ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations

86th Session
Geneva, June 1998


Address by His Excellency Mr. Rafael Caldera,
President of the Republic of Venezuela
9 June 1998 

 Thank you, Mr. Director-General, for your generous words of introduction and for your reference to my strong links with this Organization. Over 60 years ago it was indeed my honour to be the first Venezuelan correspondent of the International Labour Office. I was a law student at the time, but I had contacted the Organization through a very exceptional individual, the idealist and tireless worker Mr. David Blelloch, Member of the Fabian Society, who headed the ILO's first technical assistance mission abroad. Indeed, that first mission to Venezuela to offer technical expertise in drafting the first Labour Act, as Venezuela emerged from a long period of dictatorship. The work was excellent and he was assisted by Mr Diógenes Escalante, the Venezuelan Ambassador accredited to a number of European countries and subsequently appointed Foreign Minister by President Eleazan López Contreras, perhaps prompted by another prominent Venezuelan, Mr. Manuel Arocha who spent many years as an exile in the service of the United Nations. In all events, Mr. Blelloch's work was outstanding, although he spoke of his problems and emotions in carrying out this totally unfamiliar task. But the insight he thereby gained into the circumstances and nature of the Venezuelan people stood him in good stead, as he said himself, when he went on other technical assistance missions to Latin America and elsewhere. We will distribute a pamphlet in which he describes these experiences in his own words.

I was also a close friend of a young lawyer who was to become Director-General of the International Labour Office for two terms, the brilliant English intellectual, Wilfred Jenks. He spent a year in Venezuela, learning about the country and revising the draft Labour Act of 1936. It is very interesting to note that, in the introductory note to the International Labour Code that was drafted and published under Jenk's guidance, he states that some topics are arranged in a manner that had originally been employed in the Venezuelan draft Labour Code. Hence, Venezuela identifies very closely with the activities of the ILO.

The International Labour Code was published on the eve of the Second World War when people thought that the ILO might well cease to exist. For that reason, the ILO was moved across the Atlantic, at the invitation of McGill University where I visited it. Not only was the ILO thereby spared the horrors of the war in Europe, but it acquired a new vitality. I think it is very interesting that the three fundamental stages through which the ILO passed are all very closely linked with times in history when the world was in turmoil and intent on achieving peace.

As the Director-General, Mr. Hansenne, said, in 1958 I attended the ILO Labour Conference, although under unusual circumstances, since the Venezuelan dictatorship had broken off its relations with the Organization. One of the first decisions to be taken when the dictatorship fell was to renew our membership of the International Labour Organization. I headed the Venezuelan delegation, with a brief to re-establish our links with the ILO.

It is heartening to recall so many friends and render tribute to such eminent individuals as David Blelloch and Wilfred Jenks among the ranks of those who are committed to the progress of mankind, and have been involved with the ILO. And it is gratifying to see how a small country like ours, taking its first steps in drafting labour legislation, may serve as an example to other countries which share the conviction that development must combine the economic and social dimensions.

I see the history of the Organization in three stages. The first was the Treaty of Versailles, the end of the First World War, and the declaration that there can be no peace without social justice.

Another important stage was the Philadelphia Declaration in 1944 on the eve of peace in the Second World War, which stated that poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere. Poverty must indeed be combatted. The message of the Declaration, written over 50 years ago, is still valid for all countries of the world. the developed countries are beginning to realize that what is important is not just to achieve economic prosperity, but also to combat poverty, not merely by expanding markets but equally by generating new types of jobs.

The third stage is the end of the Cold War which we are living now. As we move towards a new era in the history of mankind we must reflect and take appropriate action in keeping with the historical circumstances in which we find ourselves.

We live in a globalized world, a fact that is not really a matter for discussion. It has advantages, but there are also aspects of globalization which must be dealt with prudently, if they are not to cause greater harm than it was intended to remedy.

Globalization makes the market the be all and end all. Although the market may offer an opportunity to regulate relations among individuals, it cannot resolve the issue of unfair distribution of goods, which is a matter of concern to all countries. Globalization and the market are two current realities that are both positive, but also have their downside in the guise of productivity and competitiveness which may have very negative social repercussions. Therefore the International Labour Organization is on the right path in endeavouring to resolve the situations that arise in keeping with the spirit of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, and the Declaration of Philadelphia of 1944. The time has come to restate the fundamental rights that constitute the backbone of our Organization.

With this trend towards globalization and liberalization of economies, we have witnessed excuses that we cannot condone. There have been signs of an exaggerated neo-liberalism which even viewed labour legislation with hostility; some even went so far as to say that it would be supplanted by free, direct negotiation between workers and employers. But the ILO is here to counter such trends, and we reaffirm our faith in its unswerving defence of the rights of workers, so that the social justice may prevail in labour relations.

We are now engaged in a fight against poverty at a time when the technological revolution and development by its very nature have created considerable unemployment. In our pursuit of development, we must fight for the right to work, there must be vocational training programmes, there must be support for small and medium-sized enterprises, we need programmes to protect and provide assistance to those areas that are best placed to generate employment.

Unemployment is a universal problem. Today, countries that imported millions of workers to meet their production requirements are also suffering unemployment. Although some workers are now better protected, we should be concerned with the lot of the jobless who are faced by the spectre of poverty. All countries of the world are quite right to be concerned; the unemployed are a reproof to the heads of states and governments gathering at international summits to discuss other issues. We have faith in the ILO and its defence of workers' rights, we have faith in its commitment to improving social conditions throughout the world, not just in strict labour terms, but also in relations between employers and workers and in other ways as well.

Initially, a discussion arose as to whether the ILO, which was established in order to govern industrial relations between capitalists and those who provided their labour, should be extended, for instance, into the rural sphere. Fortunately, the ILO's competences have been enlarged. This Organization has the confidence of all countries of the world, we are convinced that for as long as the ILO exists, and it will certainly continue to exist, the rights arduously won through the years will continue to advance towards the ultimate attainment of social justice.

We feel that the promotion of a Declaration on workers' fundamental rights is quite correct and we want to say quite clearly that this Declaration of principles, this reaffirmation of workers' rights cannot be invoked by any protectionist trade movement wishing to exploit the difficulties facing some countries in order to undermine fair competition in world markets.

In speaking of the International Labour Organization and recognizing its many merits, I would like to stress the role of its tripartite nature. Tripartism was an innovation that began with the founding of the ILO under the Treaty of Versailles. One of the first academic essays presented to me by Wilfred Jenks concerned the significance of the tripartite nature of the ILO.

It is a system that brings together workers and employers who have different and sometimes opposing interests to discuss issues to reach conclusions and to affirm that social justice is above the interests of a particular social class or group. By emulating the ILO's tripartite system, we in Venezuela have managed to create a workable tripartite system of our own during this period of constitutional rule. A system that works and has produced results.

We have reformed our basic labour legislation and we are developing a new and broader social security system. This was the result, not of the Government's efforts or those of the legislators, but of a tripartite agreement between the representatives of workers, employers and the Government. It was through long discussions, patient and sometimes difficult dialogue, that we achieved results, which showed us that common interests, national interests and the requirements of social justice are more important than particular interests. We are very proud of our tripartism and we offer it as a contribution, an example of the type of tripartism that is promoted for the benefit of humanity by the ILO.

Juán Somavía, a Chilean, has now been elected to serve as Director-General. Twenty-five years ago, Wilfred Jenks said, when we last saw one another, that the time had come for a representative of the Third World to become Director-General. Twenty-five years were to pass before this happened. Let us hope that the new Director-General, a Latin American and representative of the developing countries, will bring new vitality to the successful work of previous incumbents of that post. I welcome the new Director-General and I would like to say that we have great confidence in him. We are convinced that, although he bears a heavy responsibility, he will ably represent Latin America in this global task.

We face many difficulties but we move forward with great hope. The world is changing and it can only be for the good.

If the world is shrinking, if there are closer relations, if international regional communities are bigger, all of this must be based on moral principles. If it is not, our efforts will be ineffective and the results disastrous. We believe people are turning to these principles. The Treaty of Versailles, the Declaration of Philadelphia, the Declaration that is emerging from this new humanity following the end of the Cold War all serve to strengthen the idea of social justice. I believe in international social justice. We have long maintained that the duty of individuals and groups in national communities to seek justice must be expressed also at international level. I believe that there is an international community, and this international community must ensure that each of its members contribute whatever is necessary for each individual to live and develop.

International social justice should not give the richest and most powerful countries more rights but should impose on them greater obligations. The greater their power and wealth, the greater their obligation to work for the well-being of humanity.

When we had the great pleasure of welcoming President Clinton on his visit to Venezuela, we said that we are aware that the world was moving towards globalization and hoped that his country, with all its influence in the world, would ensure that globalization, instead of creating greater injustice, would rather create benefits for all of humanity. The struggle has been defined. The world is now convinced that it is peace that should reign and it is war that is an aberration. We are convinced that the ILO will always be in the vanguard of the search for peace.

I am proud of my association with it, of the that I was the first ILO correspondent in Venezuela when I was a young man. I am very proud of my modest contributions to it.

We believe in justice; we believe in social justice; we believe in international social justice and will fight for it. We are convinced that this Organization, for all its faults and the difficulties that it may encounter, will nevertheless help us ensure that all people of goodwill will achieve peace based on social justice and offer everyone throughout the world the possibility of development through humane work.

The battle being waged by the ILO is clear. Of course there are enemies. During the Second World War it was said that there was no further purpose for the ILO, but I am convinced that day by day the ILO grows stronger and more relevant because it is based on the most basic human sentiments.

To see gathered here workers and the employers defending their respective interests, governments seeking a way to justice -- all this encourages those of us who believe in God, in goodness, and in humanity and its well-being.

Let us then fight for these things. Let us not forget that unemployment is the great enemy. Unemployment is not a local phenomenon. It afflicts all the countries and all of us must fight against it. There is no doubt that States cannot now, as they did in the past, create artificial jobs, often with negative consequences. We must create opportunities. We are convinced that the more education we have, the less unemployment; the greater the opportunities available to people, the less likely it is that they will suffer unemployment. As the ILO has said, perhaps the right to work in the twenty-first century will be more important as a means of affirmation, than any other labour rights. The right to work is a fundamental right enshrined in our constitutions, but it is very difficult to achieve.

We will work together. We will make use of the technical abilities of this Organization. We will invest in it all our confidence so that it can move forward in the struggle. There is little time, because people are worried and also rather sceptical with regard to claims about achieving international social justice.

The pamphlet that is going to be distributed contains the speech given by Wilfred Jenks during his last visit to Caracas. His final words were that international social justice was a principle in which he really believed. When he said that, he was not just speaking for himself. He was speaking for the Organization that he represented as Director-General. This means that the Organization must continue its efforts so that at the highest levels of international trade this social justice will prevail. If it does not, globalization will serve only to perpetrate injustices.

This, then, is what I believe. May I say to the ILO how very much I admire the Organization, how I have placed my hopes in the Organization -- and here I am not speaking as an individual but rather as a representative of a country that believes in the ILO, that has been faithful to the ILO and is confident that the efforts of this Organization will always be to produce progress and to benefit all of mankind.

Updated by VC. Approved by RH. Last update: 26 January 2000.