How can we appraise the record of the International Labour Organization (ILO, 1919–2019) over the last century? In the present essay it is argued that the first half century of the ILO consisted of “fat years,” in which regulating the global labor market achieved limited but clear progress, and that the second half century was a time of “lean years,” when the ILO accomplished less. Following a brief review of the origins and early history of the ILO, the essay illustrates this by showing how the relative attainments from the period until around 1970 were subsequently weakened. Unless it manages to reinvent itself in the near future, the organization is now in danger of further marginalization.

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