News Room

BUIRA History of Industrial Relations Study Group: Assessing the ILO and its history

Assessing the ILO and its history, with

Professor Marcel van der Linden (International Institute of Social History) and

Dr Rebecca Gumbrell-McCormick (Birkbeck College)


Thursday 5 March 2020, 4.00-6.00pm

Room C379, University of Westminster Business School, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS (opposite Madame Tussauds, nearly opposite Baker Street tube)


For further details or to reserve a place, please email Michael Gold ( or Linda Clarke (



3.30-3.50pm: Tea/ coffee/ refreshments

3.50-4.00: Welcome: Michael Gold and Linda Clarke (Chairs)


Marcel van der Linden:  The ILO: a critical appraisal after one hundred years

The question I want to raise is straightforward: How can we appraise the record of the ILO since its founding in 1919? What are the results and future prospects of its efforts? Is the organization truly inconsequential, a "90-pound weakling,” a "toothless tiger," as critics have argued?  These questions are difficult to answer. Not only because of the variegated history of the ILO, rife with ongoing controversies, but also because the literature on the subject is overwhelming.  I will argue that the first half century of the ILO consisted of “fat years”, in which regulating the global labour market achieved limited but clear progress, and that the second half century was a time of “lean years”, when the ILO accomplished less. I will illustrate this by showing how the relative attainments from the period until around 1970 were subsequently weakened. Unless it manages to reinvent itself in the near future, the organization is now in danger of further marginalization.


Rebecca Gumbrell-McCormick: The ILO and the International Labour Movement

The international labour movement has played a major role in working within the ILO structures, promoting the adoption of new international labour standards, and pushing for their full implementation. The international trade union bodies, which were instrumental in the founding of the ILO in 1919, have helped to shape it and provide it with reliable interlocutors. Drawing on previous work on the ITUC and the international labour movement more generally, Rebecca will focus on the role of the ITUC and its associated bodies (including the GUFs) in a) the development of new labour standards, focusing particularly on the Domestic Workers’ Convention, b) on its role in the resolution of the long-running conflict over the right to strike, and c) on the broader issue of the relations between the two bodies: have the international trade unions become overly dependent, even symbiotic, with the ILO, and what are the differing views within the global labour movement on these relations? Should they be changed, in the light of a new, more independent and campaigning approach to the global labour movement?

6pm: Close (followed by drinks until 6.00pm)

The speakers:

Marcel van der Linden is Honorary Fellow and former Research Director of the International Institute of Social History (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences),

Rebecca Gumbrell-McCormick is a senior lecturer in the Department of Management, Birkbeck College, University of London.


10th February 2020