Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Membership in the ILO as a Precedent for Membership in UNESCO

Frances Perkins was an interesting person. She was the first woman to hold a cabinet post in the Federal Government, serving for the entire period that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president. After FDR died, Perkins wrote a book titled The Roosevelt I Knew which includes a discussion of the decision in the 1930s for the United States to join the International Labor Organization (ILO). I found that decision shed light on the likely intent of the United States in the creation of UNESCO, and especially the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO.

The legislation which enabled the United States to create the U.S. National Commission cites the Constitution of UNESCO in defining the duties of the NatCom. That Constitution allows but does not require that national commissions both associate the nation's "principal bodies interested in educational, scientific and cultural matters with the work of" UNESCO and "act in an advisory capacity to their respective delegations to the General Conference and to their Governments in matters relating to" UNESCO. People associated with the NatCom in the period prior to the departure of the United States from UNESCO membership have told me that the NatCom was both energetic and influential in that time. This is confirmed by Howard E. Wilson in his book, The United States National Commission for UNESCO, published in 1948.

Perkins worked with President Roosevelt to support the entry of the United States into the ILO. The ILO existed before the creation of the League of Nations, but was formally affiliated with the League after the League was created. Of course, the United States never joined the League. Perkins and Roosevelt agreed with State Department personnel and eventually the Congress that the ILO and the League of Nations were distinct entities, and that the United States might appropriately join the ILO. They did so in large part because the ILO had a separate governance structure in which member nations were represented by persons representing employers and workers as well as government; the participation of citizens outside of government of member states in the governance of the ILO made all the difference.

John A. Daly
The opinions expressed in this posting are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Americans for UNESCO.

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