The International Labor Conference
RECOMMENDATIONS AND REPORTS
By WALTER NASH, Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
Broadcast over Columbia Broadcasting System, in New York, May 13, 1944
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 542-544.
THE Twenty-sixth Session of the International Labor Conference has just concluded. The past three weeks since the Conference convened have been strenuous for the delegates. The Agenda was a particularly formidable me. As usually is the case with large and formal international gatherings of this kind the Conference was a little Bow in getting underway, but it gathered momentum steadily, and as the final stage was approached it was possible to look back on three weeks of solid and encouraging achievement. Men and women from 43 nations met together to try and find a way through the clouds that have overhung the world for so many years—for the past four years with unprecedented blackness.
We take heart, however, from the fact that at long last we can perceive the sunlight filtering through with a vision if a different postwar world unfolding truly amazing possibilities of a better life for all.
The unfolding of these possibilities is going to be long and slow and a rather painful process. But if we face up to our postwar responsibilities with the same resolution, courage and will to win that so many men and women have displayed during the past four frightful years, ft will at last be possible to avoid much of the suffering and chaos that previously characterized the transition from war to peace or shall we say from war to war.
The proceedings of this Conference and particularly the conclusions which have been reached convince me, asI am sure they convince the world that this responsibility is fully and widely accepted. Let us not deceive ourselves as to the difficulties which lie ahead. Serious men and women will see these difficulties, will determine to overcome them— will devote to this task all the goodwill, the energy, the skill, imagination and inventive genius at their command.
There will be times when the problems seem insoluble. There were times during the Conference when the prospects of reaching general agreement on the road that should be followed seemed remote. Yet there was scarcely a major issue discussed in Committees, in Plenary Sessions, in Group Meetings, on which in due course an accepted basis of agreement was not reached.
As the days passed, and the work of the Committees continued, understanding between the delegates grew more and more. This growing understanding, I believe, was reflected in the spirit with which the Committees carried out their work. It also contributed tremendously to the completeness with which the Committees reported on the matters referred to them and to the surprising unanimity with which theit recommendations were accepted.
These recommendations and reports will, I believe, have greater significance in relation to postwar economic and social policies than the decisions of any previous international Conference of a similar kind.
It is difficult to single out any one particular achievement for special mention. It seems not too rash to predict, however,that the Declaration which we adopted on Tuesday last, will go down in history as one of the most significant documents of our time; it is in my opinion the greatest social charter that has yet been published. It does much more than merely to re-state the aims and purposes of the International Labour Organization. It emphasizes some of the things that have still to be done—some of the conditions that have still to be met—some of the aspirations that have still to be realized —before the ideals for which this war is being fought have been fully safeguarded. What is the Declaration? It says—
1. That labor is not a commodity;
2. That freedom of expression and of association are essential to sustained progress;
3. That poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere;
4. That the war against want requires to be carried on with unrelenting vigor within each nation, and by continuous and concerted international effort.
5. That all human beings, irrespective of race, creed or sex, have the right to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity of economic security and equal opportunity.
6. That the attainment of the conditions in which this shall be possible must constitute the central aim of national and international policy;
7. That all national and international policies and measures, in particular those of an economic and financial character, should be judged in this light and accepted only in so far as they may be held to promote and not to hinder the achievement of this fundamental objective;
It is impossible, however, to over-emphasize the fact that the Declaration will not be worth the paper it is printed on unless there is action, positive action, vigorous action, courageous action, to give effect to its principles.
The Declaration and the Recommendations that have been adopted lay the foundation for the postwar world. The constructive task of building upon this foundation is one to which we must still dedicate our efforts and our resolve. The major objective I suggest is freedom, freedom for everybody for all men and all women everywhere—freedom in its fullest and widest possible meaning.
"Freedom" unfortunately is a word that has been so much and so loosely used during the last decade or so that it has lost its force; but its value still remains. "Freedom" in the best, and in fact, the only sense in which the word can be used, necessarily implies conditions in which it can be experienced and enjoyed to the full. There can be no freedom where there is hunger; there can be no freedom where there is ill-health.
After the Conference I felt that poverty can be abolished. It has not been ordained by God. Its abolition depends on one thing and one thing only—on the will and the determination of those people who believe that it can and must be eliminated wherever it exists.
The Declaration adopted will, if we allow its principles to guide our future conduct abolish poverty and want, and the fear of poverty and want, throughout the world.
Because of this I regard the Declaration as a statement of social principles that will ring in the ears of all those who are today denied the material well-being, and the spiritual comfort, which only true freedom can guarantee to them.
Our meetings have taken place on the eve of the greatest military offensive of all time. For nearly two years forces have been gathering in Britain and in Ireland and in other places to strike the blow that will free Europe, and then release the men and machines and equipment needed to bringfreedom to Asia also.
It is important that we should recognize the fighting capacity of our enemy. At the moment he is holding the major forces of the world at bay. He still has a large part of Europe and of Asia in his relentless grip. The victory of the United Nations in this war is now only a matter of time. It may be near. Of the outcome, there is no longer any doubt. Yet we should not dismiss too lightly the effort that still lies ahead.
If the war is over soon things may be less hard for Germany in the years that follow. Retribution will be severe in any case, but it is possible to be stern without being vindictive. If the war is not over soon, then the hatred that has been pent up in the hearts and minds of those who have suffered the cruelties and hardships of the past four years will be even greater than anything yet known. Hatred, however, cannot solve our problems. Unless we find some constructive means of avoiding a similar occurrence we will have failed in our greatest purpose and have fought in vain.
It is not for me to express the feelings of men and women who have lost their families—who have seen their homes razed to the ground—who have suffered the horrors and brutalities of concentration camps—I cannot conceive how human-beings will react under experiences and conditions of that type. But I do know that unless we find a way of living with one another when this conflict is over, then it will come again. We have a responsibility to the many who have sacrificed so much to see that this does not happen.
We adopted during the International Labour Conference another Declaration as to what we felt should be done in connection with the occupied countries.
One job—the job of those in the so-called free-countries is to help the occupied countries to help themselves. France and Belgium, Norway, Holland, Denmark, and Greece, and Poland and Yugoslavia and the others can regain their full freedom only by their own nationals and through their own efforts. By full freedom I mean more than liberation. We
can help by giving them the materials for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of their countries; but it must be Frenchmen that save France, Belgians that save Belgium, Dutchmen that save Holland, Norwegians that save Norway, and Greeks that save Greece. They alone can do what must be done, though we can help. We owe much to them for their resistance under unprecedented conditions of hardship and torture and tension. It is a debt that we gladly acknowledge.
We will, however, have to look to the world of the future and to assure those men who have fought—those men and women who have suffered during the past four years—that we are not going back to the old conditions;—we are not going to betray everything for which they have given their lives. What is immediately required is to lay down for future guidance, general principles of social policy. This was done at Philadelphia. But these principles must be rapidly translated into conditions that will make freedom from want an accomplished fact within the next few years.
Just a word with regard to the men who have gone away. It is easy to put into words the urges of our hearts and minds—not always so easy to put them into practice. Yet I could not emphasize too strongly that inside the possibility of its achievement, no man or woman who fought for their country should be worse oS because they did so fight, and no one should be better off because they did not fight.
We must consider especially the disabled man and his rehabilitation. Joy comes to disabled men, not in receiving a pension, but in being able to put a foot down on the ground in place of the one that has been destroyed; in being able to use hands when the originals have been shot away; in being able to see and to feel and to do things without eyes. It is that which we have to do—to help the man and the woman, who have been marred and scarred by this terrible conflict, to come back and live a full and useful life again.
So much for the men of war. There are other sides to the problems of the present and postwar world. For some time I have been studying statistics in regard to expectation of life and whilst statistics do not always prove the case that they are supposed to prove they are often very revealing. The expectation of life of 67 years in one little country in the South Pacific alongside an expectation of life of less than 27 years in a thickly populated country in Asia cannot be permanently maintained. We cannot permanently have 67/27 standard. Another problem: The idea of superior people in the sense of their being inherently superior is wrong. There are no inherently superior people. There are superior peoples, collectively and individually but not inherently so. Give any human-beings created by the same God the same conditions and opportunity which you and I may have enjoyed, then whatever their status may have been through the ages, it is probable that in due course they will achieve an equally high level of material and cultural advancement.
The Conference agreed upon a far-reaching set of guiding principles for the application of social security programs, and they remind me of the words I heard in 1920 at a Geneva Conference—when the objective was expressed in these terms—the first charge on all the wealth created shall be the care of our old people because but for the work that they have done, the conditions in which we live would not have been possible.
Then there is the care of the young people because with them lies the world's future. The care of the sick because that is a question of simple Christian duty. But having made such provision it still, in my opinion, is right that those who do the work of the world whether with their hands or brains should be entitled to a full share of all things that are created.
I believe the Conference has made a useful contribution towards that end.
All this has been set out in the Declaration. I have never attended a Conference where representatives of three groups —employers, employees and government, have been so united in the objectives towards which they desire to travel.
But that contribution will not have been complete unless everyone in his own country will work and strive and fight —will help to write the legislation and to see that it is properly administered—so that the conditions talked about are brought rapidly into being.
I am hoping that when the next International Labour Conference comes around, we will not find ourselves engaged in discussions on how but will be considering reports on what has been done and on what are to be the next steps in our march to freedom.
One further matter I would like to emphasize. There can be no justification for discrimination against people because of the womb from which they came. Such discrimination is a complete negation of the principles that we set forth at the Conference.
Men and women of all races, of all creeds, and of all nationalities and of all classes should be accepted at their worth. Our treatment of them should be in accord with the contribution that they have made—can make—and are willing to make—towards the general well-being.
Discrimination of the type that has been in existence, on the European Continent in particular, during the past decade is abhorrent to everyone who thinks things out. Men and women should be accepted because of what they are. It matters not from where they came, or from whom they came, or to what race they belong, or what may be the color of their skin, or the religion they profess.
The job as I see it is to find a way of working with the people of all countries that want to travel along the same road towards the same objective of an abundant individual life for everyone.