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David A. Morse

Director-General of the International Labour Organization, 1948-1970

Document | 08 February 2006

David Morse (United States) spent twenty-two years as Director-General of the ILO from 1948-1970, a period during which the Organisation saw continual change. As he later recalled, "My task was to rebuild an organisation which had run down during the Second World War. It had survived, which was a feat, but it had not yet found a firm footing in the post-war world." During this period, the membership of the Organisation grew from 52 to 121 and the staff grew from about 600 to five times that number. The annual budget increased from about US $4 million to US $60 million. The work of the Organisation also took on new dimensions: technical cooperation became a major and integral part of ILO activities, a network of regional and field offices was set up and programmes decentralised, education and training received new impetus, and the International Institute for Labour Studies was established at Geneva headquarters, and the International Training Centre in Turin was set up in 1965.

In 1969, the World Employment Programme was launched. Morse put a high priority on this programme, as in his view, unemployment and underemployment were a major cause of poverty and a serious obstacle to development. In developing countries, unemployment had reached enormous proportions, and even when economic development had been judged to be successful by such criteria as increase in gross national product, it had failed to resolve the problem of creating productive employment for the increasing labour force. The World Employment Programme represented a first attempt at world-wide planning in the field of human resources development and employment policy.

Other programmes that concentrated on protection were also launched, for example, special procedures were established for the promotion of human rights, and especially for freedom of association. Major standards were adopted covering freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, equal remuneration, the abolition of forced labour, discrimination in employment and indigenous and tribal peoples, while principles and guidelines were adopted for the fight against apartheid. Programme budgeting was introduced, Office units underwent a major reorganisation, and the foundations for a new headquarters building were laid

The cold war and the process of decolonisation, which brought in a large number of new States whose main preoccupation was poverty, caused strains in the structures of the Organisation. Programmes were adapted to new needs, and standards were made more flexible so that they could remain universal. A dialogue was initiated to adapt the ILO's constitutional structure to new demands, which led, ultimately, to a number of constitutional amendments. Under Morse's leadership, the ILO continued to carry out its essential work and emerged stronger than ever. Public recognition of this was consecrated by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1969, when the ILO was celebrating its 50th anniversary.

David Morse was born in New York on 31 May 1907. He graduated from Rutgers University in 1929 and from the Harvard Law School in 1932. He was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1932. He later became Special Assistant to the United States Attorney General, Chief Counsel of the Petroleum Labour Policy Board in the US Department of the Interior, and Regional Attorney for the National Labour Relations Board in the metropolitan area of New York.

When war broke out, he gave up his law practice to join the army. From June 1943 to April 1944, David Morse served as Captain in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, where he was appointed Chief of the Labor Division of the Allied Military Government. He drafted and put into effect the labour policy and programme in Sicily and Italy for the British and United States Governments and armies. As Chief of the Labor Section of the US Group Control Council for Germany under Generals Eisenhower and Clay, he prepared the labour policy and programme for Germany. Promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel, he was awarded the Legion of Merit for his army services in 1946.

After his discharge from the army, Morse was appointed General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board. On 1 July 1946 President Truman named him Assistant Secretary of Labor and Mr. Morse devoted his activities to the creation of the Department's programme of international affairs. Mr. Morse had been a delegate to the ILO on two occasions and served as the United States Government representative on the Governing Body. In June 1948 he was named chief of the United States delegation to the International Labour Conference. At the 105th session of the Governing Body in San Francisco in June 1948, he was unanimously elected Director-General for a ten-year term. He was unanimously re-elected for five-year terms in May 1957, in March 1962, and in February 1967. He resigned in February 1970. David Morse died in New York on 1 December 1990.

Tags: ILO Director General

Unit responsible: Director-General's Office

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