New international trade union confederation founded

On 1 November 2006, a new International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) was officially formed at its Founding Congress held in Vienna. ITUC was established as a result of the merger of the former International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the World Confederation of Labour. The aim of the new organisation is to set up a stronger and more united trade union movement at transnational level in order to respond to the growing challenge of economic globalisation.

From 1 to 3 November 2006, the new International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) held its founding congress in Vienna in the presence of some 1,700 delegates from more than 150 countries. At the opening session on 1 November, ITUC was officially formed after its predecessor organisations, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Confederation of Labour (WCL), had officially been dissolved the previous day. ITUC thus comprises the affiliated organisations of the former ICFTU and WCL together with eight other national trade union organisations which have for the first time become affiliated to a global body. The new umbrella organisation, however, does not include the 145 member unions, representing some 42 million workers worldwide, of the communist-oriented World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), which did not join the new confederation for political reasons.

ITUC currently represents 168 million workers through its 306 affiliations within 154 countries and territories, and is thus by far the world’s largest trade union federation today. Like the former ICFTU, the new organisation will have its headquarters in Brussels.

Objectives of merger

According to the new ITUC leadership, the merger of the former left-wing ICFTU and the smaller, Christian-oriented WCL had become inevitable for the international trade union movement in order to remain a key player at global level. Growing imbalances of economic globalisation and their devastating effects on millions of workers required a stronger and more united trade union movement at transnational level. According to the former General Secretary of ICFTU and newly-elected General Secretary of ITUC, Guy Ryder: ‘The creation of ITUC will solidify the trade union movement’s capacity at national and international levels’. ‘The founding of ITUC is an integral part of the process of uniting the power of trade unionism’, he emphasised.

New global union policy

According to the new ITUC programme adopted at the founding congress, ITUC’s main global strategies will focus on the protection of workers against any form of discrimination, the fight against the worldwide practice of violating union rights (in particular the right to take strike action) and combating child labour. Its main tasks will be lobbying with international organisations and intervening with national governments when it comes to demanding and pushing through basic labour rights, including the right to unionise. Moreover, ITUC has committed itself to launch international campaigns with respect to global environmental protection, socially fair development policies and other issues of international relevance.

Commentary

The formation of a large, united transnational trade union organisation as a result of the merger of two former competitors will arguably bring advantages in terms of representativeness and legitimacy. Most commentators tend to identify this larger formal representativeness of one single umbrella organisation with a growth in political strength. However, the new ITUC (like the former ICFTU and WCL) will draw its actual power from its capacity to lobby with international organisations and transnational government bodies rather than simple organisational density.

In this respect, it will be most decisive for ITUC to prove itself as a united voice on behalf of workers worldwide and not to allow the escalation of long-standing, traditional ideological conflicts among its affiliates. It remains to be seen whether the formal increase of strength in terms of members will translate into a real reinforcement of the global trade union movement.

Georg Adam, Institute of Industrial Sociology, University of Vienna

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