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Defining Global Justice and the International Labor Organization

hydrarchist writes: "Book Review: Defining Global Justice and the ILO

Defining Global Justice: The History of U.S. International Labor
Standards Policy.
By Edward C. Lorenz. (Notre Dame, Indiana, 2001. Pp.
X, 318. Index.)

Edward C. Lorenz's Defining Global Justice gives us the first attempt at
a broad overview of the history of the role of the United States in the
International Labor Organization. Based on an impressive command of a
wide variety of sources, this well organized and clearly written account
explains how the social gospel movement, progressive era reformers,
academics and attorneys, feminists and consumers, and labor unions
attempted to shape an international organization that could establish
standards to protect workers around the world.

Lorenz explains how organizations such as the American Association for
Labor Legislation and the National Consumer's League worked to influence
ILO policy. His particular strength lies in showing the role of policy
makers, political leaders and ILO officials. One such figure is
Republican Party Progressive and former New Hampshire governor John
Winant, who would eventually serve as ILO director. Lorenz shows how
Winant's empirical approach provided leadership to the ILO between the
1930s and 1950s.

Yet, while he starts with a story about exploitation in the Mexican
maquiladoras, and writes from a position of sympathy with workers,
Lorenz's approach to analyzing the history of the U.S. and ILO-and most
important what to make of that history-prove inadequate. Lorenz cannot
break with the Cold War framework that focuses on the role of the U.S.
and the struggle against Communism. He writes about the Soviet's
state-controlled labor unions and lack of workers' rights, but fails to
mention the role of the AFL-CIO in backing the State Department and the
CIA in thwarting radical nationalist and leftist labor movements in
developing countries. Not surprisingly then, Lorenz praises George Meany
as a genuine populist leader of the labor movement who advanced humanist
ideals, rather than seeing him as partner of the U.S. State Department
and American corporations.

Lorenz believes that the progressive coalitions of earlier eras, and
Meany's struggle with the ILO in the 1970s, prove that dedicated
populists working within the framework of American political pluralism,
and committed to the ILO's tripartite structure, can force governments
and corporations to take workers' rights into account. The message would
seem to be that coalitions of labor bureaucrats, reform-minded
capitalists, and political liberals could make workers' rights a reality
today. Yet, he himself recognizes that the ILO, while establishing
standards as lofty ideals, has never been able to meaningfully enforce

What might make for meaningful change for workers on a world scale? In
passing Lorenz alludes to the theory that the ILO owes its very
existence to the strength of European socialism and the Russian
Revolution. Such a theory, which would focus our attention on class
struggle, offers another more fruitful way of understanding and fighting
for workers' rights. Toward the end of Defining Global Justice, Lorenz
mentions the Battle of Seattle in 1999 where radical youth,
environmentalists, and labor unions forced the shutdown of the World
Trade Organization meeting. That kind of struggle--magnified a thousand
fold--would lead to some meaningful changes in workers rights. The future
lies not in political pluralism and tripartite arrangements, but in
class struggle.

Reviewed by Dan La Botz, Visiting Assistant Professor of History and
Latin American Stuides, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. La Botz is the
author of Mask of Democracy: Labor Suppression in Mexico Today and most
recently Made in Indonesia: Indonesian Workers Since Suharto.

This article was published by Mexican Labor News and Analysis, a monthly
collaboration of the Mexico City-based Authentic Labor Front (FAT), the
Pittsburgh-based United Electrical Workers (UE)
(HTTP://www.ueinternational.org>) and AMERICAS.ORG

Contact Editor Dan La Botz at
danlabotz@cs.com or 513-861-8722. For a free e-mailed subscription, send
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