Trades Union Congress
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is a national trade union centre, a federation of trade unions in England and Wales, representing the majority of trade unions. There are 48 affiliated unions, with a total of about 5.5 million members. The current General Secretary is Frances O'Grady.
|Founded||1868 at Mechanics' Institute, Manchester|
|5.5 million (2020)|
|Frances O'Grady (Gen Sec)|
Paul Nowak (Deputy Gen Sec)
The TUC describes its role as to support trade unions to grow and thrive, and to stand up for everyone who works for a living. They campaign for more and better jobs, and a more equal, more prosperous country.
The TUC's decision-making body is the Annual Congress, which takes place in September. Between congresses decisions are made by the General Council, which meets every two months. An Executive Committee is elected by the Council from its members.
Affiliated unions can send delegates to Congress, with the number of delegates they can send proportionate to their size. Each year Congress elects a President of the Trades Union Congress, who carries out the office for the remainder of the year and then presides over the following year's conference.
The TUC is not affiliated to the Labour Party. At election time the TUC cannot endorse a particular party by name. However it can point to policies that it believes would be positive for workers’ rights, or to social cohesion and community welfare. It can also politically campaign against policies that it believes would be injurious to workers.
The TUC archives are held at the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick Library. The archive contains files from about 1920 up to 2000 consisting of correspondence, internal and external documents, minutes, reports, printed material and press statements.
The TUC campaigns on a wide range of issues relating to the experience of people at work.
In October 2016, the TUC's campaign against the Trade Union Bill won 'Best Public Affairs Campaign' at the PR Week Awards.
The TUC's Campaign Priorities for 2017–18 are:
1. An economy that works for working people
2. Great jobs for everyone
3. A thriving movement that delivers for younger workers
- In 1970 the Equal Pay Act made it illegal for employers to give a woman worker different pay and conditions to a male one doing work of equal value.
- In 1999 the National Minimum Wage was established to protect low-paid workers.
- In 1999 a limit was placed on working hours, largely as a health and safety measure. This was quickly followed by a minimum holiday entitlement.
- In 2007 the no-smoking ban was introduced in public areas in response to union arguments that workers were risking their health.
- In October 2011 agency workers gained the right to receive the same treatment as permanent staff carrying out the same work.
The TUC was founded in the 1860s. The United Kingdom Alliance of Organised Trades, founded in Sheffield, Yorkshire, in 1866, was the immediate forerunner of the TUC, although efforts to expand local unions into regional or national organisations date back at least forty years earlier; in 1822, John Gast formed a "Committee of the Useful Classes", sometimes described as an early national trades council.
The first TUC meeting was held in 1868 when the Manchester and Salford Trades Council convened the founding meeting in the Manchester Mechanics' Institute (on what is now Princess Street and was then David Street; the building is at no. 103). The fact that the TUC was formed by Northern Trades Councils was not coincidental. One of the issues which prompted this initiative was the perception that the London Trades Council (formed in 1860 and including, because of its location, many of the most prominent union leaders of the day) was taking a dominant role in speaking for the Trade Union Movement as a whole. The second TUC meeting took place in 1869 at the Oddfellows Hall, Temple Street, Birmingham where delegates discussed the eight-hour working day, election of working people to Parliament and the issue of free education.
Arising out of the 1897 Congress, a decision was taken to form a more centralised trade union structure that would enable a more militant approach to be taken to fighting the employer and even achieving the socialist transformation of society. The result was the General Federation of Trade Unions which was formed in 1899. For some years it was unclear which body (the GFTU or the TUC) would emerge as the national trade union centre for the UK and for a while both were recognised as such by different fraternal organisations in other countries. However, it was soon agreed among the major unions that the TUC should take the leading role and that this would be the central body of the organised Labour Movement in the UK. The GFTU continued in existence and remains to this day as a federation of (smaller, often craft-based) trade unions providing common services and facilities to its members (especially education and training services).
As the TUC expanded and formalised its role as the "General Staff of the Labour Movement" it incorporated the Trades Councils who had given birth to it, eventually becoming the body which authorised these local arms of the TUC to speak on behalf of the wider Trade Union Movement at local and County level. Also, as the TUC became increasingly bureaucratised, the Trades Councils (often led by militant and communist-influenced lay activists) found themselves being subject to political restrictions and purges (particularly during various anti-communist witch-hunts) and to having their role downplayed and marginalised. In some areas (especially in London and the South East) the Regional Councils of the TUC (dominated by paid officials of the unions) effectively took over the role of the County Associations of Trades Councils and these paid officials replaced elected lay-members as the spokespersons for the Trade Union Movement at County and Regional level. By the end of the 20th century local Trades Councils and County Associations of Trades Councils had become so ineffective and weak that many had simply faded into effective dissolution.
The 1899 Congress saw a motion "calling for a special conference to establish a voice for working people within parliament. Within the year the conference had been held and the Labour Representation Committee established (the forerunner of the Labour Party)." The major TUC affiliated unions still make up the great bulk of the British Labour Party affiliated membership, but there is no formal/organisational link between the TUC and the party.
The Scottish Trades Union Congress, which was formed in 1897, is a separate and autonomous organisation.
The Parliamentary Committee grew slowly, confining itself to legal matters, and ignored industrial disputes. In 1916 Harry Gosling proposed that organised labour needed an administrative machine. Following the railway strike of 1919, Ernest Bevin and G. D. H. Cole proposed a new system. The Parliamentary Committee became the General Council, representing thirty groups of workers. The General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress became chief permanent officer of the TUC, and a major figure in the British trade union movement. The system was successfully implemented by Fred Bramley and Walter Citrine. By 1927 the TUC had the making of a trade union bureaucracy similar to the civil service.
During the First World War, the Trades Union Congress generally supported the aims of the British Empire. However, in 1915, national conference voted against the introduction of military conscription.
The TUC played a major role in the General Strike of 1926, and became increasingly affiliated with the Labour Party in the 1930s, securing seven of the thirteen available seats on the newly created National Council of Labour in 1934.
A TUC survey of local trades councils who were approached by unemployed marchers for support in 1936 shows widespread support for unemployed workers' protest marches among the local trade union activists. The TUC leadership subsequently tried to distort the result of the survey to justify its own opposition toward unauthorised marches.
In 1958, the TUC's current headquarters, Congress House, was built. It was proposed at the 1944 Congress in Blackpool as a tribute to the lives of trade unionists that were lost in World War II. The idea was quickly expanded on to include conference and meeting facilities now known as Congress Centre. The building was also seen as an opportunity to raise interest in arts and culture, architecture in particular and the chance to design the building was left open to the public as a competition, which David Du R Aberdeen won.
Frances O'Grady became elected to be the leader of the TUC in 2012. The TUC endorsed a remain vote at the 2016 European Union membership referendum, and O'Grady participated in a televised debate.
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- Taylor, R. The TUC: From the General Strike to New Unionism (2000). excerpt
- Wrigley, Chris, ed. British Trade Unions, 1945–1995 (Manchester University Press, 1997)
- The History of the TUC (Trades Union Congress) 1868–1968: A pictorial Survey of a Social Revolution — Illustrated with Contemporary Prints, Documents and Photographs edited by Lionel Birch; published in large paperback by Hamlyn/General Council of Trade Union Congress in 1968 with a foreword by George Woodcock
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Trades Union Congress.|
- Official website
- Catalogue of the TUC archives, held at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick
- TUC unionfinder tool to find unions by sector or company
- The Union Makes Us Strong: TUC History Online
- "The Trades Union Congress, 1936–1939: Its history and organisation", Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick
- "Trabajadores: The Spanish Civil War through the eyes of organised labour", a digitised collection of more than 13,000 pages of documents from the archives of the TUC held in the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick
- Higher Learning at Work – TUC unionlearn's guide to learning at work
- Stronger Unions – The TUC organising team's blog
- Trades Union Congress papers, at the University of Maryland libraries.