The first congress of the socialists, later known as the Second International was held in Paris in 1889 following a spate of socialist parties in various countries after 1880. Though representing common objective, there were disagreements on many points among the socialist parties. The socialists of Germany, Austria, Belgium and Italy, the Gueists of France, the social democratic federation of England and the Socialist Labour Party of America were Marxists. Since they expected ‘social revolution’ by the end of the century they wanted to prepare the workers for it whereas the Fabians, Possibilists and other socialist groups were not Marxists, they were interested in immediate improvemtns in the condition of workers and stressed the need for gaining influence in legislative bodies through participation in bourgeois elections. Due to these disagreements two rival conferences were held in Paris in July 1889. Two decisions of the Second International were important: (1) one dealt with the invitation by the Swiss government to the other governments of Europe to attend an official international conference in Bern to consider measures for the international regulation of labour conditions. The Second International called upon all socialist parties and trade unions to support the Swiss government. (2) The other was to support the movement for an eight hour day launched by the American Federation of Labour in 1886. The congress of the Second International voted to arrange an ‘international manifesto’ on 1 May 1890 in support of the American movement thus inaugurating the trade union tradition of International May Day.


Not satisfied with omnibus intenational associations stuffed with romantic ideas, workers of particular trades across national boundaries were able to organise their own internationals known by the name of International Trade Secretariates (ITS). Thus Belgian, Dutch and German Tobacco workers formed their ITS in 1889, followed by Hatters’ ITS in the same year. Shoe makers of Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Hungary and Switzerland formed their ITS also in the same year. 1890 saw the birth of Miners’ Internatinal in Manchester. In 1892, International Glass Workers Secretariate came into existence which however, broke down in 1900 to be reconstituted in 1908. Printing workers formed their International in 1892; Tailors and Metal Workers’ International came into existence in 1893; followed by Textile Workers’ International in 1894, Ethnographers’ International in 1896 and Transport Workers’ International in 1897. These and other trade internationals formed later successfully defended and furthered the interests of their groups with vigour.


At the initiative of national trade unions of Denmark, Great Britain and France an International Secretariate was established in 1900 to develop trade union contacts. The American Federation of Labour participated in its Paris Conference in 1909. After the Zurich conference in 1913, this loosely-organised secretariat was transformed into a closer organisation, known as the International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), establishing relations with the 25 ITSs that existed then. The outbreak of the first world war defeated the working class international solidarity. The trade unions of the allied countries and of central powers met in separate conferences. Though attempts at cooperation from both sides failed during the war, the inwardly active consciousness of workingmen’s international solidarity was proved by the attempts. The international congress of 1919 in Amsterdam reestablished the IFTU. London conference (1920) of IFTU declared that a new additional function of the TU movement was to conduct national and international struggles against militarism, imperialism and capitalism and that mass strikes and international boycotts might be effective against reaction. The Argentina Confederation of Labour had been affiliated in 1919. Further affiliations were registered from New Zealand, China, Egypt, South West Africa, Mozambique, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Indo-China, Madagascar, Senegal, Mauratania and French Camerouns. On the eve of second World War the IFTU had about 20 million members worldwide.

The extreme left trade unions held international conferences in the midst of the first world war at Zimmerwald (1915) and Kienthal (1916). The idea of forming separate International emerged at these conferences. The pan-Russian Trade Union Conference (1917) concretised the idea. Since the revolution of 1905-07 and especially after the breakout of World War 1, Russia was in the thick of social and economic turmoil, Russian workers were more inclined to the political activities of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) than to trade union activities. No wonder therefore that trade unions did not respond to IFTU invitations to join them. After the October Revolution, the first All Russian Congress of Trade Unions, held in January 1918 endorsed the decision to form, what was known as, the Red Trade Union International. One of the 21 conditions for joining the Red TWI was to oppose and fight against reformist trade union leaders. Later in July 1920 the Third International (commintern) convened a meeting of representatives to the Red TWI who issued a statement calling for stepping up of the class war in order to establish a communist society and an international association of workers organised ‘‘not per trade category ... but per industry’’, denounced social reforms to solve social problems and explained the harm of trade union neutralism or ‘‘apolitism’’. The Red TUI openly declared their aim to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. The statement also aimed at forming a revolotuinary communist nucleas at each trade union organisation. Communist and anarcho-syndicalist trade unions met again in July 1921 in Moscow to officially declare creation of Red Trade Union Internationl (RTUI). Dispute between Communists and anarcho syndicalists broke out over turning the RTUI into a subordinate organisation of the Communist International. Most of the anarcho-syndicalists quit the RTUI and either rejoined the IFTU or actively participated in setting up the International Association of Workers in (IAW) in Berlin at the end of 1921. The IAW had a membership of about 200,000 from Spain, Germany, France, Sweden, Portugal, USA and the Netherlands. In March 1935 RTUI proposed holding a joint conference with the IFTU. In August 1937 for the first time, the Soviet trade unions negotiated directly with the IFTU. An IFTU delegation went to Moscow in November 1937 but the general council (1938) of IFTU rejected the Russian conditions. At this point of time World War II broke out.


The Christian trade unionists tended to overstep national boundaries with effect from 1900. Initially the Christian trade unionists would join any of the eixisting trade internationals (IST), but owing to unbridgeable differneces they decided to create their own international Secretariate and an International Committee in 1908. In 1919 in Paris Christian organisations from Belguim, Spain, Italy, Latvia and Lithunia met and at Lucerne some Christian trade union organisers from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Switzerland got together. Thanks to the intervention of the Dutch delegates, a Congress was held in the Hague in 1920 when it was decided to create the International Federation of Christian Trade Unions (IFCTU), which registered a membership of 3.5 million within 1920. Shortly afterwards Italian, German and Austrian members left the IFCTU. The IFCTU has now been renamed, World Confederation of Labour (WCL). In no country this Christian International could possess the most representative character althogh it is present in almost every trade union centre of Europe as a minority group.

The International Federation of Commercial, Clerical, Professional and Technical Employees, generally know by its French initials as FIET is the world organisation of white collar workers’ trade unions grouping together more than 7 million employees in banks, insurance, commerce and industry. FIET’s origin dates back to 1904 when Dutch, German, Austrian and Italian unions set up an information office in Hamburg. The inaugural conference was held in Vienna in 1921.

World War II brought considerable upheaval in the life of the people as well as in the evolution of the international trade union movement. Unlike in the first World War, international trade union action kept going, albeit at a slower pace. Together with clandestine movements Anglo-French, Anglo-American and since June 1941 Anglo-Soviet trade union committees were set up to intensify war effort. While the war was still going on in February 1945 the World Trade Union Conference was held in London. Representatives of 53 trade union organisaions attended. There were three clear factions: (1) a communist group, (2) a group which had remained loyal to IFTU and (3) an alliance of anti-communists mainly from the French CGT and the American CIO. The items on the agenda included contribution to the Allied War effort, the attitude of the trade union organisation towards future peace settlement and reconstruction of the international  trade union movement. A committee was set up to examine the last point after numerous problems cropped up in the course of discussion. The Paris Conference (Sept-Oct1945) created the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU). Some ITSs merged with the WFTU in the post-war spirit of idealism and unity. However some divergences appeared before the Constitution Congress. The WFTU made efforts to be represented at the United Nations Organisation with the right to vote but failed. However it obtained consultative status. The WFTU decided to place the constituent ITS as international trade departments under its immediate control. The decision was resented by the non-communists leading to an internal split. More and more the non- communists began to observe that the WFTU was gradually becoming an instrument of the commnitern. It pretended to know nothing of the labour camps of the USSR and about the mass deportation of workers. In the face of stagnation of the leadership, an opposition movement grew within the WFTU. It grew in weight as the WFTU leaders leaned more and more to Soviet policy. In 1947 relations between the USA and the USSR became tense over the American programme of aid, known as the Marshall Plan, to Europe. The USSR began violent propaganda against the Marshall Plan. This antagonism was reflected in the WFTU. In the November 1947 Excutive Board meeting of the WFTU the American CIO effort to include the question of the American aid programme in Europe in the agenda failed. Relations between leaders of the WFTU became more and  more strained. The British trade union proposed one year suspension of activities. The American and Canadian TUs approved the British proposal but the French, Soviet, Italian and Chinese delegates opposed. The British delegate, who chairman of the meeting held in January 1949 in Paris, closed the meeting and left the room followed by representatives of the Netherland federation NVV and the American CIO. The split of the WFTU was complete.


In June 1949 on a proposal of the British TUC, a committee was formed in Geneva to plan a World Conference of Free Trade Unions. Accordingly the first world congress of the international confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) was held in London from 28 November to 7 December 1949. Now the ICFTU, having its headquarters in Brussels, is a centre of manifold activities related to trade unions such as organising, education, information and research. There are regional centres. The ITSs constituting the ICFTU are all autonomous.


Soon after the termination of the first world war the leaders of governments as well as of trade union movement from Europe and America, felt that co-operation among the social partners, namely the workers, employers and the government was the imperative for creation of wealth and stabilisation of labour management relations to fight poverty and ensure peace through social justice. This group met on the sidelines of Verseilles in 1919 forming the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as part of the League of Nations. After the disappearances of the  League and the establishment of the  United Nations Organisation after the second World War, the ILO has been functioning as a specialised agency of the UN. The ILO evolved a new concept of collaboration which is known as the tripartite concept which envisages that the governments, employers and workers are the three essential partners to promote social progress, all of whom must co-operate to establish and maintain industrial harmony and save the working people from exploitation, expropriation and humiliation. The tripartite concept was a novel one evolved by the ILO to create a brave new world free from industrial tensions, socio-economic injustices and onslaughts on labour. The membership of the ILO is countrywise and each member comprises representatives of Governments, employers and employees at the ratio of 2:1:1. The members meet in International  Labour Conference of the ILO in June each year at the ILO headquarters in Geneva to transact business. At present, 174 member countries comprise the ILO.


Returning to the postulate of dys-function in the Indian working class movement, it may be emphasised that the British government of India in 1919 allowed India a membership in the ILO in the hope that at least three out of four delegates would serve the British interests. Almost coincident with the formation of the ILO was the foundation of the All India Trade Union Congress, AITUC, which was controlled by the Indian National Congress, which sent its political leaders as representatives of India’s working people to International Labour Conferences each year. In this way many Indian Congress leaders not remotely connected with regular trade union activities represented Indian Workers. After India’s independence, when the Congress party found it impossible to wrest back the leadership of the AITUC from the Communists, they broke away and formed the Indian National Trade Union Congress, INTUC, and were able to prove before their own depatment of Labour that the INTUC had more membership strength than the AITUC had and therefore INTUC, which has since become a private estate of the Congress Party, has been sending their leaders, the  Congress Party leaders, as representatives of Indian working people till the results of 1989 enumeration and verification of Trade Union membership was officially announced towards the end of 1990s. Now that the Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, is in power at the Centre the national trade union organisation connected with the BJP, namely the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, applying the old logic, has turned out to be the sole representative of the Indian working people to the representative to the International Labour Conference of the ILO. Indian leaders of other national trade union organisations are inflating their membership figures to preserve national status just as Indian rulers are inflating the national income figures to deceive their own people. Both serve overseas interests.


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