International Confederation of Free Trade Unions ICFTU

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU)


an international trade union organization founded as the result of a split in the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) brought about by the right-wing union leaders of the United States and Great Britain.

Established in 1949 at a constituent conference in London, the ICFTU includes the reformist central union organizations of capitalist and developing countries (119 organizations from 88 countries in 1976, with approximately 52 million members, according to the figures of the ICFTU leadership). The charter, manifesto, and declaration of social and economic demands adopted by the ICFTU in 1949 combine anticommunist outbursts with a statement of readiness to fight for trade union rights and for social, economic, and cultural progress within the confines of social democratic reformism.

Documents published by the confederation in the 1950’s declared support for NATO, the Marshall Plan, US aggression in Korea, and the militarization of the West. In 1955 the ICFTU executive committee prohibited member organizations from exchanging delegations with trade unions in the socialist countries. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s the ICFTU passed resolutions that to some extent reflected the problems and tasks facing the working class under the particular conditions within which it had to fight (for example, the statement of the seventh ICFTU congress in 1962 on achieving full employment and on the social consequences of automation, the resolution of the ninth congress in 1969 on the effect of the internationalization of production on the workers, or the resolutions of the tenth congress in 1972 on international corporations and on inflation and employment). Many of the national organizations belonging to the ICFTU have defied the opposition of the rightwing leaders and have established contacts with union groups belonging to the WFTU, including unions in the socialist countries. In 1969 the main union organization in the United States, the AFL-CIO, with-drew from the ICFTU, because the AFL-CIO leaders felt that the confederation had become insufficiently ardent in performing its functions as the international anticommunist labor union center. In 1973 the executive committee recognized the right of member organizations to establish contacts with trade unions belonging to the WFTU.

The highest body of the ICFTU is the congress, which is convened once every three years (from 1949 to 1976, 11 congresses were held). The congress elects an executive committee and a general secretary (since 1972, O. Kersten of West Germany). The executive committee elects a president (since 1976, P. Narayanan of Malaysia) and several vice-presidents. It also elects a subcommittee that makes the necessary decisions between sessions of the executive committee; the subcommittee consists of the president, the general secretary, and several executive committee members. The ongoing work of the organization is conducted by the secretariat. The Inter-American Regional Organization of Workers and the Asian Regional Organization (both founded in 1951) carry out regional work. The European Regional Organization (founded in 1950) was terminated by 1970. In 1973 the European Trade Union Confederation was created. First made up of the Western European member organizations of the ICFTU, it subsequently included the Western European trade union centers of the World Confederation of Labor and Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro; it has formal organizational independence from the ICFTU. An organization dealing with Africa was formed in 1960 and has been inoperative since the late 1960’s. The tenth congress of the ICFTU voted to revive it. The ICFTU headquarters is in Brussels. Its official organ is the monthly magazine Free Labour World.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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