In probably one of the tardiest RSVPs in the history of economic dinner parties the International Labour Organisation this week released The Financial and Economic Crisis: A Decent Work response. This is a discussion/preprint edition and is described as "Second item on the agenda". I truly wonder what came first.

The ILO were first moved to emit a press release on the crisis in April 2008 (think Bear Stearns) titled "ILO Director-General calls for new multilateral consensus to head off global slowdown and recession" which suggested:

"The ILO’s tried and tested mechanisms of social dialogue and tripartite discussions are particularly vital in building consensus around policies to avert a steep slowdown and move out of recession...they are an undervalued asset upon which the multilateral system should draw in shaping policies for a sustainable recovery."

which, on a fair reading, demonstrated an impressive level of calm as to the impact on labour from the then exploding crisis.

As time past and unemployment levels rose around the world - with concurrent social dislocation - nothing further emerged from the ILO Geneva offices. Not until October last year when, suddenly, the organisation published a flurry of releases one of which cited the Director-General Juan Somavia saying:

"This is not simply a crisis on Wall Street, this is a crisis on all streets."

A fine soundbite but, with the others, adding up to little more than alarm ringing when the building is well and truly conflagrated.

Now we have this report on the occasion of a "tripartite" (must be important) meeting with the IMF and the International Trade Union Confederation. It has pretty and informative graphs (three below). But, if this is the best anticipation and timeliest coordination the UN has to offer on managing the social fallout from the gravest economic downturn for over a generation, why bother?

Chart 1: Unemployed without social protection, selected countries

Chart 2: Fiscal packages, selected countries

Chart 3: Pension fund returns, first 10 months of 2008, selected countries

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