You are probably familiar with the names of some Nobel Peace Prize winners—for example, Desmond Tutu, Linus Pauling, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Leon Jouhaux

Nobel Prize portrait of Leon Jouhaux, in public domain.

But can you name the 1969 winner of the Peace Prize?

It was the International Labour Organization (ILO). Yes, a labor organization won a Nobel Peace Prize. This should not be surprising given the historical connection between labor movements and peace movements.

The ILO, like the League of Nations (forerunner to the United Nations), grew out of the deadliness and devastation of World War I. It was the first specialized agency within the U.N.

Included in the Treaty of Versailles that ended WWI, the preamble of the ILO constitution says, “Universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice.”  Can anyone fault this belief?

The Treaty of Versailles also included three proposals from American delegates to the peace commission:

  • “that labor should not be treated as a commodity;
  • that all workers had the right to a wage sufficient to live on;
  • and that women should receive equal pay for equal work.”

Have these commitments been achieved? Won and lost? Why?

In their 1969 acceptance speech, the ILO quoted 1951 Nobel Peace Prize winner Leon Jouhaux, who warned that:

“War not only kills workers by thousands and millions, and destroys their homes…but also, by increasing men’s feelings of impotence before the forces of violence, it holds up considerably the progress of humanity toward the age of justice, welfare, and peace.”

On this Labor Day, let’s honor the work of labor on behalf of peace and social justice.

Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology

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