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ILO between the two world wars
1919

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  1. Key documents

Founding of the International Labour Organization (ILO)

The idea of regulating labour at an international level gradually gained favour throughout the 19th century. The First World War marked a watershed in the movement: the Paris Peace Conference that opened on 29 January 1919 established the Commission on International Labour Legislation to draft the constitution of a permanent international organization. The text adopted on 11 and 28 April under the heading “Labour” became Part XIII of the Treaty of Versailles, or the « ILO Constitution » (pdf 1 MB). The Peace Conference adopted the Treaty of Versailles in its entirety on 28 June 1919. Articles 387 to 427 deal with the organization of ILO, which comprises:

  • a tripartite conference, the International Labour Conference;
  • a tripartite executive body, the Governing Body;
  • a permanent secretariat, the International Labour Office, a centre for research, practical activities and publishing.
ILO is characterized by the way it functions – on the basis of tripartism– and its universality and is unlike any other organization. It has been guided since its inception by the generous principle of social justice, an indispensable condition, according to the Treaty of Versailles, for “universal and lasting peace”. The number of Member States rose from 44 in 1919 to 182 in 2008. The list of "founder Members" (pdf 184 KB) comprised the 29 State signatories of the Treaty of Versailles which, by ratifying the Treaty, automatically became Members both of the League of Nations and of the ILO. The title, "Founder Member of the ILO", was moreover also granted to 13 other States invited to adhere to the Covenant of the League of Nations.

ILO also acts through the regional conferences, specialized committees and expert meetings it has set up over the course of its existence. Today, its various fields of action focus on four strategic objectives:

  • to promote and implement the standards and the fundamental principles and rights at work;
  • to heighten opportunities for men and women to obtain decent work and pay;
  • to increase the scope and effectiveness of social protection for all;
  • to strengthen tripartism and social dialogue.

The first International Labour Conference (ILC)

“General Conference of representatives of Member States”, the ILC is the ILO plenary body in charge of drawing up, adopting and supervising the international labour standards. It constitutes a world labour platform for discussion of social matters.

The First Session of the ILC, which brought together delegations from 40 countries, was held in Washington , in October-November 1919. Each delegation comprised two government delegates, one employers’ delegate and one workers’ delegate. The delegates could be accompanied by advisors, whose numbers varied depending on the country. The Conference’s first decision was to admit Germany and Austria as Member States. It went on to adopt six conventions and six recommendations on fundamental questions:

  • hours of work in industry;
  • unemployment;
  • maternity protection;
  • night work by women and young people;
  • the minimum age for work in industry.
  1. 1919-1939:
    ILO between the two world wars
    1. 1919
    2. 1920
    3. 1926
    4. 1927
    5. 1930
    6. 1932
    7. 1936
    8. 1939
  2. 1940-1945
  3. 1946-1959
  4. 1960-1988
  5. 1989-1998
  6. 1999-


ILO Century Project

The ILO and the Quest for Social Justice

Video: The ILO and the Quest for Social Justice

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Last update: 09.11.2012 ^ top