One BIG Success Of The League
In Geneva, once the Rome of Calvinism and now the Oxford of international politics, there opened on June 2 an International Labour Conference.
If you read your Times or your Manchester Guardian carefully in the days following June 2, you will learn of the business attended to at the Conference; of what has been done about reducing the working hours in all industries, about getting justice for migrant workers, and about spreading the conception of the native as a human being and not simply an adjective denon:ng a particularly cheap form of human labour.
These among other things will be discussed at the Conference. After the talk there will be action. A delegation including Mr. Leggett, the British Government delegate to the Conference, a Belgian worker and a Dutch employer will leave for South Africa to investigate labour conditions on the spot.
But of all this it is doubtful if you will read anything except in the newspapers previously mentioned.
British Press Ignores I.L.O.
On the whole the British Press considers the International Labour Office and the work it does as completely without news value. Certainly the I.L.O. gives the Press little encouragement to think otherwise.
It sends out reports so dull that no normal man would want to read them, and journalists, being on the whole normal men, do not read them. Therefore of this most successful branch of the activities of the League of Nations the Englishman knows very little.
The Conference which has just begun is a kind of world industrial parliament which meets at least once every year. It is—in its own sphere—like a League Assembly with the difference that it carries through things with a good amount of success.
Each country which belongs to the International Labour Office — and that is nearly every country, for Japan, Brazil, and U.S.A., which are non-League countries, are nevertheless members—sends four delegates, two AathQ are direct representatives of the Government and Iwo .appointed by the Government but in.agreement with the most representative associations of employers and wort=keTis, respectively in the country.
What These Conventions Are
All the delegates may bring technical advisers, whose job is just to advise and nothing else. The Conference never does more than pass Conventions.
A Convention is a piece of draft legislation which is forwarded to the various governments for approval or disapproval within a certain period. If approval is given then the country undertakes to abide by the provisions of the Convention and to report on its methods of doing so, every year to the I.L.O.
In the drafting of these conventions the I.L.O. is severely realist. Nothing is done unless there is enough general agreement among the chief industrial countries to guarantee the possibility of individual governments backing up the proposed convention by subsequent legislation.
This solid scepticism seems to have been the very best attitude to take towards a world monopolistically interested in keeping profits up and labour costs down, for the 1.L.O. in its twenty years of existence has managed to do a surprising amount for all those millions who are hired and paid for their hire.
By July I, 1937, sixty-two International Labour Conventions had been concluded.
Here are some of the things which these conventions have proposed.
The very first thing was the establishment of an eight-hour day and a forty eight-hour week in 1919. By 1935 the principle of the forty-hour week had been adopted and it is now being put to practice gradually by individual application to each industry, beginning with the glass bottle industry, public works and the textile industry.
Restrictions have been made about the employment of children. As a general rule no one under the age of fifteen may be employed in industry, or under fourteen in agriculture. Young persons under eighteen may not be put on night work in industries of bakeries, or at sea unless a medical certificate is produced showing that they are fit for the work.
Much has been done also for the protection of women, though not always with the approval of the more truculent feminists, who are apt to regard any such pro tection, even when it is so obviously beneficial, as the prohibition of employing women in mines, as an audacious interference with their freedom.
However, even the fiercest feminist can find no flaw in the proposition that women in industry shall enjoy rest periods before
and after confinement, and free medical
attendance and safeguards against dismissal from their jobs.
It is to England's disgrace that she has not yet ratified this convention.
In agriculture it has been difficult to work out any precise rules because conditions vary so enormously, and hours of labour are dependent on the weather and the climate. One very important step has been taken, however. That is the decision that agricultural workers should have the same right of association as the people in industry.
Quite a lot has been done also by making recommendations for improved technical education, and improved housing accommodation for agricultural workers, and for the preventing of unemployment.
Some Vicious Things
ln its work of improving social conditions all over the work! the LL.O. has brought some fairly vicious things to light.
In the British-owned and Japanese-owned cotton mills in Shanghai men worked in shifts of twelve hours.
In mills owned by Chinese they worked fourteen hours. In some places the filth was such that 70 per cent. of the workers were—according to a British Consular report " advanced consumptives at an age at which many young people have scarcely completed their studies.
In Chinese carpet factories children of seven and eight were employed. They had to work all night in some cases, and it was common for them to develop abscesses on the face and scalp which often resulted in early blindness.
All this was happening in 1924. China has since worked out an enlightened factory plan which, however, has been difficult to put efficiently and universally into practice because of the disorder and war which have afflicted the country.
In Egypt in 1930 half the workers in the ginning factories were under fifteen, many were under nine. They worked from 5 a.m. till 8 p.m., without even regular pauses for meals. Itwas customary to clank irons and blow whistles in order to keep the children awake. Wages varied from two up to four piastres a day.
In Persia the carpet factories employed children of five who were all day weaving in dark stuffy rooms. They had to sit on narrow planks hung up in the air, so that they could not get down unless they were lifted.
Because they worked constantly in this one position their legs became permanently bent, and they grew up in deformity. A great many, however, did not have to endure this lasting ugliness and pain, for they died in early childhood.
These things the I.L.O. has destroyed for good. Both in Egypt and Persia, new labour codes are now in force, which restrict a great deal the employing of children under the age of fifteen, and provide working conditions which are at least tolerable.
There have been other affairs not so comfortingly far away.
In the old days they would have Written : It's a far call from Blackpool to Isfahan, but we can say simply: It's a darned long way, and leave it at that. But although it is a darned long way, working conditions are not always proportionately different.
When you hear that in 1931 girls of fourteen were in some cases working 674 hours a week, butchers' boys were working 74 hours a week, and van boys working as much as 80 or 90, you feel not quite so cheerful—about Black pool and England.
Horror of Phossy-jaw
Altogether the International Labour Office has quite a full time.
The world, where the Christian idea has been lost, insists perversely in forcing negroes to work for the white man (calling it forced labour instead of slavery, though according to an I.L.O. report, " working condi.ions make it difficult sometimes to distinguish the difference "), in forcing employees in match factories to use white nhosnhorus. which is cheaner than red diseases, as a general fragility of the bones, or mental dullness, or phossy-jaw (a disease in which the jaw ulcerates and rots away, assuming a coral-like appearance), and in doing all the other injustices which do not always show themselves in some obvious ill-effect like fever or deformity, but sap the mind of the worker of responsible thought and care of his personal integrity.
Cut Out the Dullness
The International Labour Office corn plains that it gets little public notice, and that the people " have the impression that its work is dry, technical and unintelligible." All of which is largely the fault of the International Labour Office.
If it will employ to write its reports, those curious men who are comfortable only with figures and lists of names, who write on the work that is being done for the lives of men (men who eat and sleep and drink and grow merry, and become sad, and love and copulate) as if this work were the deadness of theory, then how can it expect the people to care or understand its work.
There is an odd idea held by the I.L.O., and by government departments, among other bodies, that the men they choose to describe their work need no other qualifications than a certain knowledge of the things they try to describe.
Whether these men can think clearly and express themselves simply, does not apparently matter. But it does. Such dullness that they produce is dead stuff, and must be excised, and indeed is excised from the experience of all reasonable beings.