When Alfred Nobel died on December 10, 1896, his will and testament revealed that he had instituted five Nobel Prizes: one for physics, one for chemistry, one for literature, one for medicine, and a peace prize.
While Swedish institutions were entrusted with the task of awarding the first four prizes, Nobel decided, for reasons not exactly known, that a committee of five members, appointed by the Norwegian Parliament, should be entrusted with the great honor and responsibility of awarding the Peace Prize.
Alfred Nobel not only specified who was to award the Peace Prize, but he also laid down the rules to be followed by the committee in choosing a candidate for the prize. He states in his will that the Peace Prize is to be awarded to the person who has done most to promote fraternity among the nations.
With this consideration in mind, the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Parliament has awarded the Peace Prize for 1969 to the International Labor Organization.
Beneath the foundation stone of the ILO’s main office in Geneva lies a document on which is written: “Si vis pacem, cole justitiam.” If you desire peace, cultivate justice.
There are few organizations that have succeeded to the extent that the ILO has, in translating into action the fundamental moral idea on which it is based.
Why, we may ask, did the demand for social justice receive such a tremendous impetus when the ILO was founded fifty years ago?
I think the answer is to be found in the fact that at the conclusion of the First World War in 1918, the underprivileged members of the community were in the historical position of being able not only to obtain the ear of Europe’s leading politicians for social justice, but also of being strong enough, should the need arise, to back their demands with force.
During the war, the working class had loyally set aside their own claims in order to serve their national cause, and they had in full measure borne the sufferings and privations of war.
But at trade union congresses held in 1916, 1917, and 1918, the demand was made that the trade union movement should participate in discussing the future peace treaty. It was emphasized that workers should be guaranteed a minimum standard of working conditions after the war and that a permanent body to ensure the carrying out of international legislation in this respect should be established.
In the wake of hostilities came a spate of violent social and political upheavals. It is sufficient to remind you of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the German Revolution of 1918.
With such a background, it was something of a political imperative, when the peace treaties in Versailles in 1919 were to be drafted, to include clauses which aimed to secure peace not only among nations but also among classes in the various countries.
At its very outset the Peace Conference took the unprecedented step of setting up an international committee for labor legislation. The committee consisted not only of government delegates but also of employers and employees, including Samuel Gompers1, the U.S.A. trade union leader, and France’s Leon Jouhaux. Politicians were represented by Harold Butler2 of the United Kingdom and Eduard Benes3 of Czechoslovakia.
In this way the ILO, along with the League of Nations, became part of the Versailles treaties, in which guidelines for international socio-political cooperation were laid down.4
Reading this special section of the Versailles Treaty and bearing in mind that it was written in 1919, one is compelled to agree with Paal Berg5 when he declares that this was one of the most remarkable diplomatic documents ever seen. In the Treaty, for instance, is the following:
…the League of Nations has for its object the establishment of universal peace, and such a peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice.
And whereas conditions of labor exist involving such injustice, hardship, and privation to large numbers of people as to produce unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperiled; and an improvement of those conditions is urgently required: as, for example, by the regulation of the hours of work, including the establishment of a maximum working day and week, the regulation of the labor supply, the prevention of unemployment, the provision of an adequate living wage, the protection of the worker against sickness, disease and injury arising out of his employment, the protection of children, young persons and women, provision for old age and injury, protection of the interests of workers when employed in countries other than their own, recognition of the principle of freedom of association, the organization of vocational and technical education and other measures; the failure of any nation to adopt humane conditions of labor is an obstacle in the way of other nations which desire to improve the conditions in their own countries.6
This statement is followed by the guidelines for the ILO and the principal tasks this organization should aim to accomplish. These are summed up in nine points, which have often been called the “Magna Carta” of the working class. Among other things these include: the principle that labor is not a piece of merchandise; the right of employees, as well as of employers, to organize themselves; the right of workers to receive a reasonable wage; the eight-hour day or the forty-eight-hour week; a ban on child labor; equal pay for men and women for the same work; and every country is furthermore to organize a system of labor inspection in which women, too, are to play their part in ensuring that labor legislation is adhered to.
The ILO was organized as a specialized organization, under the League of Nations, to carry out this program.
And what has been the result? Have the fine words in a solemn document come true, or were they merely writing in the sand, a remote vision glimpsed by impractical dreamers?
As we look at the world around us today, we must admit that many of the aims that the ILO set itself have been achieved in many parts of the industrialized world.
Working earnestly and untiringly, the ILO has succeeded in introducing reforms that have removed the most flagrant injustices in a great many countries, particularly in Europe. By means of a levering of income and a progressive policy of social welfare, the ILO has played its part in these countries in bridging the gap between rich and poor.
How has the ILO succeeded in carrying out such significant parts of its program?
I believe that part of the answer is to be found in the special form of organization peculiar to the ILO.
The ILO’s resolutions, passed at the annual Labor Conferences, are backed by discussions and negotiations in which not only government delegates participate, but also independent representatives of leading employers’ and employees’ organizations in every single country.
Joint discussions of problems between these three independent interest groups create a possibility of arriving at realistic solutions of important social problems, as well as of deciding how these measures are to be carried out in practice in the various countries.
This is the structure of the organization. But its decisive feature, what makes the mechanism work, is naturally the people themselves, farseeing men of goodwill, inspired with a belief in the possibility of building a peaceful world based on social justice.
What means are at the disposal of the ILO in order to implement its program?
In the first place, the ILO aims to create international legislation ensuring certain norms for working conditions in every country.
In the course of its fifty years of existence the ILO has adopted a total of 128 conventions and 132 recommendations. These cover a wide range, from working hours to equal pay for equal work, from health insurance to the abolition of forced labor, from social security for foreign workers to the task of securing the rights of trade unions.
But are these measures respected in the various countries, are they incorporated as part and parcel of the national laws? Or do delegates in Geneva vote for the most sweeping resolutions, which are then consigned to the bottom drawer in some government department after the delegates go home?
It is precisely in this area that the ILO, one of the first international organizations in the world to do so, has pioneered in the international sphere, by creating organs which carry out the work of supervising the implementation of the conventions adopted by member states and their embodiment in national law and practice.
Time does not permit me to illustrate this important point in detail. Let me merely mention that the ILO’s constitution obliges member states to draw up annual reports, stating what measures have been taken to observe the provisions contained in the ratified conventions.
Another important point is that the ILO constitution gives the organizations in a country the right to lodge a complaint if a government fails to carry out the conventions which the authorities of that country have ratified. The right to lodge a complaint also includes the right of a state to prosecute a member state for violating provisions in conventions that both states have ratified.
During these fifty years the ILO has adopted over 250 conventions and recommendations. And even though not all its 121 member countries have come anywhere close to ratifying all the conventions, I believe we are justified in saying that the ILO has permanently influenced the social welfare legislation of every single country.
Norway has not ratified all the conventions as yet, but I am glad to be able to state that Norway occupies seventh place among all member countries of the ILO with regard to the number of ratifications, having ratified a total of sixty-three out of 128 conventions.
The Norwegian minister of social welfare, Mr. Aarvik, declared at this year’s Labor Conference in Geneva that, “out of sixty-three agreements that our country has ratified, not less than forty-three have had an important influence on the development of working conditions and social welfare in Norway.”
When war broke out in 1939, the ILO was naturally faced with great difficulties. The organization moved to Montreal in Canada, where it continued its work for freedom and democracy against Nazism and dictatorship.
One of the most important events in the activities of the ILO during the war was the Labor Conference held in Philadelphia in 1944 on the occasion of the twenty-fifth jubilee of the organization.
Forty-one states, among them Norway, were represented at this conference. The Philadelphia Conference constitutes an historic milestone in the development of the ILO, because, apart from confirming the principles of the organization as adopted in 1919, it also drafted a declaration expressing a new and more dynamic conception of the ILO’s aims and responsibilities with regard to combating insecurity and poverty.
At the invitation of President Roosevelt the conference was concluded with a meeting in the White House in Washington. In a speech to the conference, Roosevelt stated that the Philadelphia Declaration was an historic document on a level with the United States’ own Declaration of Independence in 1776.
When the war was over and the United Nations Organization was established in 1945, the ILO was linked to UNO as an independent specialized organization.
The ILO now had a far wider field of action than it had enjoyed during its first twenty-five years.
Just as it may be said that one of the motivating forces for the foundation and constitution of the ILO in 1919 was the social and political upheaval that followed in the wake of the First World War, so we can say that shifts in the international political balance of power after the Second World War proved deciding factors in expanding the aims of the ILO from 1945 on.
The old European colonial powers disintegrated, and over sixty new states were given independent status on the map of the world and in time, too, in the ILO. The ILO was no longer an essentially European organization dominated by the special conditions in industrialized Europe. The ILO had become primarily a global organization, whose membership represented practically all races and religions in the world, whose traditions, culture, and history, economic and social problems were entirely different from those with which the ILO had had to deal before the war.
After the First World War the main task of the ILO was to build a bridge between the poor and the rich within individual countries. After the Second World War its task was a far more formidable one, that of building a bridge between the poor and the rich nations.
Today it can be said that the dominant feature in the work of the ILO during the last twenty years has been technical aid programs in the developing countries. Working in close cooperation with UNO and its many specialized organizations – such as FAO, UNESCO, the World Health Organization, the International Atomic Energy Commission, and others and with financial support from UNO, the ILO has succeeded in carrying out research projects and making basic investments in developing countries, with a view to developing their agriculture, industry, and other sides of their economic life.
The birth of new states in Africa and Asia has not only enlarged the ILO’s scope of activity; it has also created a certain internal political tension in the Organization, which we sincerely hope can be overcome.
The basic reason for this tension is that the ILO’s special form of organization, with independent representatives for governments, for free trade union organizations, and for employers’ associations, has created problems with regard to the membership of new countries because many of them have not as yet developed free labor organizations. In these new countries, governments nominate both workers’ and employers’ representatives. This is in complete violation of one of the fundamental principles on which the whole organizational structure of ILO is based. As yet we do not know how this conflict will develop, but it is vital to the whole future of the ILO that it should be solved in such a way that the independent and political neutrality of the ILO can be preserved.
It is primarily the economic and social problems in the developing countries that have confronted the ILO with the tremendous task which it has undertaken to accomplish during the next ten years and which has been called the World Employment Program.
In the rich industrialized countries we consider an ample supply of labor a sign of wealth. Since the war we have also gradually learned the technique of controlling the economic climate in such a way that we have avoided the unemployment with which, as a mass phenomenon, we were familiar before the war.
In the developing countries, on the other hand, unemployment and underemployment are today social evils which hold millions of people in the grip of hopeless poverty.
A certain growth can be noted in the economic life of these countries, but on the other hand a population explosion is taking place which prevents this growth from promoting a rise in the standard of living of the whole nation.
Millions of people consequently live on the borderline of the physical subsistence level without any hope of enjoying their share in a progressive development.
The ILO calculates that by 1970 the population of the world will have reached a figure of 3,600,000,000 people. Of these, 1,500,000,000 will comprise able-bodied men and women. But in the course of the decade commencing in 1970, the able-bodied population of the world will increase by 280,000,000 people. It is disturbing to contemplate that the bulk of this growth, namely, 226,000,000 people, will take place in countries with the least possibility for finding them employment; whereas the industrialized countries, in which today there is frequently a pressing need to increase the labor force, will show an increase of only 56,000,000 people.
How then will the ILO tackle this gigantic task of finding work for the whole population of the world? And what possibilities has the ILO of solving the problem which has loomed largest during our century, that of reducing, nay, removing, the gap between the rich and the poor nations of the world, and of adjusting the population explosion to a harmonious, economic, and social evolution?
At the ILO’s Fiftieth-Jubilee Conference in Geneva this summer the director-general of the ILO, Mr. David A. Morse, expressed the hope he entertains for carrying out this plan in these words:
“Let us make it possible for future generations to look back on this fifty years’ jubilee conference as the prelude to an epoch, an epoch where the instinctive solidarity between the people of the world is mobilized in a joint worldwide attack on poverty.”
This massed campaign against poverty will not only be organized by the ILO – it will be supported by all the UNO special organizations, as part of UNO’s Second Development Decade.
The first task of the ILO will be to send experts to those parts of the world covered by the project – Latin America, Asia, and Africa – to work with national authorities in drawing up a long-term plan formulating objectives for vocational training and employment of the population.
The other task will be to participate in a program of action which will give effect to the plans that have been drawn up.
The ILO cannot, of course, on its own create new jobs; but it can give advice and help to countries desirous of putting their populations to work.
The ILO can assist in such areas as the implementation of agrarian reforms, agricultural projects, industrialization, public works, the development of training and vocational guidance programs, choice of investment possibilities, development of trade, and so on.
For this reason the ILO’s plan does not consist merely of collecting statistical data on the population aspects of the problems involved. It will also have a direct bearing on the entire economic and social development in these areas.
Through this work the ILO is endeavoring to promote the capacity of developing countries to help themselves. No help from outside, however well-intentioned and selfless it may be, can take the place of the developing countries’ own will to help themselves.
For this reason, carrying through the World Employment Program will prove a challenge both to the developing countries and to the industrialized countries; if they can work realistically together, they will also achieve their ideal aim, a world living in peaceful coexistence.
The ILO’s main task will be to ensure that this new world is based on social justice; in other words, to fulfill the command that is inscribed on the document in Geneva: “Si vis pacem, cole justitiam.” If you desire peace, cultivate justice.
And let us add, as a summing up of our experience during these fifty eventful years and as a guideline for the future: “Just as peace is indivisible, so also is justice.”
* Mrs. Lionaes, president of the Norwegian Lagting, delivered this speech on December 10, 1969, in the auditorium of the University of Oslo. She then presented the Nobel medal and diploma to Mr. David A. Morse who, as director-general of the ILO, made a brief speech of acceptance on behalf of the ILO. The English translation of Mrs. Lionaes’ speech is essentially that appearing in Les Prix Nobel en 1969, with certain editorial changes, as well as some minor emendations made after collation with the original Norwegian text which also appears in Les Prix Nobel en 1969.
2. Harold Beresford Butler (1883-1951), secretary to British Ministry of Labor (1917), Deputy Director (1920-1932) and director of International Labor Office (1932-1938); British minister to U.S.A. (1942-1946).
Their work and discoveries range from how cells adapt to changes in levels of oxygen to our ability to fight global poverty.
See them all presented here.