Social justice through statistics? The case of locomotive coupling accidents (1923-1931)

The ILO and the production of a social and economic body of knowledge
By Laure Piguet

Based on negotiations in Interwar Europe regarding the implementation of automatic locomotive coupling–a technical innovation aimed at better protecting railway workers–for railway carriages, this paper focuses on the role given to the International Labour Office’s (ILO) labour statistics. While this data was crucial for the ILO’s activities, little attention has been paid to how it was produced or used. Measuring the risks while manually coupling carriages became a source of conflict for various stakeholders, and this case notably sheds light on the obstacles that the ILO faced in internationalising scientific knowledge, as well as the stakes around creating international statistics and the limitations of using quantitative data for social dialogue.

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