The International Confederation of Trade Unions (ICFTU) , the most representative international trade union body at present, was founded at the Free World Labour Conference held in London from 28 November to 7 December
The founding of the ICFTU was the culmination of the efforts to form an effective and world-wide international organisation of free trade unions which had been uniting workers for almost one hundred years. The organisations involved represented the most important trend in the international labour movement. Although the ICFTU came into being in
Before World War I and between the two world wars the international labour movement was far from united. Besides the IFTU there were the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU) founded in
World War II was to bring considerable upheaval in the activities of trade unions. On the other hand it gave a tremendous impetus to unity within the international trade union movement. The international policy of cooperation of the allied forces was reflected in a new spirit of solidarity within the labour movement. From
However, along with immediate post-war optimism, the hopes of cooperation between communist-controlled and non-communist trade union organisations in the WFTU did not last long. The early years of the WFTU were characterised by serious internal deep-rooted conflicts over basic questions which were not only ideological but also organisational.
At organisational level the question of whether the WFTU should be a centralised body formed a source of discord between Western and communist-orientated trade unions. With attempts to absorb the autonomous International Trade Secretariats into the structure of the WFTU the internal conflict became bigger.
The increased deterioration of international relations between East and West in the initial phase of the cold war played its own role in the developments in the WFTU. From
The split became complete in 1949 when the representatives of the TUC, the American CIO and the Dutch Trade Union Federation (NVV) left the special meeting of the WFTU Executive Board in Paris, held to discuss the proposal of the British TUC of suspending all the activities of the WFTU for one year. By June
The founding congress of the ICFTU, which followed immediately the World Free Labour Conference, was attended by 261 delegates from 53 countries representing nearly 48 million workers. The geographical composition of its membership was quite distinct from that of the IFTU, which was largely confined to European and American trade unions. The ICFTU was truly international grouping trade union organisations from all continents.
Besides the first constitution, at the founding congress there had been adopted a manifesto entitled 'Bread, Peace and Freedom', which defined the aims of the ICFTU. As they are laid down in the constitution and this document these aims are briefly as follows:
- - to promote the interests of working people throughout the world;
- - to work for constantly rising living standards, for peace, full employment and social security;
- - to reduce the gap between rich and poor, both within and between nations;
- - to work for international understanding, for disarmament and the establishment of peace;
- - to help workers everywhere to organise themselves and secure recognition of their organisations as free bargaining agents;
- - to fight against oppression and dictatorship everywhere and against discrimination of any kind on the grounds of race, colour, creed or sex;
- - to defend the fundamental human and trade union rights.
From its inception the ICFTU tried to fulfil these aims by strengthening its organisational and financial structure, coordinating the activities of affiliated organisations, supporting the trade union organisations in Africa, Asia and Latin America through technical, financial and educational assistance, representing its members before international forums and agencies, developing new policies on major issues, such as decolonisation, East-West relations, disarmament, human and trade union rights, full employment, industrial democracy, multinational companies and others.
Building up an effective administrative and organisational machinery was one of the main concerns of the ICFTU in the first decade of its existence. The founding congress set up the headquarters in Brussels and chose as its general secretary J. H. Oldenbroek , previously general secretary of the International Transport Workers' Federation. Paul Finet from the Trade Union Federation of Belgium (FGTB) was elected as the first president.
Shortly after its founding the ICFTU established a network of regional organisations, each composed by the affiliates from that
region. In November 1950 the European Regional Organisation(ERO) was set up, with headquarters in Brussels. The Inter-American Regional Organisation of Workers (ORIT) followed it in January 1951, with headquarters in Mexico City. The same year in May the Asian Regional Organisation (ARO) was founded, based in New Delhi (later its name was changed in Asian and Pacific Regional Organisation; APRO ). Creating and sustaining a regional organisation in Africa was more problematic because of the organising difficulties caused by the governments of newly independent states in this continent. The African Regional Organisation (AFRO) was established in
Apart from the regional organisations the ICFTU established three residental labour colleges for Asia, Africa and the Americas to carry on its extensive education and training programmes. The Asian Trade Union College (ATUC) was inaugurated in
To finance its organising and educational activities, particularly in the Third World, the Regional Activities Fund was started by the second congress in
In the field of representative work, from the date of its creation until today the ICFTU has tried to raise the voice of its members in the United Nations and its specialised agencies and to establish relations with international organisations, both governmental and non-governmental. Since
Maintaining effective relations with the International Trade Secretariats (ITS) was always a matter of great importance to the ICFTU. Being international organisations of national unions of a specific industry or trade the ITS retain their independence, whilst they are associated with the ICFTU. The principles which define the terms of relationships between the ICFTU and the ITS were outlined and adopted at the Milan Congress in
All these activities at various levels led to a significant increase in the membership and in the number of affiliated organisations during the first ten years. But the ICFTU experienced also setbacks. During the 1960s a noticable recession occurred in the number of affiliated organisations, chiefly because of the disaffiliation of many African centres.
A further decline in membership was caused by the withdrawal of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO ) in
The relationship with the WFTU and its affiliates was a complex problem that the ICFTU had to deal with in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Relations between two confederations were always characterised by rivalry and hostility. Originally the ICFTU rejected or ignored any contact with the WFTU and between individual unions of the two confederations. The AFL-CIO was one of the most determined supporters of this stance. Some ICFTU member organisations (especially European trade unions), however, did not follow this stance strictly and entered into bilateral contacts with communist-orientated trade unions, first beginning with exchanges of delegations and visits. Disagreements over this problem created tensions inside the ICFTU. In
Apart from its organisational activities the main concerns of the ICFTU during 1980s and early years of 1990s were to find appropriate trade union responses to adapt its policies to the new developments in the world economy. This concern is readily apparent in the themes of the congresses held by the late 1970s. The twelfth congress in
The sweeping changes that have occurred in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have had their own impact on the ICFTU, opening a new period in the history of international trade union movement. Following the collapse of regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, some trade union centres in the countries, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria left the WFTU and affiliated with the ICFTU. As a result of these developments the membership of the ICFTU increased sharply from about 87 million in
The ICFTU is a confederation made up of national trade union centres which bring together the trade unions of each particular country. According to the ICFTU constitution membership is open to all bona fide national trade union centres accepting the aims and the constitution of the confederation. The affiliation of more than one centre from any one country is also possible, as it is in the case of Italy, Sweden, India and Finland, to mention a few examples. In some countries even individual unions can be accepted into the membership. In all cases the final decision of the ICFTU Executive Board is required. Within the structure of the ICFTU, which avoids centralisation, the member organisations enjoy a wide degree of autonomy.
The Confederation has three important governing bodies: congress, executive board and secretariat.
The supreme body of the organisation is the World Congress. By
At the time of its creation there was another organ, the General Council, which acted as a "miniature congress". But the General Council held only one meeting. It was abolished by the Stockholm Congress in
The Executive Board is the second important authority in the hierarchy of governing bodies. Its composition is based on regional representation. By
The Executive Board also elects, from among its members, a Sub-Committee. This committee, which was also called Emergency Committee, deals with questions of urgency or importance between Executive Board meetings. Following the amendments made by the fifteenth congress in
Another sub-committee elected by the Executive Board, which plays a special role in the decision making procedure of the ICFTU (especially in financial matters), is the Finance and General Purposes Committee. This committee emerged in
The Secretariat which is based in Brussels and headed by the General Secretary is responsible for the administration of the confederation and for keeping contacts with the affiliated organisations.
The ICFTU has now two permanent branch offices in Geneva and New York, operating in close liaison with the ILO and the United Nations respectively. Formerly it used to have other offices located, among other places, in Vienna, Berlin, Nairobi, Accra, Beirut, Lagos, Tokyo, Singapore, Djakarta, Rio and Santiago.
The organisational structure of the ICFTU is also based on the regional principle. As already mentioned it has three regional organisations: the Asian and Pacific Regional Organisation (APRO) ; the African Regional Organisation (AFRO) ; and the Inter-American Regional Organisation of Workers , known as ORIT by the initials in Spanish. The task of the regional organisations is "to deal with problems affecting the workers and trade unions in their respective areas and to further the aims and objectives of the confederation". These regional organisations are to a large extent autonomous. They have their own executive committees, presidents and general secretaries, and hold their own conferences. In addition to the statutory committees mentioned above the ICFTU has a great number of committees and working groups which are mainly set up to deal with specific questions arising from its activities. These committees and working groups have mostly an advisory character. Some of them are jointly established by the ICFTU and the ITS, and in some cases together with the regional organisations. The committees and working groups which are often to be found in the archives are:
- - Women's Committee. Started in
1957as the ICFTU/ITS Consultative Committee on Women Worker's Questions. In 1984 reorganised and renamed.
- - ICFTU/ITS Working Group on Young Workers' Questions. First set up in
1964with name ICFTU/ITS Consultative Committee on Youth Questions.
- - ICFTU/ITS Working Party on Multinational Companies. Set up after the resolution of the tenth congress in
1972calling for a global study on multinational concerns.
- - Working Group on International Trade and Monetary Questions. Prior to the establishment of this working group there were some other committees dealing with the same questions: Committee on Fair Labour Standards in International Trade (1960-1961); Committee on International Trade Questions (1962-1964); Advisory Committee on Trade and Development (1966); and Sub-Committee on Trade and Development (1964-1966).
- - Review Commitee. Set up in
1976as a sub-committee of the Finance and General Purposes Committee to examine the finances and activities of the ICFTU and to make recommendations and suggestions to the Finance and General Purposes Committee.
- - Project Committee. Established in
1986to improve the quality of projects and programmes.
- - Human and Trade Union Rights Committee. There are two more committees on human and trade union rights: the Coordinating Committee on Southern Africa, and the Committee for the Defence of Human and Trade Union Rights in Latin America.
- - Committee on Contacts with Communist-controlled Trade Union Organisations.
- - Coordinating Committee on Central and Eastern Europe.
- - ICFTU/ERO Committee on European Social Integration.
- - ICFTU/IFBWW International Housing Committee.
- - Social Policy Working Group.
In the field of trade union publicity, in addition of educational material, the ICFTU publishes regularly the official organ of the confederation Free Labour World (fortnightly). Some other regular publications of the ICFTU are: Economic and Social Bulletin (bi-monthly), which reproduces reports and data on economic and social questions, International Trade Union News (fortnightly) and Feature Service , which are mainly intended for the use of the trade union and general press.
The main bulk of the archives of the ICFTU was transferred to the International Institute of Social History (IISH) in
One's first impression of the ICFTU archives is its extensiveness in terms of both size and content.
The physical extent of the combined ICFTU archive runs to more than 200 metres. The extensiveness applies also to the geographical aspect. As is to be expected from the very fact of being a truly world-wide organisation, the archives of the ICFTU contain documentation concerning the economic, political and trade union situation in all the continents and nearly all the countries of the world.
As to the contents of the archives, it is no exaggeration to say that they embrace almost every fact of life, not only purely trade union matters but also economic, social, cultural, educational and political issues. They comprise documents and correspondence which are a real reflection of the wide ranging activities of the ICFTU. Documents such as agenda, minutes, working papers and reports concerning the congresses and the meetings of the Executive Board, the Sub-Committee, the Finances and General Purposes Committee, and other committees and working groups cast light on every activity level of the ICFTU.
It goes without saying that the arrangement of archives such as these had its own special features. The following points are to be noted in connection with the arranging work:
1. Almost all parts of the ICFTU archives had been already arranged to a certain degree and most of them were provided with a provisional list. The ICFTU had and has its own classification systems; a decimal one for the correspondence being classified in files and a letter code for series such as the incoming and outgoing mail, and the documents relating to congresses, conferences and meetings. There was also a provisional list, made by the IISH, of the material which had been transferred before
2. Another factor that has a strong influence on the way the archives have been organised is that more than half of the archives (about 130 metres) consists of correspondence, conducted with the affiliates, ITS, international agencies and other organisations. This correspondence, which reflects the main activities of the ICFTU, has been classified in files and integrated in the section 'Particular', beginning with the documents described under the heading 'Relations with International Organisations'. As far as the affiliates are concerned, these files have been arranged by country. They do not only contain correspondence with affiliated organisations but also correspondence by ICFTU officials on these organisation. In the descriptions this is indicated by the use of the prepositions 'with' and 'on'. As already indicated the ICFTU had applied a decimal classification system for this part of the archives and this system is still in use. In view of this and since it is expected new supplements to receive in the future we have kept this part together as much as possible. Only a small part of this correspondence, which is considered to have a general and organisational character, has been moved to the sections or sub-sections concerned, namely to 'General' and 'Organisation'. It should be noticed here that the ICFTU administration classified all incoming mail in files, leaving no separate series of alphabetically or chronologically arranged letters. However, a series of sheets with cross references had been made, referring to the files, to which the letters were transferred. Copies of outgoing mail were also added to the files but nevertheless a separate series of copies had been maintained and classified as outgoing mail and now integrated in the 'General' section. In addition to this a great part of the incoming mail and the outgoing mail was filmed on 16 mm. films, which were also transferred to the IISH and which can also be consulted.
3. As a result of the above mentioned arrangement the documents relating to the regional organisations and many committees can mostly be found in two different places. For instance, documents (mainly printed and stencilled) concerning the meetings of the Women's Committee have been placed under the heading 'Committees, working groups and working parties', while the correspondence concerning the committee is to be found under the heading 'Contacts on Women Workers' Questions'. This does not necessarily mean that there is no correspondence to be found among the documents under the other category and vice versa. More than that, documents of the committees may be also found among the documents concerning conferences and meetings, and also within specific subject files.
4. As regards the classification of the documents relating to the committees, which in the ICFTU were so plentiful, the main criterion which was applied was whether these committees had a governing or an advisory status. Documents relating to the committees which have more or less a governing function and are directed towards the decision making process, such as the Finance and General Purposes Committee, Economic and Social Committee and Constitution Committee, have been placed in the sub-section 'Organisation'. Documents concerning other committees, those which have a more advisory status, such as the Social Policy Working Group or those which are set up to deal with the questions arising from the activities, such as the Human and Trade Union Rights Committee, have been moved to the sub-section 'Committees, working groups and working parties'. But it must be pointed out that the dividing line between what is advisory and what is governing, and which committee is oriented towards the decision making process rather than activities was in some cases a matter of judgement.
5. To avoid having too many sub-divisions it was decided not to use a separate heading for each committee. Instead, various committees were grouped together under all-embracing categories like 'Economic and social policy', 'Education', 'Development cooperation', 'Young workers' questions', 'Women workers' questions', 'Human and trade union rights', etc. Similar headings have been used in grouping the conferences, meetings and workshops.
6. Not only in the arrangement of the committees but also of the other parts of the archives the very same way of using extended headings has been followed. However, within such categories the documents mainly have been arranged according to the principle 'from general to particular', which for example means that documents concerning meetings precede documents concerning specific issues. To avoid too many sub-divisions again, it has been decided not to use separate headings for these documents.
7. The contents and the sort of material are given in rather general descriptions, using expressions such as "correspondence with/on...", "documents concerning...", "financial documents", etc. Because of the immense variety of documents it was almost impossible to describe all the contents of a folder. However, in many cases more information about the contents is given on the folders themselves.
8. Mostly due to mergers many committees and affiliated organisations have undergone considerable changes, including dissolution, replacement by other committees or organisations and change of name. In general each committee or organisation has a separate description. The subsequent changes that occurred have been explained as nota bene whenever relevant information was available.
9. Packing units like folders or boxes were indicated in the descriptions. In large series yet, the indication was not repeated. Only the exceptions (for example a box in a series of folders) were indicated.
10. Most stencilled and printed documents, including circulars and working papers of the committees are in the four official languages of the ICFTU, namely English, French, German and Spanish.
11. Books, periodicals and pamphlets were transferred to the library of the IISH. Posters and photos were stored at the Audiovisual Department where a rich collection of films made for educational and propagandistic purposes is also available.
The size of the archives is 213.24 m.
1. Consulted literature:
Carew, Anthony , 'Conflict Within the ICFTU: Anti-Communism and Anti-Colonialism in the 1950s' . International Review of Social History 41:2. Cambridge: 1996.
Free Labour World (ICFTU).
Windmuller, J.P. , The International Trade Union Movement . Deventer: 1980.
2. The archives of the ETUC and its predecessors are also at the IISH , provided with an inventory.
This list concerns the microfilms of a part of the archives of the ICFTU. The original documents which were microfilmed are to be found in the archives of the ICFTU.
|1-22.||Meetings of the Executive Board. With correspondence. 1949-1981. 22 reels.|
|23-25.||Meetings of the Sub-Committee. 1950-1967. 3 reels.|
|26.||Meetings of the General Council and the Consultative Council. 1952, 1954, 1956, 1958. 1 reel.|
|27-34.||Congresses. 1949-1972. 8 reels.|
|35-46.||Circulars. 1950-1980. 12 reels.|
|47-89.||Incoming Mail. 1958-1979. 43 reels.|
|90-158.||Outgoing Mail. 1957-1978 [-1979]. 69 reels.|
|159-160.||Meetings of the Finance Sub-Committee. 1957-1968. 2 reels.|
|161.||Reginal (Activities) Fund Committee. 1st - 12th meeting. 1951-1955. 1 reel.|
|162-166.||International Solidarity Fund Committee. 1st - 28th meeting. 1957-1968. 5 reels.|
|167-173.||Finance and General Purposes Committee. 1st - 29th [31th] meeting. 1968-1980. 7 reels.|
|174.||Meetings of the Consultative Committee on Women Workers' Questions. 1st - 25th meeting. 1957-1971. With documents concerning the 3rd World Women's Conference. 1 reel.|
|175-178.||`Miscellaneous': Other committees and conferences. 4 reels.|
|179-182.||Free Labour World, no. 1-186. 4 reels.|
|183-186.||Free Labour World, 1966-1976. 4 reels.|
|187-189.||Information Bulletin, 1950-1962. 3 reels.|
|190.||Spotlight, 1951-1961. 1 reel.|
|191-193.||Economic and Social Bulletin, 1964-1974. 3 reels.|
|194.||Press and Radio Service, 1965-1966. 1 reel.|
|195.||General Conferences of the International Trade Secretariats. 1 reel.|
|196.||Liaison Committee of the International Trade Secretariats (ITS). 1 reel.|
|197.||Europe. `General'. 1 reel.|
|198-200.||European Regional Organisation (ERO). `Meetings'. 3 reels.|
|201.||ICFTU Geneva Office. 1 reel.|
|202.||International Trade Secretariats. Geneva Office. 1 reel.|
|203.||ICFTU Paris office. 1 reel.|
|204.||ICFTU Berlin and Dusseldorf Office. 1 reel.|
|205.||CECA (Schuman Plan?). 1 reel.|
|206.||NATO. 1 reel.|
|207.||European Recovery Programme (ERP) and MSA. 1 reel.|
|208-209.||Cyprus. With documents concerning the Cyprus Workers' Confederation (CWC). 2 reels.|
|210-213.||Germany. 4 reels.|
|212.||`Miscellaneous' (various trade unions?)|
|214-216.||Greece. 3 reels.|
|215.||Greek General Confederation of Labour (GGCL).|
|217-219.||Hungary. 3 reels.|
|220-221.||Spain. 2 reels.|
|221.||Union General de Trabajadores d'España (UGTE).|
|222-227.||Asian Regional Organisation. 6 reels.|
|228.||`Plantation' (Plantation workers?). 1 reel.|
|229-231.||Beyrouth Office. 3 reels.|
|232.||Djakarta Office. 1 reel.|
|233.||Okinawa Office. 1 reel.|
|234-235.||Singapore Office. 2 reels.|
|236-237.||Tokyo Office. 2 reels.|
|238-244.||`Calcutta' (Asian Trade Union College). 7 reels.|
|245.||Australia. 1 reel.|
|246-247.||Burma. 2 reels.|
|248.||Ceylon (Sri Lanka). 1 reel.|
|249.||China (People's Republic). 1 reel.|
|250.||China (Taiwan). 1 reel.|
|251.||Fiji. 1 reel.|
|252.||Hong Kong. 1 reel.|
|253-256.||India. 4 reels.|
|257-258.||Indonesia. 2 reels.|
|259.||Iraq. 1 reel.|
|260.||Israel. 1 reel.|
|261.||Korea. 1 reel.|
|262.||Lebanon. 1 reel.|
|263-264.||Malaysia. 2 reels.|
|265-266.||Okinawa. 2 reels.|
|267-268.||Pakistan. 2 reels.|
|269-270.||Vietnam. 2 reels.|
|271-276.||African Labour College (Kampala). 6 reels.|
|277-278.||Courses in French-speaking Africa. 2 reels.|
|279.||Accra Office. 1 reel.|
|280-281.||Tunisia. 2 reels.|
|282-285.||Inter-American Regional Organisation of Workers (ORIT). 4 reels.|
|286.||New York Office. 1 reel.|
|287.||Canada. 1 reel.|
|288.||USA. 1 reel.|
|289-290.||American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO). 2 reels.|
|291.||Rio Office. 1 reel.|
|292-293.||Argentine. 2 reels.|
|294.||Cuba. 1 reel.|
|295.||Confederación de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC). 1950-1959. 1 reel.|