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The International Trade-Union Movement and the Founding of the International Labour Organization


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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The present article presents some findings from the research project “Trade-Union Federations as Transnational Actors: The International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) and Its Influence on the International Labour Organization (ILO) Between the Two World Wars” [“Gewerkschaftsdachverbände als transnationale Akteure: Der Internationale Gewerkschaftsbund (IGB) und sein Wirkungsfeld in der Internationalen Arbeitsorganisation (IAO) in der Zwischenkriegszeit”]. This project has been financed by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for this journal for their critical remarks on the first draft.
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International Review of Social History
  • ISSN: 0020-8590
  • EISSN: 1469-512X
  • URL: /core/journals/international-review-of-social-history
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