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Sylvia Merrill

ILO Meet a Capitalist Side-Show

(May 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 19, 8 May 1944, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

PHILADELPHIA – The fanfare and cordiality with which the Capitalist press has greeted the opening of the International Labor Organization conference, which began its sessions here April 20, should cast much suspicion upon it.

Aside from the method by which the votes are allotted to the delegates – two to government, one to the employers and one to labor – the very fact that the men who every day of their lives fight the unions suddenly come to map out plans for the benefit of all the people is like asking the workers to believe that the leopards have changed their spots.

The “Spotted Leopards”

For example, seated across from labor’s delegates, and seeking a common solution to problems that confront the world, we find a representative from the Bolivian tin mines. The latter and their owner, Simon Patino, have received quite a bit of bad publicity in recent months. The intolerable conditions of work, the low wages paid and the coolie existence of the mine workers have caused strike after strike in these mines.

The mines yield tremendous profits. They also yield disease and misery to the workers. Yet in far away Philadelphia the representative of Simon Patino has come to work out a better world for all the people! But it would seem that this were not ironical enough. A representative of the Bolivian government has come to aid in the good work – and he, as all the newspapers openly admit, is also a representative of Simon Patino.

Here in our own country the situation is quite similar. The owners of the mines, mills and factories of the United States are suddenly to become great philanthropists. And what of England, where the miners have been on strike for a raise in wages? Talk is cheap, and that is all that we shall get from the meetings of the ILO. More it cannot give. To give more it would have to dig into the pockets of the powers that be – and that, as we know from our day-to-day experience, takes more than talk.

Side-Show of the League

The ILO was first organized as a side-show of the League of Nations, and it was just about as ineffective as the League – if anything, a little more so. The ILO has confined itself, for most of its history, to folding conferences and issuing reports, some valuable, on the conditions of labor internationally. The concept on which the ILO was founded – collaboration between employer and employee – has long ago made its retreat to an ivory tower. All around it the struggles of the workers go on – AGAINST THE VERY BOSSES WITH WHOM THE ILO WOULD HAVE THE WORKERS COLLABORATE FOR THEIR “MUTUAL” BENEFIT. The ILO seeks to reconcile the irreconcilable: capital’s greed for more and more profits – labor’s desire for a decent standard of living.

The current conference is no exception to this. Whereas its functions in the past have been routine and not very breathtaking, this year the Allies in their need for an additional bolster to the tottering facade they have built up about a better world and four freedoms, have taken out the ILO, dusted it off and given it some functions.

The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin on the opening day of the conference editorialized that: “It is not possible immediately to write into the statute books many of the provisions which the ILO recommends for the prosperity and security of labor. But it is a step forward to have some of the aims for which the world is striving clearly stated.” EVEN BEFORE THE CONFERENCE BEGINS, ITS OBITUARY HAS BEEN WRITTEN.

No sooner has the sessions begun than a dispute broke out around the seating of the Argentine labor delegate on the ground that the Argentine government is fascist and hence the trade union representative could not be seated since he did not represent free unions. The irony of it all was that the issue was raised by Toledano of the Mexican unions, who is an active agent of Stalin. The latter never even asked the so-called trade unions of Russia whether they wanted to be present.

Of course, no one raised the embarrassing question of who had appointed the delegate from Brazil, or what kind of country it is. Vargas, the dictator of Brazil, is an ally and [line of text missing] The delegates to a truly international gathering of labor would be chosen not by what government is supporting what policy, but independently and according, to the importance of the labor organization involved. That this is not the case at the ILO conference is further illustrated by the fact that while there are delegates from every two-by-four government in exile, and despite the fact that there are numerous men and women in this country who represent the labor movement of Germany as it was before Hitler came to power, none of these German labor representatives was present.

Labor must indeed act internationally, but labor solidarity and internationalism cannot be part of a show that is determined by the power politics of the capitalists.

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