A unique role in the world of international organizations

The roots of the International Social Security Association lie in mutual insurance, the collective response of 19th-century European industrial workers to illness, unemployment, disability and old age. In the space of nine decades, the ISSA has expanded into a truly worldwide Association, now bringing together more than 330 organizations in 158 countries. With the immense challenges the world is facing, its commitment to promoting social security will be needed more than ever to secure social justice for all.

The creation of ISSA in 1927.

Following the First World War, social insurance schemes developed rapidly in several regions, and social protection was included on the agendas of the newly-established international organizations. In May 1927, for the first time, representatives of mutual benefit societies and sickness insurance funds were included among the national delegations at the tenth International Labour Conference, meeting in Geneva. The agenda included the introduction of international regulations for the economic and health protection of workers by means of social insurance schemes. A group of delegates decided to form an international association for the purpose of developing and strengthening sickness insurance throughout the world.

Laying the foundations: 1927 – 1947

The International Conference of National Unions of Mutual Benefit Societies and Sickness Insurance Funds was launched in Brussels in October 1927. Encouraged by Albert Thomas, the first director of the ILO, delegates from 17 organizations came together representing some 20 million insured persons in Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Poland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. A Secretariat was established in Geneva, with assistance from the ILO.

The objectives were soon widened to include old-age, invalidity and survivors' insurance and in 1936 the name was changed to the International Social Insurance Conference, known from its French initials as CIMAS. The National Social Insurance Fund of Peru became the first non-European institution to join the CIMAS.

In 1935 US President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act, incorporating a new term that combines "economic security" with "social insurance". Negotiations for the affiliation of the US Social Security Board to the CIMAS were soon under way but were interrupted by World War II. In 1941, in the Atlantic Charter, President Roosevelt and UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill committed to improved labour standards, economic advancement and social security for all. At the height of the conflict, in 1942, the UK government published the Beveridge Plan, named after its main author, Lord Beveridge, which led to the setting up of the first unified social security system. In France, Pierre Laroque led government efforts to extend social protection to the entire population, and a national social security system was set up in 1946.

In 1944, with the tide of war turning, the ILO's historic Declaration of Philadelphia called for the extension of social security measures, and for the promotion, on an international or regional basis, of systematic and direct cooperation among social security institutions, the regular interchange of information and the study of common problems relating to the administration of social security. The Declaration of Philadelphia affirmed that universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice, including the extension of social security to all.

The 1947 Constitution

Commemorating 20 years of existence, the 8th General Assembly of the CIMAS ratified a new Constitution. From that time, the organization opened its membership to state-administered schemes such as those in the United  Kingdom, the USSR and the United States. Its combination of government departments with autonomous administrations made the structure of the ISSA unique in the world of international organizations. A new name was adopted: the CIMAS became the International Social Security Association (ISSA).

One year later, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose Article 22 recognized that "Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security". In 1952, the ILO adopted the Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention (No. 102).

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