WILL THE UNITED STATES now proceed, for the first time, to pull out of a United Nations agency, the International Labor Organization, with whatever impact that could have on the whole U.N. system? In justified frustration two Novembers ago the United States said it would quit in two years if this ostensibly technical agency didn't mend its grossly political ways. Some improvements subsequently were seen but they were badly undercut at the ILO's annual Geneva conference, just completed. Defying reasonable American demands, a Communist-Third World coalition trampled on due process and socked Israel, sidetracked a rule-change proposal to screen out loaded political resolutions and applied a familiar double standard (attacking only violators on the political right) on human rights. All in all it was a bad show.
If the ILO were just another organization, an administration as keen as this one on seeking global consensus might easily decide that - notwithstanding its predecessor's two-year warning - quitting to protest politicization was less important than staying to talk on. But ILO's charter makes governments only one of three equal partners with workers and employers. And while employer representation is not of great concern to the Chamber of Commerce, worker representation is to the AFL-CIO. Through the ILO, the AFL-CIO has battled to promote human and trade-union rights and to raise labor standards (and, perhaps not incidentally, labor costs) overseas. In brief, George Meany, in leading the charge to hold ILO to its charter an tradition, is not being simply a reflexive anti-Communist.
The United States cannot lightly start down the road of quitting international organizations. The ILO, moreover, has been useful in matters of union and workers' rights and is a forum for keeping in touch with international proposals to make job creation more central to economic growth. And since, at American urging, a good number of the United States' fellow democracies stuck out their necks to help Washington battle politicization, they must be consulted in planning the next step.
Still, it is hard to make a persuasive case that the organization is so important to American diplomacy that Americans should overlook the damage to credibility and the invitation to anti-Americanism that could result from slinking away, unrequitted, from the Ford and Carter administrations' two-year warning to pull out. A cabinet-level committee will now study the two-year record (not just the record of the recent and disappointing Geneva conference). If this verdict is to quit in November, so be it.