|Founded||October 3, 1945|
|Pambis Kyritsis (General Secretary)|
|Part of a series on|
The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) is an international federation of trade unions established in 1945. Founded in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, the organization built on the pre-war legacy of the International Federation of Trade Unions as a single structure for trade unions world-wide, following the World Trade Union Conference in London, United Kingdom.
With the emergence of the Cold War in the late 1940s, the WFTU splintered, with most trade unions from the Western-aligned countries leaving and creating the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) in 1949. Throughout the Cold War, membership of the WFTU was made up predominantly of trade unions from the Soviet-aligned and non-aligned countries. However, there were notable exceptions to this, such as the Yugoslav and Chinese unions, which departed following the Tito-Stalin and Sino-Soviet splits, respectively, or the French CGT and Italian CGIL unions, who were members. With the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the WFTU lost the largest portion of its membership and financial support. Since the start of the 2000s, the organization shifted headquarters to Athens and recruited new members, claiming to have grown from representing 48 million workers in 2005 to 105 million in 2022.
Its mission was to bring together trade unions across the world in a single international organization, much like the United Nations. After a number of Western trade unions left it in 1949, as a result of disputes over support for the Marshall Plan, to form the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the WFTU was made up primarily of unions affiliated with or allegedly sympathetic to communist parties. In the context of the Cold War, the WFTU was often portrayed in the West as a Soviet front organization. A number of those unions, including those from Yugoslavia and China, left later when their governments had ideological differences with the Soviet Union.
In 1952, the WFTU organised a speaking tour of the Caribbean for communist activists Billy Strachan and Ferdinand Smith.
The WFTU declined as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union and socialist governments in Eastern Europe, in particular in Europe, with many of its former constituent unions joining the ICFTU. That fall seems to have come to an end since the congress in Havana in 2005 where a new leadership was elected with Georges Mavrikos, a Greek union activist from PAME, leading member of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), at its head.
In January 2006 it moved headquarters from Prague, Czech Republic to Athens, Greece and reinvigorated its activity by putting focus on organizing regional federations of unions in the Third World, by organizing campaigns against imperialism, racism, poverty, environmental degradation and exploitation of workers under capitalism and in defense of full employment, social security, health protection, and trade union rights. The WFTU devotes much of its energy to organizing conferences, issuing statements and producing educational materials and courses for trade union leaders.
In recent years, the WFTU has successfully managed to recruit several trade unions of importance in Europe, amongst which the Rail Maritime Trade Union in Great Britain, the Unione Sindicale di Base in Italy. In France, the CGT National Federation of Agri-Food and Forestry has maintained its affiliation with the WFTU. The CGT National Federation of Chemical Industries sent delegates to the last congress in Athens in 2011. In 2013, two local CGT railway workers branches have taken steps to become affiliates with the WFTU.
The different offices of the WFTU across the different continents organize regular exchanges and militant visits of trade union activists from an affiliate to another in order to further discussions, foster internationalist ties, establish an international activity of its affiliates around shared objectives and campaigns, against common adversaries.
In Africa, unions of major importance such as COSATU in South Africa have affiliated with the WFTU.
As part of its efforts to advance its international agenda, the WFTU develops working partnerships with national and industrial trade unions worldwide as well as with a number of international and regional trade union organizations including the Organization of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions (ICATU), the Permanent Congress of Trade Union Unity of Latin America (CPUSTAL), and the General Confederation of Trade Unions of CIS countries.
The WFTU holds consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, the ILO, UNESCO, FAO, and other UN agencies. It maintains permanent missions in New York, Geneva, and Rome.
Example of National affiliates of the WFTU include:
During the late 1940s, the WFTU unsuccessfully tried to reach an agreement with already existing international trade secretariats. When the Union split in 1949 they were left without an organization at the level of specific industries, leading to the creation of the Trade Union International (TUI) system.
The TUI system has gone through a number of transformations in its over 60 years of existence. The following Trade Unions Internationals are constituted within the WFTU:
Over time, some of these original eleven would expand their bases, change their names or merge:
Other than the initial eleven, two new TUIs were formed during the course of the Cold War:
After the dissolution of the Eastern bloc, the Trade Unions International of Energy Workers and the Trade Union International of Metal and Engineering Workers temporarily suspended operations. In 1998 a conference was held in Havana which merged these two organizations and the Trade Union International of Chemical, Oil and Allied Workers in a new group, Trade Union International of Energy, Metal, Chemical, Oil and Allied Industries. This organization was reorganized again as the Trade Unions International of Energy Workers in 2007. This left the metal workers an opportunity create a new TUI the next year, Trade Union International of Workers in the Mining, the Metallurgy and the Metal Industries.
In 1997 the Trade Union International of Agroalimentary, Food, Commerce, Textile & Allied Industries was formed by the merger of the Trade Union International of Agricultural, Forestry and Plantation Workers, Trade Union International of Food, Tobacco, Hotel and Allied Industries Workers, Trade Union International of Workers in Commerce, Trade Union International of Textile, Leather and Fur Workers Unions.
The Trade Union International of Workers in Tourism and Hotels was founded in 2009, the Trade Union International of Banks, Insurance and Financial Unions Employees in 2011 and the Trade Union International of Pensioners and Retired Persons in 2014. In 2020, a new Trade Union International of Textile-Garment-Leather was founded.