The international trade union movement and the foundation of the International Labour Organization

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Tosstorff, Reiner (2005)

Accounts of the founding of the International Labour Organization (ILO) usually emphasize the role of social-reformist intellectuals and politicians. Despite the indisputable role of these actors, however, the international labour movement was the actual initiator of this process. Over the course of World War I, the international labour movement proposed a comprehensive programme of protection for the working classes, which, conceived as compensation for its support of the war, was supposed to become an international agreement after the war. In 1919, politicians took up this programme in order to give social stability to the postwar order. However, the way in which the programme was instituted disappointed the high expectations of trade unions regarding the fulfilment of their demands. Instead, politicians offered them an institution that could be used, at best, to realize trade-union demands. Despite open disappointment and sharp critique, however, the revived International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) very quickly adapted itself to this mechanism. The IFTU now increasingly oriented its international activities around the lobby work of the ILO.
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    16. The letter is in Internationaler Gewerkschaftsbund. Bericht fu¨ r die Jahre 1913 bis 1919 (Berlin, 1919), pp. 45f. [hereafter IGB-Bericht 1913-1919].

    17. ''Bewusste Irref u¨hrung'', Correspondenzblatt der Generalkommission der Gewerkschaften Deutschlands, no. 46, 11/17/1917 [hereafter Correspondenzblatt]. This article is a polemic by the General Commission of the German trade unions against a leading USPD trade unionist who had accused the commission of trying to keep the Leeds programme secret.

    18. Correspondenzblatt, no. 49, 2 December 1916. Detailed proceedings of the conference have not survived.

    19. The letter is in IGB-Bericht 1913-1919, pp. 46f.

    20. Reprinted in Sch o¨nhoven, Die Gewerkschaften 1914-1919, pp. 305-312.

    21. Gompers, the American trade-union chairman at the time, has this to say about Legien in his memoirs: ''He was German from the tip of his toes to the last hair of his head and assumed a general attitude of German superiority''; Samuel Gompers, Seventy Years of Life and Labor: An Autobiography, 2 vols (New York, 1943), vol. 2, p. 39 [hereafter Seventy Years].

    22. For the endemic conflict between the German and French trade unions within the IFTU prior to World War I, see: Susan Milner, The Dilemmas of Internationalism: French Syndicalism and the International Labour Movement 1900-1914 (Oxford, 1990).

    23. This is the reason given in the article, ''Bewusste Irref u¨hrung'', Correspondenzblatt, no. 46, 17 November 1917.

    24. Correspondenzblatt, no. 21, 26 May 1917.

    33. Protokoll der Internationalen Gewerkschafts-Konferenz vom 1. bis 4. Oktober 1917 im Volkshaus in Bern (Berne, 1917) [hereafter Protokoll IGB-Konferenz Bern 1917].

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