War kills workers (Labor Day 2012)

You are probably familiar with the names of some Nobel Peace Prize winners—for example, Desmond Tutu, Linus Pauling, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Leon Jouhaux

Nobel Prize portrait of Leon Jouhaux, in public domain.

But can you name the 1969 winner of the Peace Prize?

It was the International Labour Organization (ILO). Yes, a labor organization won a Nobel Peace Prize. This should not be surprising given the historical connection between labor movements and peace movements.

The ILO, like the League of Nations (forerunner to the United Nations), grew out of the deadliness and devastation of World War I. It was the first specialized agency within the U.N.

Included in the Treaty of Versailles that ended WWI, the preamble of the ILO constitution says, “Universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice.”  Can anyone fault this belief?

The Treaty of Versailles also included three proposals from American delegates to the peace commission:

  • “that labor should not be treated as a commodity;
  • that all workers had the right to a wage sufficient to live on;
  • and that women should receive equal pay for equal work.”

Have these commitments been achieved? Won and lost? Why?

In their 1969 acceptance speech, the ILO quoted 1951 Nobel Peace Prize winner Leon Jouhaux, who warned that:

“War not only kills workers by thousands and millions, and destroys their homes…but also, by increasing men’s feelings of impotence before the forces of violence, it holds up considerably the progress of humanity toward the age of justice, welfare, and peace.”

On this Labor Day, let’s honor the work of labor on behalf of peace and social justice.

Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology

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6 Responses to War kills workers (Labor Day 2012)

  1. Goldust Twin says:

    I read David Morse’s 1969 acceptance speech and was particularly impressed with the challenge presented near its end:
    The ILO has given the world the concept of the industrial dialogue; in the years to come it must seek to broaden the scope, and increase the substance, of that dialogue. And it will be for other organizations – national and international – to transpose both the concept and the substance to all aspects of national life – to the schools and universities, to the churches, to the political parties and central and local government, to the youth clubs and welfare services – if society as a whole is to attain the cohesion and the sense of collective responsibility which are so essential to its survival.

  2. Barbara says:

    I became more of a pacifist during the Vietnam War, convinced by articles and history books (such as I never saw in high school), that most wars are engineered and fostered when they might be avoided, that “incidents” are deliberately allowed to happen in order to arouse the ire and fighting spirit of American citizens, who then patriotically donate their sons to the carnage on distant shores. As our involvement with Vietnam escalated, I longed to go up in a private plane and shower copies of Zinn’s Vietnam: the Logic of Withdrawal on the White House. But I guessed that was illegal.
    Father Robert Drinan’s book, Vietnam Armageddon, clinched my pacifism. His courage and common sense in questioning the so called “justifiable” wars of the past and recommending unilateral disarmament made beautiful reading. I wholeheartedly agreed with the morality expressed in the quotation from Professor Zinn: “It is better to perish as the victim of the inhumanity of others than to save oneself (or one’s nation) by making others the victims of our inhuman acts.

  3. John Hess says:

    Hi Kathie. Thanks for this post. The only issue I have is with some of the labor movement itself, the significant part that supports war and used to support racism. Unions are vitally important to the well being of any nation, but it is important not to grant unions sainthood. They are very imperfect organizations, so often rife with corruption and favoritism, and so many of the members are often quite conservative in a mean and aggressive sense, not in the genuine, respectful sense. Having been active in a union for many years, I can say that it is a wonderful and at the same time often frustrating experience. Too few people have to do too much of the work. But that’s always the case in volunteer organizations. Keep up the great work.

  4. Jonathan Pak says:

    It seems strange that an International Labour Organization (ILO) won a Nobel Peace Prize but when considering the contributing factors to family violence, a labor organization alleviates many stressors on at-risk individuals. The root of a lot of the variables is instability in the home caused by either external or internal factors. In Family Violence in a Cultural Perspective, Malley-Morrison and Hines discuss approaching the stressors by categorizing them into various systems (Malley-Morrison and Hines 17). The Exosystem focuses on “contextual factors that are external to the individual and the family, such as poverty or unemployment” (Malley-Morrison & Hines 19). In almost every type of maltreatment, poverty correlates with the perpetrator which is part of the Exosystem. The second proposal in the Treaty of Versailles, “all workers had the right to a wage sufficient to live on”, fights for the self-sufficiency of individuals. When the external stressors of the Exosystem can be provided, at-risk individuals can be that much more able to deal with other stressors more effectively.
    With the stability of wages and employment, families can focus on microsystem stressors such as, “overcrowding, too many children, and children with disabilities” with more freedom and focus (Malley-Morrison & Hines 19). The ILO undoubtedly deserves the Nobel Peace Prize because the ILO really understands this issue and works to tackle it effectively and practically. The preamble of the ILO captured it very well: “universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice”. The stance and approach of the ILO in its pursuit of world peace attacks the root of violence and addresses the necessity of fair labor. By regulating fair labor and compensation, the exosystem stressors can be resolved and the microsystem stressors can be properly addressed. No matter how effective the prevention or intervention programs for whatever type of maltreatment, without the security of fair labor and compensation, the families will never be self-sustaining in the long-term.
    Considering the interaction between the exosystem and microsystem of at-risk families for child neglect, the stressors of both systems needed to be addressed in order to provide long-term sustainability. In Family Violence in the United States, Hines and Malley-Morrison discussed that the “problems of being unemployed, unmarried, and socially isolated may be the key variables that separate poor neglectful families from poor, nonneglectful families” (Hines and Malley-Morrison 142). When reading about the third proposal of the Treaty Versailles, “women should receive equal pay for equal work”, this could help provide at-risk single-mother families a real first step in sustainability. By providing equal pay, these families could have the same compensation that they desperately need. The provision of concrete resources is the first focus of intervention and prevention for neglectful families (Hines and Malley-Morrison 149). The ILO and the proposals of the Treaty of Versailles captures the necessary actions to provide susceptible families with long-term sustainability.

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