US names ILO envoy to counter Soviet influence in labor group
Acting quietly, the Reagan administration launched a worldwide counterattack two weeks ago against Soviet efforts to exert a stronger influence on the International Labor Organization (ILO), the 65-year-old body created by the League of Nations to oversee world labor conditions.
Expressing concern over an intensified ''assault'' by Soviet-bloc nations on ILO's supervisory machinery, the White House named Andrew J. Gibson of Short Hills, N.J., as special envoy for ILO affairs.
Ambassador Gibson, who was chairman of the US delegation to ILO in 1970, left immediately on a trip to capitals of all free world governments that participate in the ILO. His State Department assignment is to ''emphasize the United States' continuing commitment to free labor organizations, to seek to strengthen the ILO as the expression of the ideals of free labor, and to strengthen international machinery that ensures that working men and women can freely organize and freely choose independent labor organizations.''
In another, unrelated action, the AFL-CIO's international affairs department warned the ILO against changes in its overseer role. Director Irving Brown charged that changes sought by the Soviet bloc could erode established procedures for defending the right of workers to form unions free of government control.
Mr. Brown cited Hungary's description of its labor unions as ''autonomous'' but not ''independent'' from the communist government.
The warning at an ILO meeting in Geneva brought immediate opposition from Soviet and East German delegates.
The ILO is a tripartite organization with representation from the governments , employers, and labor unions of each of the 150 member states.
The tripartite plan has been compromised or eroded in communist and other states where governments control or dominate business and industry, and where unions - if they exist at all - are restricted and controlled. In effect, all representatives to the ILO from these countries are named and directed by the governments.
This has contributed to an undermining of the basic concerns of ILO for human rights, free labor, and economic social standards in the workplace.
US delegates protested in 1975 against ''the selfish subversion of the true purposes and procedures of our organization,'' and later that year then Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger warned that the US would withdraw in two years unless ILO returned to its basic aims.
The US terminated its membership in the organization in November 1977. This reduced ILO's income by 25 percent and forced sweeping cuts in ILO services. The US returned to ILO in February 1980 as conditions improved. But East-West problems continued.
Last year the Soviet-led communist and allied nations proposed:
* Noninterference in internal affairs of member states, as in ILO investigations of human rights violations and the Solidarity crackdown in Poland.
* Equal representation for all socio-economic systems in supervisory bodies, a proposal aimed at increasing the num-ber of Socialist members of important committees whose members are now chosen for their technical competence and experience in the fields of law, labor relations, and public administration.
In the US view, ''change along the Soviet line would eviscerate the current system which we find satisfactory and which we hope will be strengthened.
''Our task over the next few months is to ensure that the Soviets are not able to persuade third-world members to support them,'' the State Department said when naming Mr. Gibson as a special envoy. Noting that some developing countries see ILO conventions (agreed on labor standards) as ''irrelevant or intrusive,'' the statement said that ''the Soviet position may have some allure.''
It also said that some countries (Arab states particularly) may be encouraged by the Soviets to ''counter to what may be perceived to be US positions to 'punish' us for support of Israel.''
Ambassador Gibson's task is to seek political commitments from governments of International Market-Economy countries to support the US position and to travel to key African and Latin American countries where the US position is ''weak or not fully understood'' in an effort to persuade them to work with the US to preserve the integrity of the ILO.
''We want other governments to be aware of the importance we attach to this issue and would appreciate their assurance that it will receive their concentrated attention at the highest levels.''