To this end, Albert Thomas created, out of a little group of officials housed in a private residence in London in 1920, an institution with global reach. Under his leadership the ILO’s world parliament of labour, the International Labour Conference, adopted 33 international Conventions covering fundamental issues such as hours of work, minimum age, health insurance, maternity protection, unemployment, right of association, protection against accidents at work, minimum wages and forced labour.
|Economic reconstruction can only be sound and enduring if it is based on social justice."|
It was his taste for the concrete which made him venture into the field, observe realities and meet the people. In an era where flying was not yet a common means of transportation, he travelled extensively to the Americas, Russia, China, Japan, and most of the countries in Europe. He visited factories, descended into mines, and questioned owners and workers.
“If I apply myself to the study of national realities,” he explained, “it is to absorb everything which can serve in realizing the common ideal.” In this sense, he was a true disciple of what today would be called globalization; that is, of universality in the service of social progress.
Addressing the International Labour Conference in 1933, Harold Butler, who succeeded Albert Thomas, referred to “the improvement of social conditions, the preservation of individual human rights, and the furtherance of social justice... It was on this foundation that he succeeded in creating a tradition which we have inherited... The best memorial which we can raise to his work is to preserve and strengthen that tradition.”
Later, ILO leaders furthered this tradition, including the present Director-General, Juan Somavia, when he called for a new era of social justice on a foundation of decent work – against the backdrop of another global economic and social crisis.