Courtesy Reuters

International Labor in Crisis

The International Labor Organization is in crisis, a crisis in which the United States is deeply involved. The question now is whether the crisis can be used creatively. Conflict may open the possibility of changes which would never have been introduced into an institution pursuing its established routine. Such changes may never have been in the minds of those who initiated the crisis. But a crisis is a collective drama, in the course of which some actors may be able to redefine the issues so as to bring about a significant change in the dénouement.

The crisis was touched off during the summer of 1970 by a seemingly trivial matter, the appointment by a new ILO Director-General of a Russian as an Assistant Director-General. The U.S. Congress reacted to this event by refusing to approve the appropriation for the American contribution to the ILO budget. The character of the response indicates that the precipitating event was but a symbol of deeper concern with increasing Soviet influence in the ILO, a concern not limited to Americans. The action of the Congress has since been criticized on the ground that the United States has a legal obligation to pay its contribution to international organizations it belongs to and on the ground of the impropriety of a rich country using the financial weapon to try to influence the course of an international organization. Both objections are beside the point. The issue is neither legal nor financial. It is political. No one can seriously doubt that the U.S. government will meet its obligations and pay its membership dues. The question is whether it will pay up and leave or pay up and stay.

The issues can be defined in terms either of power or of purpose. Considerations of power lead to short-range tactical measures designed to maintain or strengthen the U.S.-or more broadly the Western-position within the ILO. Considerations of purpose direct attention to a long-range strategy for the use of

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