Trade Union Congress

Trade Union Congress

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In the 1860s Trades Councils were established in most of Britain's main industrial towns and cities. In 1868 leaders of these Trade Councils met in Manchester to discuss the possibility of forming an organisation that would provide a united voice in defence of trade union rights. At the meeting the 34 delegates agreed to establish the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and to hold a meeting every year to discuss issues of importance to the labour movement.

At the third Trade Union Congress in London in 1871 a Parliamentary Committee was appointed. Its purpose was to bring pressure on MPs to amend the 1871 Trade Union Act. In the 1874 General Election the Parliamentary Committee asked candidates certain questions on their attitudes to trade unions, and members were urged to vote for or against them on the basis of their replies. Those MPs elected in 1874 included two miners, Alexander MacDonald and Thomas Burt, who fully supported the policies of the TUC.

In 1896 Robert Smillie president of the Scottish Miners' Federation helped establish the Scottish Trade Union Congress. His role was recognised when he was elected chairman at its first conference, a post he was to hold until 1899. The Scottish TUC was more radical than the English TUC with many of its leaders being members of the Independent Labour Party.

On 27th February 1900, the Trade Union Congress and representatives of all the socialist groups in Britain (the Independent Labour Party, the Social Democratic Federation and the Fabian Society,) met at the Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street, London. After a debate the 129 delegates decided to pass a motion put forward by James Keir Hardie to establish "a distinct Labour group in Parliament, who shall have their own whips, and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to cooperate with any party which for the time being may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour." To make this possible the Conference established a Labour Representation Committee (LRC).

The LRC committee established in 1900 included seven trade unionists and two members from the Independent Labour Party, two from the Social Democratic Federation, one member of the Fabian Society. After the 1906 General Election the LRC became known as the Labour Party.

When, on the other hand, the working-men received in 1824 the right of free association, these combinations were very soon spread over all England and attained great power. In all branches of industry Trades Unions were formed with the outspoken intention of protecting the single workingman against the tyranny and neglect of the bourgeoisie. The objects were: to fix wages and to deal, en masse, as a power, with the employers; to regulate the rate of wages according to the profit of the latter, to raise it when opportunity offered, and to keep it uniform in each trade throughout the country. Hence they tried to settle with the capitalists a scale of wages to be universally adhered to, and ordered out on strike the employees of such individuals as refused to accept the scale. They aimed further to keep up the demand for labour by limiting the number of apprentices, and so to keep wages high; to counteract, as far as possible, the indirect wages reductions which the manufacturers brought about by means of new tools and machinery; and finally, to assist unemployed workingmen financially. This they do either directly or by means of a card to legitimate the bearer as a 'society man', and with which the workingman wanders from place to place, supported by his fellow-workers, and instructed as to the best opportunity for finding employment. This is tramping, and the wanderer a tramp. To attain these ends, a President and Secretary are engaged at a. salary (since it is to be expected that no manufacturer will employ such persons), and a committee 'collects the weekly contributions and watches over their expenditure for the purposes of the association. When it proved possible and advantageous, the various trades of single districts united in a federation and held delegate conventions at set times. The attempt has been made in single cases to unite the workers of one branch over all England in one great Union; and several times (in 1830 for the first time) to form one universal trades association for the whole United Kingdom, with a separate organization for each trade. These associations, however, never held together long, and were seldom realized even for the moment, since an exceptionally universal excitement is necessary to make such a federation possible and effective.

The means usually employed by these Unions for attaining their ends are the following: If one or more employers refuse to pay the wage specified by the Union, a deputation is sent or a petition forwarded (the workingmen, you see, know how to recognize the absolute power of the lord of the factor in his little State); if this proves unavailing, the Union commands the employees to stop work, and all hands go home. This strike is either partial when one or several, or general when all employers in the trade refuse to regulate wages according to the proposals of the Union. So far go the lawful means of the Union, assuming the strike to take effect after the expiration of the legal notice, which is not always the case. But these lawful means are very weak, when there are workers outside the Union, or when members separate from it for the sake of the momentary advantage offered by bourgeoisie. Especially in the case of partial strikes can the manufacture readily secure recruits from these black sheep (who are known as knobsticks), and render fruitless the efforts of the united workers. Knobsticks are usually threatened, insulted, beaten, or otherwise maltreated by the members of the Union; intimidated, in short, in every way. Prosecution follows, and as the law-abiding bourgeoisie has the power in its own hands, the force of the Union is broken almost every time by the first unlawful act, the first judicial procedure against its members.

The Trades Unions were very dissatisfied with the attitude of the Liberal Government to the legal position of Trade Unionism. In 1869, at the instigation of John Stuart Mill, an organisation was formed under the name of the Labour Representation League to carry out a national campaign to secure the return of working men to Parliament. It does not appear to have been the intention of this League to form a party which could be permanently in opposition to the Liberal Party. Mills' idea was that, if the working classes put forward working-men candidates and threatened the Liberal majority, the Liberals would be glad to come to terms and provide opportunities for the return of working men. After the election of 1874 the League placed twelve working men in the field, and of these Thomas Burt and Alexander MacDonald were elected at Morpeth and Stafford respectively.

Trades Union Congress

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Trades Union Congress (TUC), national organization of British trade unions. Although it is the sole national trade union, three other related bodies also exist: the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Wales Trade Union Council, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (including the Northern Ireland Committee).

Founded in 1868, the TUC held annual conferences of independent unions to promote trade union principles. From 1871 it had a permanent standing committee, the Parliamentary Committee, whose principal function was to lobby Parliament for legislation favourable to unions. The TUC comprised almost exclusively unions of skilled workers until 1889, when it began to accept the first affiliations of “new” or unskilled general unions. But the TUC’s organization remained extremely rudimentary, and rather than enlarge its own role, it helped to establish two new separate bodies: the General Federation of Trade Unions, founded in 1899 as an insurance fund for strikes, and the Labour Representation Committee, founded in 1900 and in 1906 renamed the Labour Party. The latter sponsored candidates for Parliament until after 1918, when it became a national political party.

The TUC assumed its modern form after World War I, when it replaced the Parliamentary Committee with a General Council that could better represent the diverse industrial unions of the British labour movement. The council acquired powers to deal with interunion conflicts and to intervene in disputes with employers, and it helped mobilize unions during the nationwide General Strike of 1926. Under leaders such as Ernest Bevin and Walter Citrine in the 1930s and ’40s, the TUC became the unchallenged representative of industrial labour in dealings with the government, and it participated closely in the management of British industries during World War II.

In the decades following World War II, the TUC helped shape economic policy in cooperation with government and business. Its status was secure until 1979, when the Conservative Party came to power under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Excluded from government policy making, the TUC was unable to rally its members against the Thatcher government’s legal restrictions on trade unions. These and other factors caused the TUC’s membership to decline from about 12 million in 1979 to about 6.6 million at the end of the 20th century.

Unions affiliated with the TUC act autonomously, conducting negotiations independently of the national union. While the TUC is not itself affiliated with any political party, many of its affiliate unions support the Labour Party. Outside Great Britain, the TUC is affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), which it helped to found in 1949.


  • 1906: British Labour Party is founded.
  • 1911: Revolution in Mexico, begun the year before, continues with the replacement of the corrupt Porfirio Diaz, president since 1877, by Francisco Madero.
  • 1916: Battles of Verdun and the Somme are waged on the Western Front. The latter sees the first use of tanks, by the British.
  • 1918: The Second Battle of the Marne in July and August is the last major conflict on the Western Front. In November, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates, bringing an end to the war.
  • 1921: As the Allied Reparations Commission calls for payments of 132 billion gold marks, inflation in Germany begins to climb.
  • 1921: Canadian scientists Frederick Banting and Charles Herbert Best isolate insulin, an advance that will alter the lives of diabetics and greatly reduce the number of deaths associated with the disease.
  • 1921: Washington Disarmament Conference limits the tonnage of world navies.
  • 1921: In a controversial U.S. case, Italian-born anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are tried and convicted of armed robbery and murder. Despite numerous protests from around the world, they will be executed six years later.
  • 1924: V. I. Lenin dies, and thus begins a struggle for succession from which Stalin will emerge five years later as the undisputed leader of the Communist Party, and of the Soviet Union.
  • 1928: Penicillin is discovered by Alexander Fleming.
  • 1931: Financial crisis widens in the United States and Europe, which reel from bank failures and climbing unemployment levels. In London, armies of the unemployed riot.
  • 1936: Germany reoccupies the Rhineland, while Italy annexes Ethiopia. Recognizing a commonality of aims, the two totalitarian powers sign the Rome-Berlin Axis Pact. (Japan will join them in 1940.)

Officers of the Trades Union Congress General Council between 1936-1939:

General Secretary:

Sir Walter Citrine (WMC)

Walter McLennan Citrine was born in Wallasey (near Liverpool) in 1887. An electrician by trade, Citrine rose through the ranks of the Electrical Trades Union, finally becoming Assistant Secretary of the ETU between 1920-23. He was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Trades Union Congress in 1924, and took over as Acting Secretary in 1925. He was confirmed as General Secretary in 1926 and stayed in office until his retirement from the post in 1946. Citrine played an active part in international trade unionism, serving as President of the International Federation of Trade Unions between 1928-1945.

Assistant General Secretary:

Vincent Tewson (HVT)

Harold Vincent Tewson was born in Bradford in 1898. His first job on leaving school was in the central office of the Amalgamated Society of Dyers and, with the exception of 3 years army service during the First World War, Tewson worked there continuously until his appointment as TUC Organisation Secretary in 1925. Tewson was promoted to Assistant General Secretary in 1931 and took over the post of General Secretary from Sir Walter Citrine in 1946.

The Origins of the Trades Union Congress

At a moment in British life when official policy on prices and incomes is troubling many devoted Socialists, the Trades Union Congress celebrates its centenary, writes Patrick Renshaw.

In its centenary year, the Trades Union Congress has been awaiting the report of a Royal Commission which has redefined its powers in the modern world. No one can doubt the power that the trade unions, with more than eight million members, wield over British economic, political and social life.

The whole economic programme of Mr. Harold Wilson’s Labour Government, and with it the balance of payments, the parity of sterling, the nation’s prosperity, and perhaps even the future of Britain’s traditional democratic processes, may depend on the TUC’s ability to persuade its members to accept Mr. Wilson’s incomes policy.

In such a situation, it scarcely needed the Queen’s presence at the centenary dinner to signify that the trade unions are, indeed, an estate of the realm.

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Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) is an affiliate of International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC).

The International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC) is the main international trade union organisation, representing the interests of working people worldwide. The ITUC was founded at its inaugural congress held in Vienna, Austria on 1 st – 3 rd of November, 2006. It groups together the former affiliates of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Confederation of Labour (WCL), along with trade union organisations which had no global affiliation. The ICFTU and the WCL dissolved themselves on 31 st of October, 2006 to pave way for the creation of the ITUC.

The ITUC regional organisations are the Asia-Pacific Regional Organisation (ITUC-AP), the African Regional Organisation (ITUC-AF) and the American Regional Organisation.

Trade Union Congress - History

The TUC is governed by an annual Congress at which representatives of affiliated trade unions meet to determine policy and to elect the executive body of the organisation. Between 1869 and 1921, the executive work of the Congress was carried out by the Parliamentary Committee. In 1920, the Committee was composed of sixteen members who dealt with a relatively narrow range of labour affairs. Changes in society during the First World War led to a widening of the TUC's functions and consequently the formation of the General Council in 1921, which was composed of a representative sample of trade unionists. The General Council is assisted by a number of committees, including Finance and General Purposes, Disputes, Education, Organisation, Social Insurance, International, Economic and Production. These in turn are served by departments, the number and nature of which varies according to the needs and priorities of the time. The responsibility for the everyday work of the General Council lies with the General Secretary who is assisted by a Deputy General Secretary and one or two Assistant General Secretaries.

In the regions, the TUC is organised into Regional Councils which cover England and Wales. Trade union activity in Scotland and Northern Ireland is co-ordinated by the Scottish TUC and the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, both of which are separate organisations with close working relationships with the TUC. At a local level branches of affiliated trade unions unite to form trades councils.

  • The Parliamentary Committee and General Council minutes, Annual Congress Reports, TUC pamphlets and selected other series of papers are also available on microform. The following are held at Warwick University Library (classmarks given in brackets): annual reports, 1869-1925 (microfilm periodical) pamphlets and leaflets, 1887-1947 (Microfiche 203-204) pamphlets and leaflets, 1948-1966 (Microfiche 439) periodicals and serials, 1918-1977 (Microfilm 2505-2520) Parliamentary Committee minutes, 1888-1922 (Microfilm 293-297) General Council minutes, September 1921-December 1946 (Microfiche 201-202) committee minutes and papers, 1922-1953 (Microfilm 2163-2187).
  • The collection has been weeded for duplicates.

000-099: Trade unionism
100-199: Labour conditions
200-299: Industrial relations
300-399: Capitalism
400-499: Public finance
500-599: Commerce and economics
600-699: Industries
700-799: Politics and government publicity
800-899: Social issues
900-999: International

Event and Its Context

Labor and Political Economy Background

Whereas labor had long been mobilized and incorporated into the Soviet state, the need for war production in the United Kingdom and the United States spurred recovery from the Great Depression and actually improved living conditions (rationing, fixed prices, full employment), raised working-class importance within the wartime culture, and drew new population sectors into the industrial working class (symbolized in the United States by the "Rosie the Riveter" recruiting poster for women workers). This intensified incorporation into the nation state was supplemented by involvement in "the good war" and notions of sympathy, identity, or solidarity with workers and nations abroad. In the occupied countries of Europe, wartime deprivation, brutal Nazi repression, and involvement in passive or active resistance movements similarly raised labor demands for economic advancement and even sociopolitical transformation. These movements often had a simultaneously national-democratic and internationalist character. In the colonial and semicolonial worlds of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, increased agricultural and industrial production, and the sometimes direct involvement in the war of workers (as second-class soldiers or merchant seamen), similarly raised nationalist (anti-colonial, anti-imperialist) and internationalist consciousness among workers. The "workers in uniform" of the Allied powers often witnessed the misery of the occupied and colonized, which produced contradictory feelings of national or racial superiority and anticolonial sympathy. At the end of the war, British soldiers in Egypt, India, and elsewhere revealed themselves to be markedly prolabor. Demonstrations and (near) mutinies helped to undermine renewed British imperial ambitions and upper-class self-confidence.

Union Background

Between the two wars, the major national (European, American, Soviet) unions had had complex and frequently changing relations of cooperation and conflict. These were heavily marked by the formal split of the traditional union internationals brought about by World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917. They were even more heavily influenced by the decision of the Soviet Union and its communist allies elsewhere to create a highly centralized Third International (Comintern) with a complete array of subordinate organizations, including the Red International of Labor Unions (RILU, or Profintern). The RILU made a major appeal to the colonized areas in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, thereby challenging widespread western union racism and collaboration with imperial states. Meanwhile, the western unions were increasingly incorporated into the International Labor Organization (ILO), a body for which they had originally fought but that the western states had then conceded precisely because of western labor unrest and the threat of the Soviet model. Cooperation between the communist and social-democratic (and other social-reformist unions internationally) was impeded by the centralized nature of the first and the pluralistic nature of the second.

Thus, the western unions were not only divided by national differences and rivalries (Europeans v. North Americans) but by the confederations of national union centers (such as the International Federation of Trade Unions, IFTU) versus those of the older and more grounded, industrially specific, confederations, the International Trade Secretariats (ITSs). In the West, different ideological traditions (e.g., socialist, religious) also militated against effective international union solidarity. The spread of fascism in the West further deprived international unionism of major national contingents (Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, and then others).

The war-heightened class, democratic, and international consciousness led to renewed efforts for international and cross-ideological trade union unity. This was largely facilitated by the profound incorporation of the unions into the national economies and polities, combined with the wartime coalition of the Allies. Trade union leaders were not only involved at the highest public national levels. They were sometimes granted diplomatic roles in or were involved with clandestine military intelligence operations within Nazi-occupied Europe.

Directly following the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union, the British Trades Union Congress, with the collaboration of the British government, began negotiations to create an Anglo-Russian Trade Union Council (1941). In February 1945 London hosted a World Trade Union Conference, addressed to unions of the 38 United Nations, including the left-nationalist Confederación de Trabajadores de América Latina (CTAL). The new organization permitted attendance of more than one federation per country. The conservative American Federation of Labor (AFL) opposed this conference, while the progressive Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) supported it.

The founding congress of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) took place in Paris in October 1945. It was much inspired by both union and state notions of a new world order and was organized in the spirit of both the communist Popular Front and the U.S. New Deal 346 delegates represented some 64 million unionists. Unions of the colonial and semi-colonial countries were for the first time heavily represented at an international union conference. Foremost, perhaps, was the major continental confederation of this group of countries, the CTAL. The congress claimed to represent 90 percent of the world's unionists. It declared itself against every form of fascism, against war and its causes, for the right of self-determination, and against colonialism, discrimination, and racism. It favored the extension of union rights, the improvement of working and living conditions, and the limitation and liquidation of monopolies.

For both the CIO and the AUCCTU, the creation of the WFTU was a way to break out of their previous international isolation. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) had doubts, the AFL was opposed, and the ITSs were strongly rusistant to being reduced to departments of the WFTU. The WFTU hoped to become a member of the UN General Assembly. Meanwhile, the new world order was turning into the cold war order. The breaking point came with the U.S. Marshall Plan offer to Europe, which the communists and other leftists saw as establishing U.S. economic hegemony over Europe and as a major anti-Soviet initiative. The Soviets had considerable power within the secretariat of WFTU through Louis Saillant, procommunist general secretary of the French Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT). The AFL was maneuvering on the fringes through Irving Brown, later revealed to be a major Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) collaborator in the international union movement. Cold war policies and ideology played back into the national unions, with both the TUC and the CIO moving away from the WFTU. By 1949 the international trade union movement was split on the lines of the cold war blocs and on the oppositions of communist and reformist ideology.

According to Tony Carew, "There was an irresistible wave of grass roots enthusiasm for a grand trade union alliance" but the tangible achievements of the WFTU and the approach of dealing exclusively with the labor movement through national centers failed to inspire the membership. The WFTU agenda became the concern of "a tiny elite of national leaders and officials" and as a result its demise passed almost unnoticed. "The essential weakness of the WFTU was that it failed . . . to develop a genuine trade union role."

This epitaph is true enough, even if the WFTU continues a shadow existence today, a decade or more after the collapse of the state socialism to which it subordinated itself.

South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU)

In the 1930s various trade unions from different backgrounds ranging from conservative craft unions, white racist industrial unions, white dominated racially mixed industrial unions and non-racial industrial unions merged to form one trade union called South African Trades and Labour Council (SATLC), popularly known as the Trade and Labour Council. In 1944 SATLC adopted the Workers Charter. This Charter was viewed as a vehicle to advance the struggle for the socialist government, which will emancipate the working people from exploitation and oppression. The split was caused by different political and ideological affiliations. Conservative members of the union were against the amendment of its discriminatory constitution, the formation of the local committees to facilitate non-racial working class solidarity, and the experiences of the Second World War and the militancy during the period alienated unions that were not interested in pursuing the aims of liberation politics. The passing of the Suppression of Communism Act by the government in 1950 enabled the state to increase its repressive measures against non-racial trade unions.

In October 1954, right wing trade unions walked out of the SATLC conference held in Durban to form the exclusive White, Coloured, and Indian workers’ Trade Union Council of South Africa (TUCSA). Black workers were denied membership. Nineteen trade unions objected to the formation of the TUCSA. The remaining non-racial trade unions decided to set up a Trade Union Co-ordinating Committee, which had a meeting with the Council of Non-European Trade Union (CNETU). Trade Union Co-ordinating Committee led to the formation of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) in March 1955.

Government legislations and SACTU’s responses

Apart from racial intolerance by White trade unions, the government also passed repressive legislations that made it imperative for Black workers to organise workers across the colour line. African trade unions were free to operate but where not legally recognised by the state. The Industrial Relations Commission, appointed by the National Party government called for the regulation and tighter control of Black trade unions by introducing registration and certification. The IRC also denied Black trade unions the right to join political organisations. In 1953 the government announced the Native Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Act in an attempt to control trade unions. This ACT was followed by the Industrial Conciliation Act of 1956, which was strongly challenged by SACTU.

This Act removed African workers from the officially recognised and state regulated trade union system. This Act also promoted racial division in the trade unions. It banned the registration of the multi-racial trade unions and the existing ones were divided along the racial lines. African workers as the victims of this Act felt that the only option left open to them was to defy it. Oscar Mpetha at the 1957 SACTU conference announced:

"The reason we are faced with an IC Act of this nature is because workers had accepted previous IC Acts, which gained them temporary advantages. We need not find ways and means of working within the Act. We could not leave the onus to a few unions. SACTU as a progressive organisation had to reject the Act”¦Why could we not negotiate from strength? Must we beg that a piece of paper will negotiate for us, that white workers should negotiate for us? Have we no confidence in our own workers that they will change the tide in South Africa? We must not underestimate their strength."

Mpetha’s view to defy registration was challenged by other members of SACTU. They felt that the union is still young and not strongly united. Therefore the decision to defy the registration along racial lines was deferred until a united stand was found.

The Inaugural Conference on 5 March 1955

The Inaugural Conference on 5 March 1955

The inaugural conference for SACTU was held on 5 March 1955 in Johannesburg. SACTU emerged out of nineteen trade unions representing about 20 000 workers. The most important trade unions in SACTU were, the Food and Canning Worker’s Union, The Textile Worker’s Industrial Union and the National Union of Laundry, Cleaning and Dyeing Workers. From the beginning, SACTU committed itself to play a dual role of economic and political struggles. The conference adopted a Declaration of Principles and constitution. It also elected SACTU executive committee.

The president, Petrus Beyleveld was drawn from the textile Workers Industrial Union and Leslie Ma ssina, formerly secretary of CNETU, became General Secretary. Cleopas Sibande and Lucy Mvubelo were elected to the two vice-presidents positions. Other members of the executive committee included Leon Levy, John Nkadimeng, Mark Shope and Billy Nair. SACTU put much of its focus on organising the unorganised workers. SACTU believed that to achieve a genuine transformation it would need to come into conflict with the state. The inclusion of the word Congress in SACTU’s title was a deliberate identification with the nationalist movement. Few months after its formation SACTU sent delegates to attend the Congress of the People, which adopted the historic Freedom Charter on 26 June 1955 and consequently became an active member of the Congress Alliance. It had representation on Congress Alliance’s National Co-ordinating Committee.

SACTU expands its support base

After its formation South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) attempted to strengthen and expand its support base since its effectiveness would depend on the strength of its local branches. The expansion was also influenced by the financial demands. For SACTU to pay organisers salaries and other running expenses it must get other trade unions to affiliate to it and boast their budget. Therefore it was imperative for SACTU to set up organising committees to mobilise other trade unions into its folds. The Laundry Workers and the Food and Canners became the main contributors to the SACTU coffers.

The first organising local committees to mobilise other trade unions were set up in Johannesburg industrial centres. However their efforts did not produce desired impact on forming new and stable unions and recruiting new members. SACTU affiliation on the Witwatersrand remained stagnant at 15 000 between 1956 and 1961. The Rand committee was affected by the treason trial arrests. The ATWIU branch at the Amato textile mill in Benoni was weakened by the dismissals of its members as a result of the 1958 Amato Textile Mills strike.

In spite of these frustrating challenges SACTU managed to establish and resuscitate 17 unions on the Rand and in Pretoria. This was achieved as a result of the campaigns and strikes involving wages initiated by SACTU. The situation in Eastern and Western Cape was much better. In 1956 six new trade unions were set up in Port Elizabeth in the sweet, milling, stevedoring, biscuit, cement and leather industries. In Cape Town the local committee drew resources and support from the Food and Canning Workers Union and the Congress to establish new unions. The membership of these unions was drawn mainly from the migrant African working classes.

In Durban two textile workers, Billy Nair and Stephen Dhlamini led the mobilisation process. Although these two leaders were the Treason Trialists, Durban and Natal became SACTU’s organisational success areas. In 1959, 13, 500 Natal workers joined SACTU after an inspiration and courage they have accumulated from the popular militancy arose from the Cato Manor riots of June 1959 and enthusiasm for trade unionism of Chief Luthuli. New local committees were also formed in Pinetown, Ladysmith and Pietermaritzburg in the same year.

After mobilising workers in the light manufacturing, food processing and services industries SACTU turned its focus to other industries such as agriculture, mining, transport and metal. However the situation in agricultural sector made it impossible for SACTU to mobilise workers. Workers in this industry were scattered and isolated. The other worrying factor was the constraints budget SACTU was operating on. And this made it infeasible for SACTU to reach out to these workers.

As a result SACTU prioritise transport and metal industries as its focal point to mobilise support. SACTU was motivated by the fact that there were existing foundations to build upon in these two industries. The railway and harbour worker’s union existed in Durban, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Johannesburg. From 1956 SACTU registered positive developments in metal industry. In Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and the East Rand new unions were established for metal workers. SACTU thus saw a rise in membership from 20, 000 with 19 to 53, 000 with 51 unions between 1956 and 1961.

Between 1957 and 1960 SACTU organised major workers' strikes and actions around the country. These included the food and canning workers strikes at Langeberg KoÁ¶perasie Beperk (LKB), Beacon Sweets, King Edward V TB hospital, King Edward VIII and McCord hospitals, the Potato Boycott, United Tobacco, Bakers Biscuits, Hammarsdale and Charlestown Clothing Manufacturers, Veka Clothing Manufacturers and Match workers

SACTU on international arena

After realising that the struggle against the economic exploitation and oppression cannot be achieved in isolation SACTU turned to international arena to forge links with other international trade unions. Between 1955 and 1963, SACTU headquarters in Johannesburg opened communications lines with other international trade union federations such as the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU). These links were extended to other countries such as Africa, North America, Europe, Latin America, Asia, Aust6ralia and New Zealand. The banned Assistant General Secretary, Phyllis Altman between 1956 and 1963, discharged the networking responsibilities.


Adopted by the First World Trade Union Congress, in October 1945, in Paris, France and amended by:

– the 2nd World Trade Union Congress, in 1949, in Milan, Italy.
– the 4th World Trade Union Congress, in 1957, in Leipzig, German Democratic Republic.
– the 16th session of the WFTU General Council, mandated by the 6th World Trade Union Congress, in 1965, in Warsaw, Poland.
– the 7th World Trade Union Congress, in 1969, in Budapest, Hungary.
– the 25th Session of the WFTU General Council, mandated by the 8th World Trade Union Congress, in 1973, in Varna, Bulgaria.
– the 31st Session of the WFTU General Council, mandated by the 9th World Trade Union Congress, in 1978, in Prague, Czech.
– the 12th World Trade Union Congress, in 1990, in Moscow, Russia.
– the 13th World Trade Union Congress, in 1994, in Damascus, Syria.
– the 16th World Trade Union Congress, in 2011, in Athens, Greece.

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