ICFTU Archives

Period  1949-1993
Total size   546.5 m.
Consultation Restricted
Permission required for documents younger than 25 years
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User restriction   A part of these archives is temporarily not available for consultation until February 2012


International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU); founded in London in 1949 by unions opposing growing communist control of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) in the initial phase of the cold war; the breakaway was triggered by the WFTU's aim to absorb the hitherto autonomous International Trade Secretariats (ITS) and its rejection of the Marshall Plan; with this background and the American Federation of Labor (AFL) as an affiliate, the ICFTU in the first two decades of its existence strongly identified with Western democratic values and strictly refused contacts with communist and Eastern European state controlled unions; it closely cooperated with the sixteen ITS's; shortly after its founding the ICFTU established a network of regional organizations: the European Regional Organisation (ERO) in 1950, the Organización Regional Interamericana de Trabajadores (ORIT), the Asian Regional Organisation (ARO) in 1951, and finally the African Regional Organisation (AFRO) in 1960; increasing bilateral Eastern European contacts of member unions and a dispute concerning affiliation of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) caused the walk out of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) in 1969, reentering in 1982; following the changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries some trade unions in these countries left the WFTU to affiliate with the ICFTU; membership as a rule is open to trade unions independent from external control but, from the Third World in particular, members with limited freedom from government, political parties and employers, have also been accepted.


Minutes, agenda, reports and working papers relating to congresses 1949-1992, meetings of the Executive Board 1949-1992, the Sub-Committee (Emergency Committee) 1950-1974, the General Council 1950-1953 and the Consultative Council 1953-1958; circulars 1950-1992; copies of outgoing mail 1978-1989; documents relating to the meetings of the committees of the ICFTU, including the Constitutional Committee 1968-1969, the Finance Sub-Committee 1957-1968, the Regional Activities Fund Committee 1951-1960, the International Solidarity Fund Committee 1957-1968, the Finance and General Purposes Committee 1968-1992, the Economic and Social Committee 1969-1992, the Education Policy Committee 1977-1991, the ICFTU/ITS Working Party on Multinational Companies 1973-1993, Committee on Contacts with Communist Controlled Trade Union Organisations 1968-1975, the Human and Trade Union Rights Committee 1993, the Coordinating Committee on Spain 1967-1970, the Coordinating Committee on Southern Africa 1974-1993, the Committee for the Defence of Human and Trade Union Rights in Latin America 1979-1992, the Women's Committee 1956-1993, the ICFTU/ITS Working Group on Young Workers' Questions 1973-1989; documents relating to conferences, seminars and workshops of the ICFTU relating to economics, the atomic energy, education in the labour movement, international migration and other issues, and to the ICFTU World Women Conferences 1967-1991 and the World Youth Rallies 1963-1991; copies of press releases 1950-1982 and of the International Trade Union News 1977-1983; correspondence with and concerning the branch offices in Geneva, New York, Vienna, Nairobi, Accra, Beirut, Lagos, Tokyo, Singapore, Djakarta, Rio de Janeiro and Santiago 1950-1976; correspondence with and concerning the ITS 1949-1975, the World Confederation of Labour (WCL) 1950-1977, the WFTU 1950-1974, the International Centre of Free Trade Unionists in Exile (ICFTUE) 1950-1974, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) 1973-1982 and the All-African Trade Union Federation (AATUF) 1959-1971; correspondence and other documents concerning the contacts with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the United Nations (UN) and its special agencies; with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Amnesty International, the Moral Rearmament, the Socialist International, the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY) and other international and intergovernmental organizations 1950-1979; documents relating to the International Labour Film Institute (ILFI) 1953-1972; personal correspondence of the general secretaries J.H. Oldenbroek and Omer Becu 1950-1969; correspondence and reports on the financial matters of the ICFTU 1950-1974; correspondence with and concerning hundreds of affiliated and non-affiliated trade unions from all continents, including the AFL-CIO, the British Trades Union Congress (TUC), the Confederación de Trabajadores de México (CTM), the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT) de la República Argentina, the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions Türk-Iş, the Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund (DGB), the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU), the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan (Sohyo), the Indian Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), the Union Marocaine du Travail (UMT) and the United Labour Congress of Nigeria (ULCN), 1950-1976; files on the economic, political and trade union situation in various countries 1950-1976; reports of the missions to various countries 1950-1974. Documents relating to the African Regional Organisation (AFRO) consisting of correspondence, agenda, reports concerning the meetings of the Executive Board of the AFRO, the African regional conferences, the AFRO's finances and staff matters, the African Labour College (Kampala College) and African Research Office 1957-1979. Documents relating to the Asian Regional Organisation (ARO) consisting of correspondence, minutes, agenda, circulars and reports concerning the Regional Executive Board, Asian Regional Conferences, Asian Trade Union College (ATUC), the finances of the ARO, the ARO staff matters, seminars, courses and other educational activities 1950-1978. Documents relating to the European Regional Organisation (ERO) consisting of correspondence, minutes, agenda and reports concerning the meetings of the European Regional Council, the ERO Executive Committee, various committees of the ERO, European regional conferences and European summer schools and seminars 1951-1972. Documents relating to the Organización Regional Interamericana de Trabajadores (ORIT) consisting of correspondence concerning the congresses of the ORIT, the meetings of the Executive Committee, Administrative Committee and other ORIT meetings and conferences, the finances of the ORIT, the Inter-American Institute for Labour Studies (IIES) 1950-1976.


The main bulk of the archives of the ICFTU was transferred to the International Institute of Social History (IISH) in 1993 . Apart from this, smaller parts of the archives had already been received in 1958 and 1990 . From 1950 onwards the IISH itself, placed on the ICFTU mailing list and in its capacity as a historical research institute, had been regularly collecting documents (mainly stencilled) of the ICFTU which grew to a considerable amount of material. All these parts are now integrated into a whole.

One's first impression of the ICFTU archives is its extensiveness in terms of both size and content.

The physical extent of the combined ICFTU archive runs to more than 200 metres. The extensiveness applies also to the geographical aspect. As is to be expected from the very fact of being a truly world-wide organisation, the archives of the ICFTU contain documentation concerning the economic, political and trade union situation in all the continents and nearly all the countries of the world.

As to the contents of the archives, it is no exaggeration to say that they embrace almost every fact of life, not only purely trade union matters but also economic, social, cultural, educational and political issues. They comprise documents and correspondence which are a real reflection of the wide ranging activities of the ICFTU. Documents such as agenda, minutes, working papers and reports concerning the congresses and the meetings of the Executive Board, the Sub-Committee, the Finances and General Purposes Committee, and other committees and working groups cast light on every activity level of the ICFTU.

It goes without saying that the arrangement of archives such as these had its own special features. The following points are to be noted in connection with the arranging work:

1. Almost all parts of the ICFTU archives had been already arranged to a certain degree and most of them were provided with a provisional list. The ICFTU had and has its own classification systems; a decimal one for the correspondence being classified in files and a letter code for series such as the incoming and outgoing mail, and the documents relating to congresses, conferences and meetings. There was also a provisional list, made by the IISH, of the material which had been transferred before 1993 . Bearing this in mind the new arrangement was made on the basis of two considerations: on the one hand, it was tried to integrate the all above mentioned parts into one whole, according to the practices of the IISH. On the other hand, while doing so, maximum attention was given to avoid making big changes in the existing arrangement, in particular that of the decimal encoded correpondence. These two considerations have resulted in a sort of combination of the ways of classification used by the IISH and ICFTU.

2. Another factor that has a strong influence on the way the archives have been organised is that more than half of the archives (about 130 metres) consists of correspondence, conducted with the affiliates, ITS, international agencies and other organisations. This correspondence, which reflects the main activities of the ICFTU, has been classified in files and integrated in the section 'Particular', beginning with the documents described under the heading 'Relations with International Organisations'. As far as the affiliates are concerned, these files have been arranged by country. They do not only contain correspondence with affiliated organisations but also correspondence by ICFTU officials on these organisation. In the descriptions this is indicated by the use of the prepositions 'with' and 'on'. As already indicated the ICFTU had applied a decimal classification system for this part of the archives and this system is still in use. In view of this and since it is expected new supplements to receive in the future we have kept this part together as much as possible. Only a small part of this correspondence, which is considered to have a general and organisational character, has been moved to the sections or sub-sections concerned, namely to 'General' and 'Organisation'. It should be noticed here that the ICFTU administration classified all incoming mail in files, leaving no separate series of alphabetically or chronologically arranged letters. However, a series of sheets with cross references had been made, referring to the files, to which the letters were transferred. Copies of outgoing mail were also added to the files but nevertheless a separate series of copies had been maintained and classified as outgoing mail and now integrated in the 'General' section. In addition to this a great part of the incoming mail and the outgoing mail was filmed on 16 mm. films, which were also transferred to the IISH and which can also be consulted.

3. As a result of the above mentioned arrangement the documents relating to the regional organisations and many committees can mostly be found in two different places. For instance, documents (mainly printed and stencilled) concerning the meetings of the Women's Committee have been placed under the heading 'Committees, working groups and working parties', while the correspondence concerning the committee is to be found under the heading 'Contacts on Women Workers' Questions'. This does not necessarily mean that there is no correspondence to be found among the documents under the other category and vice versa. More than that, documents of the committees may be also found among the documents concerning conferences and meetings, and also within specific subject files.

4. As regards the classification of the documents relating to the committees, which in the ICFTU were so plentiful, the main criterion which was applied was whether these committees had a governing or an advisory status. Documents relating to the committees which have more or less a governing function and are directed towards the decision making process, such as the Finance and General Purposes Committee, Economic and Social Committee and Constitution Committee, have been placed in the sub-section 'Organisation'. Documents concerning other committees, those which have a more advisory status, such as the Social Policy Working Group or those which are set up to deal with the questions arising from the activities, such as the Human and Trade Union Rights Committee, have been moved to the sub-section 'Committees, working groups and working parties'. But it must be pointed out that the dividing line between what is advisory and what is governing, and which committee is oriented towards the decision making process rather than activities was in some cases a matter of judgement.

5. To avoid having too many sub-divisions it was decided not to use a separate heading for each committee. Instead, various committees were grouped together under all-embracing categories like 'Economic and social policy', 'Education', 'Development cooperation', 'Young workers' questions', 'Women workers' questions', 'Human and trade union rights', etc. Similar headings have been used in grouping the conferences, meetings and workshops.

6. Not only in the arrangement of the committees but also of the other parts of the archives the very same way of using extended headings has been followed. However, within such categories the documents mainly have been arranged according to the principle 'from general to particular', which for example means that documents concerning meetings precede documents concerning specific issues. To avoid too many sub-divisions again, it has been decided not to use separate headings for these documents.

7. The contents and the sort of material are given in rather general descriptions, using expressions such as "correspondence with/on...", "documents concerning...", "financial documents", etc. Because of the immense variety of documents it was almost impossible to describe all the contents of a folder. However, in many cases more information about the contents is given on the folders themselves.

8. Mostly due to mergers many committees and affiliated organisations have undergone considerable changes, including dissolution, replacement by other committees or organisations and change of name. In general each committee or organisation has a separate description. The subsequent changes that occurred have been explained as nota bene whenever relevant information was available.

9. Packing units like folders or boxes were indicated in the descriptions. In large series yet, the indication was not repeated. Only the exceptions (for example a box in a series of folders) were indicated.

10. Most stencilled and printed documents, including circulars and working papers of the committees are in the four official languages of the ICFTU, namely English, French, German and Spanish.

11. Books, periodicals and pamphlets were transferred to the library of the IISH. Posters and photos were stored at the Audiovisual Department where a rich collection of films made for educational and propagandistic purposes is also available.

Processing information

Inventory made by Erhan Tuskan in 1997

Secondary creator
International Labour Film Institute. Organización Regional Interamericana de Trabajadores. International Center of the Free Trade Unionists in Exile.
Alternate Form of Material

295 security microfilms