- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2003

The U.N. International Labor Organization, winner of the 1946 Nobel Peace Prize, was founded in 1919. It is the only surviving major creation of the Treaty of Versailles that brought the League of Nations into being, and it became the first specialized agency of the U.N. in 1946. Its self-described mandate is to promote social justice and internationally recognized human and labor rights.

OK, enough history. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that like so many U.N. institutions, the ILO is in the process of betraying its mandate as it did in the days when the Soviet Union and its satellites dominated the politics of the ILO. This time, the betrayal is the work of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. More below.

The ILO, headquartered in Geneva, is endowed with two sacred writs:

• Convention No. 87, which among its articles says “workers and employers are guaranteed the right to establish and … to join organizations of their own choosing.”

c Convention No. 98 protects workers against anti-union discrimination and encourages collective bargaining.

These rights are respected in democratic countries and flouted in communist or theocratic countries. There are no genuine free-trade unions in one-party states anymore than there are strikes or collective bargaining.

Nevertheless, the Soviet Union and Communist China were not only ILO members but they dominated the organization’s proceedings as the 56-member Arab and Muslim OIC does today.

Conditions in those days got so bad that in 1975 George Meany, the then AFL-CIO president, withdrew the American labor delegates from the ILO.

Meany’s action forced the U.S. government to withdraw as well and to stop dues payments to the ILO, which represented a loss of one-quarter of the ILO budget. The AFL-CIO returned to the ILO when it reformed itself. With Muslim-Arab power now in the ascendant, it is time to consider another withdrawal, assuming that the ILO is reformable.

For what the Arab-Muslim-dominated ILO has this month organized in the annual International Labor Conference the setting up, according to the National Post, a special critical session focused entirely on Israel for alleged mistreatment of Palestinian workers within Israel and the so-called occupied territories. This is politicization of a U.N. agency where some of the worst violators of human and labor rights are members, notably Communist China. This politicization has now been carried to an extreme by a group of countries where few, if any, free trade unions exist. And, of course, there are no special ILO sessions on labor conditions in, say, Saudi Arabia or Syria or Iran. Few Arab countries have free, independent trade unions. But in the ILO as in the U.N. General Assembly Israel is the culprit. Always.

Even worse is how the ILO ignores the plight of women workers in Arab and Muslim countries. ILO resolutions demand elimination of discrimination in the workplace but the percentage of women workers in these countries are among the smallest internationally in the low ‘teens compared with Israel, where women comprised in 2000 almost half the work force, according to ILO figures.

Following the 1975 AFL-CIO withdrawal from the ILO, then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote:

“The ILO Conference for some years now has shown an appallingly selective concern in the applications of the ILO’s basic conventions on freedom of association and forced labor. It pursues the violations of human rights in some member states. It grants immunity from such citation to others. This seriously undermines the credibility of the ILO’s support of freedom of association, which is central to its tripartite structure, and strengthens the proposition that these human rights are not universally applicable, but rather are subject to different interpretations for states with different political systems.”

Should free trade unions participate in the ILO? Is it time for free trade unions to walk out once more, and not participate in a mass hypocrisy called the International Labor Conference?

Why not?

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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