Forty years of struggle on behalf of social justice
The ILO was born in 1919 but its origin is to be found in the introduction of steam driven machinery into the factories nearly a century earlier. This produced an industrial revolution of which the two main features were immensely greater production than had been possible by unaided human labour and conditions for factory workers as revolting as the worst forms of slavery.
The effort of the workers to defend themselves against pitiless exploitation led to the formation of trades unions. Simultaneously, as public opinion became increasingly shocked by conditions in the factories, an effort was made to secure legislation setting up minimum standards of employment.
Since the goods produced had to compete on the international market, it speedily became apparent that both these efforts must take on an international character.
Trades unions established international federations; and an international association for international labour legislation was formed by those who were active in seeking remedial measures by legal enactment.
This latter body had no official character; it Was unable to do more than formulate proposals in the hope that some enlightened government might initiate diplomatic action to bring them into operation. The results were meagre but they pointed the road along which progress could be made.