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 1919, the first international attempt to legislate sociopolitical and economic standards central to the agendas of both movements. It charts the dynamics between collectivist, mostly British, and voluntarist, mostly American, conceptions of international labour legislation, and analyses the ways in which a mean was forged between these at the Versailles peace conference. The interpenetration of collectivist and volantarist strands is the main focus of the article. It suggests that such interpenetration amounted to a merging of efforts that can be used to explain both the final organisational structure of the ILO and the fact that the organisation was created at all.

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A. M. McBriar, Fabian Socialism and English Politics, 1884-1918, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1966, pp. 142, 338; Frederick J. Gould, Hyndman: Prophet of Socialism, 1842-1921, London, Oxford University Press, 1928, pp. 196-8, 217-20; Wrigley, Arthur Henderson, pp. 78-9. Fabian Socialism and English Politics, 1884-1918 142 Google Scholar

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American Federation of Labor proposals on peace terms, as given to the Inter-Allied Labour and Socialist Conference, September 1918, in Shotwell (ed.), The Origins of the International Labor Organization, vol. 2, pp. 75-6. Google Scholar

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Richard T. Ely cited in Dorothy Ross, ‘Socialism and American Liberalism: Academic Social Thought in the 1880's’, Perspectives in American History, 11, 1977-8, p. 51. Socialism and American Liberalism: Academic Social Thought in the 1880's Perspectives in American History 11 51 Google Scholar

See the several manifestos of the wartime inter-allied socialist and labour conferences — resolution of the Allied Socialist Conference (London, February 1915), resolutions of the International Labour Conference (Leeds, July 1916), resolutions of the International Conference of Trade Unions (Berne, October 1917), Memorandum on War Aims, the Inter-Allied Labour and Socialist Conference (London, February 1918), resolution of the Allied Labour and Socialist Conference (September 1918) — each Shotwell (ed.), The Origins of the International Labor Office, vol. 2, pp. 4, 23-6, 44-9, 58-69, 77-80, respectively. The quotes are from the Leeds Conference manifesto and from the Memorandum on War Aims of the London Conference, respectively. Google Scholar

Manifesto of the International Trade Union Conference at Berne on International Labour Legislation, 10 February 1919, in Shotwell (ed.), The Origins of the International Labor Organization, vol. 2, pp. 336-40. Further details on the Berne conference can be found in Arno J. Mayer, Politics and Diplomacy of Peacemaking: Containment and Counterrevolution at Versailles, 1918-1919, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1967, pp. 373-409; Bruno Naarden, Socialist Europe and Revolutionary Russia: Perception and Prejudice, 1848-1923, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 324-34. Google Scholar

For example, Lewis S. Gannett, ‘The Third Internationale’, The Survey, 8 February 1919, pp. 660-61. The rather classically liberal editor of the New York Nation, Oswald Garrison Villard, also moved gradually closer and closer to the Berne Conference's plans, assuming that nationalisation and co-management were the only real solutions to the disturbed conditions of the time. See Michael Wreszin, Oswald Garrison Villard: Pacifist at War, Bloomington, IN, Indiana University Press, 1965, pp. 113-14, 144-5. The Third Internationale The Survey 660 61 Google Scholar

Riegleman, ‘War-Time Trade-Union and Socialist Proposals’, and Edward J. Phelan, ‘British Preparations’, both in Shotwell (ed.), The Origins of the International Labor Organization, vol. 1, pp. 74-5, 121-4, respectively. Google Scholar

Barnes, Industrial Conflict, pp. 82-5. Google Scholar

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The interpretation offered here is argued at length in Markku Ruotsila, British and American Anticommunism Before the Cold War, London, Frank Cass, 2001, chs 1-2. Google Scholar

Herbert Croly, The Promise of American Life, New York, Macmillan, 1909, pp. 386-7. For the differences between social-democratic and new liberal attitudes to labour see Kenneth O. Morgan, ‘The Future at Work: Anglo-American Progressivism, 1890-1917’, in H. C. Allen and Roger Thompson (eds), Contrast and Connection: Bicentennial Essays in Anglo-American History, London, G. Bell & Sons, 1976, pp. 267-8. The case for American new liberals' detachment from the labour movement can, however, be laboured, if inordinate stress is placed on new liberal opposition to the violent, syndicalist labour unionism of organisations such as the International Workers of the World (IWW). The mainstream influential labour union leaders were no less opposed to such syndicalism than the new liberals. The Promise of American Life 386 7 Google Scholar

Charles S. Thomas' unpublished autobiography, typewritten manuscript (1924), pp. 274-8, Charles S. Thomas papers, Colorado Historical Society, Denver, box 9; Wilson's addresses 27 September 1918, and 5 January 1919, in Arthur S. Link et al. (eds), The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, vols 51 and 53, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1985, 1986, pp. 131-3, 618, respectively. Google Scholar

I have explored this liberal conception of (also internationally organised) social reform in greater detail in Ruotsila, British and American Anticomunism Before the Cold War, pp. 71-84, 142-5. See also David Blaazer, The Popular Front and the Progressive Tradition, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990, pp. 93-109; Wolfgand J. Helbich, ‘American Liberals and the League of Nations Controversy’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 31, Winter 1967-68, pp. 568-96; Marvin Swartz, The Union of Democratic Control in British Politics During the First World War, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1971; Arno J. Mayer, Political Origins of the New Diplomacy, 1917-18, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1959, esp. pp. 55-96, 182-8. Google Scholar

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Raymond L. Bridgman, ‘A World-Unity Conference’, Biblioteca Sacra, 75, January 1918, pp. 133-42; Henry H. Ranck, ‘Christianizing International Relations’, The Reformed Church Review, 22, October 1918, pp. 429-52; John Clifford, ‘Darkness and Dawn in 1918’, The Christian World Pulpit, 1 January 1919, pp. 2-7. A World-Unity Conference Biblioteca Sacra 75 133 42 Google Scholar

‘President Wilson and Labor’, The American Federationist, 24, June 1917, p. 454. Google Scholar

Arthur Henderson, ‘Leadership in Democracy’, The New Appeal, 2 February 1918, p. 4. Leadership in Democracy The New Appeal 2 4 Google Scholar

William English Walling, ‘A New Order of Cooperation Among the Nations’, in League to Enforce Peace, Win the War for Permanent Peace: Addresses Made at the National Convention of the League to Enforce Peace, in the City of Philadelphia, May 16th and 17th, 1918, New York, League to Enforce Peace, 1918, pp. 154-8; ‘Reconstruction’, The Independent, 4 December 1918, p. 304; ‘Lest We Forget Common Sense’, The Independent, 23 November 1918, p. 243; John Spargo, Americanism and Social Democracy, New York, Harper and Brothers, 1918, pp. 230-5. Google Scholar

Albert Thomas, ‘The International Labour Organisation: Its Origins, Development, and Future’, The International Labour Review, 1, January 1921, pp. 7-11. The International Labour Organisation: Its Origins, Development, and Future The International Labour Review 1 7 11 Google Scholar

‘Memorandum on the Machinery and Procedure Required for the International Regulation of Industrial Conditions’, prepared by the British Delegation to the Peace Conference, 20 January 1919, in Shotwell (ed.), The Origins of the International Labor Organization, vol. 2, pp. 120-5. On the American plans and response see Shotwell memorandum 3 January 3 1919, Shotwell diary 4 and 7 January, ‘Memorandum on International Labor Legislation’, prepared by Shotwell, 18 January 1919, and ‘Recommendations Relative to Legislation in Regard to International Labor’, prepared by Shotwell, 21 January 1919, in James T. Shotwell, At the Paris Peace Conference, New York, Columbia University Press, pp. 105-6, 106, 107-9, 389-92, 132-40, respectively. Google Scholar

‘Memorandum on the Machinery and Procedure Required for International Regulation of Industrial Conditions’, 15-20 January 1919, in Shotwell (ed.), The Orgins of the International Labor Organization, vol. 2, pp. 120-5; British draft convention as presented at the second meeting of the labour commission, 2 February 1919, in the International Labour Organisation, Official Bulletin, vol. 1, pp. 9-16. See also Alcock, History of the International Labour Office, pp. 19-26. Google Scholar

Minutes of the fifth and ninth meetings of the labour commission, 7 and 17 February 1919, in the International Labor Office, Official Bulletin, vol. 1, pp. 30, 47-50, respectively; Barnes, ‘The Industrial Section of the League of Nations’, pp. 7-8; Barnes, From Workshop to War Cabinet, pp. 251-2; Barnes, ‘Introduction’, pp. vii-viii. Google Scholar

Minutes of the third, fourth, fifth, ninth, and thirtieth meeting of the labour committee, and proposals submitted by the American delegates at the third meeting, 5, 7, and 17 February 1919, in the International Labour Office, Official Bulletin, vol. 1, pp. 18-19, 27, 29, 45-50, 200, 225, respectively; Samuel Gompers, ‘Industrial Democracy, Not Bolshevism’, The American Federationist, 26, February 1919, pp. 153-4. See also Alcock, History of the International Labour Organisation, pp. 26-7. Google Scholar

Gompers' address at the AFL Convention, June 1919, in Shotwell (ed.), The Origins of the International Labor Organization, vol. 2, pp. 431, 438; Edward J. Phelan, ‘The Commission on International Labour Legislation’, in Shotwell (ed.), The Origins of the International Labor Organization, vol. 1, pp. 197-8. Google Scholar

‘Report Presented to the Preliminary Peace Conference by the Commission on International Labour Legislation’, 23 March 1919, in the International Labour Organisation, Official Bulletin, vol. 1, pp. 260-8; minutes of the plenary session of the Paris peace conference, 11 April 1919, in Official Bulletin, vol. 1, pp. 287-92; Treaty of Peace of Versailles, Part XIII, Labour, Articles 387-427, in Official Bulletin, vol. 1, pp. 332-45. Google Scholar

‘Report Presented to the Preliminary Peace Conference by the Commission on International Labour Legislation’, 23 March 1919, in the International Labour Organisation, Official Bulletin, vol. 1, p. 260. Google Scholar

Labour clauses suggested by the British and American delegations, 13-15 March 1919, and draft of Labour Charter (by James T. Shotwell), 19 March 1919, in Shotwell (ed.), The Origins of the International Labor Organization, vol. 2, pp. 349-50, 359-60. Google Scholar

Shotwell diary, 11 April 1919, in Shotwell, At the Paris Peace Conference, pp. 258-9; Edward J. Phelan, ‘The Labour Proposals Before the Peace Conference’, in Shotwell (ed.), The Origins of the International Labor Organization, vol. 1, pp. 206-14. Balfour's draft of the ILO Charter is reprinted in the latter source. Italics added. See also Barnes to Balfour, 9 and 15 April 1919, Arthur Balfour papers, The British Library, London, Add. MSS 49749. Google Scholar

Compare the draft presented to the peace conference on 24 March 1919, in the International Labour Organisation, Official Bulletin, vol. 1, pp. 260-83, and the final re-draft, agreed upon on 28 April 1919, in Shotwell (ed.), The Origins of the International Labor Organization, vol. 1, pp. 217-18. Shotwell diary 14, 15, 16, 17 and 28 April 1919, in Shotwell, At the Paris Peace Conference, pp. 262, 264, 298, gives details on the final re-drafting process. Google Scholar

See minutes of the nineteenth meeting of the labour commission, 11 March 1919, in the International Labour Organisation, Official Bulletin, vol. 1, p. 114; Samuel Gompers, ‘An Appeal to the Conscience of America’, The American Federationist, 26, April 1919, pp. 313-15; Samuel Gompers, ‘American Labor Is True to Democracy’, The American Federationist, 26, April 1919, pp. 318-20; Gompers' address at the AFL Convention, June 1919, in Shotwell (ed.), The Origins of the International Labor Organization, vol. 2, pp. 431-40; Samuel Gompers, ‘The Labor Clauses of the Treaty’, in Edward M. House and Charles Seymour (eds), What Really Happened at Paris, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1921, pp. 319, 333-5. Google Scholar

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Andrew Furuseth's address at the AFL convention, June 1919, in Shotwell (ed.), The Origins of the International Labor Organization, vol. 2, pp. 421-6. Google Scholar

Gompers, ‘An Appeal to the Conscience of America’ and ‘American Labor Is True to Democracy’, American Federationist, 26, April 1919, pp. 313-15, 318-20, respectively. An Appeal to the Conscience of America and American Labor Is True to Democracy American Federationist 26 313 15 Google Scholar

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Lloyd George's addresses 16 April and 3 July 1919, Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 114, London, His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1919, pp. 2937, 1229, respectively. Google Scholar

Frank L. Polk to Samuel Gompers (with enclosure, Wilson to Gompers, 20 June 1919), 21 June 1919, in House and Seymour (eds), What Really Happened at Paris, p. 333; Wilson's addresses September 1919, in Link et al. (eds), The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, vol. 63, pp. 99, 176, 246-52, 355-7, 497, 502, respectively; Stockton Axson memorandum August 1919, in Stockton Axson, ‘Brother Woodrow’: A Memoir of Woodrow Wilson, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1993, p. 198; Robert Lansing, memorandum, 1 September 1919, Robert Lansing papers, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Washington, DC, reel 1. Google Scholar

Minutes of the nineteenth meeting of the labour commission, 11 March 1919, in the International Labour Office, Official Bulletin, vol. 1, pp. 109-14; Barnes' address to the plenary session of the peace conference, 11 April 1919, in the International Labour Office, Official Bulletin, vol. 1, pp. 287-92; Barnes' address 21 July 1919, Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 5th series, vol. 118, pp. 969-71; Barnes, From Workshop to War Cabinet, pp. 256-64; ‘The Rt. Hon. G. N. Barnes and the International Labour Office’, International Labour Office, Official Bulletin, 27 October 1920, pp. 9-10. Google Scholar

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Minutes of the plenary session of the Paris peace conference, 11 April 1919, in the International Labour Organisation, Official Bulletin, vol. 1, p. 296. Google Scholar

H. M. Hyndman, Evolution of Revolution, London, Grant Richards, 1920, pp. 362-5. Evolution of Revolution 362 5 Google Scholar

Wrigley, Arthur Henderson, pp. 130-1. Google Scholar

Samuel Gompers and Matthew Woll, ‘The European Brainstorm’, The American Federationist, 27, October 1920, pp. 919-28; ‘International Trade Union Congress in London’, International Labour Review, 1, January 1921, pp. 69-78. See also Alcock, History of the International Labour Organisation, pp. 36-9, 120-1; David Montgomery, The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1987, pp. 404-10. The European Brainstorm The American Federationist 27 919 28 Google Scholar

Albert Thomas, ‘The International Labour Organisation: Its Origins, Development, and Future’, International Labour Review, 1, January 1921, pp. 5-22. ‘The International Labour Organisation: Its Origins, Development, and Future’ International Labour Review 1 5 22 Google Scholar

E. J. Phelan, Yes and Albert Thomas, London, The Crescent Press, 1949, pp. 4-7, 23-5, 38-43, 55-8. Yes and Albert Thomas 4 7 Google Scholar

Phelan, Yes and Albert Thomas, pp. 4-5. Google Scholar

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Ruotsila, Markku