In 1949, early in the Cold War, alleging Communist domination of the WFTU's central institutions, a large number of non-communist national trade union federations (including the U.S. AFL-CIO, the British TUC, the French FO, the Italian CISL and the Spanish UGT) seceded and created the rival ICFTU at a conference in London attended by representatives of nearly 48 million members in 53 countries.
From the 1950s the ICFTU actively recruited new members from the developing regions of first Asia and subsequently Africa. Following the collapse of Communist party government in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, the Federation's membership has risen steeply from 87 million in 1988 and 100 million in 1992, as trade union federations from former Soviet bloc countries joined the ICFTU.
The ICFTU was formally dissolved on 31 October 2006 when it merged with the World Confederation of Labour (WCL) to form the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
The ICFTU had three regional organisations, APRO for Asia and the Pacific, AFRO for Africa, and ORIT for the Americas. The ICFTU also maintained close links with the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) (which includes all ICFTU European affiliates) and Global Union Federations, which link together national unions from a particular trade or industry at international level.
Central to the ICFTU's work was the struggle to defend workers' rights. The ICFTU lobbied for the ratification of the so-called "core labour standards" -- eight key conventions of the International Labour Organization concerning freedom of association, the abolition of child labour and forced labour and the elimination of discrimination in the workplace.
The ICFTU has staff which are devoted entirely to the monitoring and defence of workers rights, and they issue -- almost on a daily basis -- alerts and calls to action. The ICFTU published its "Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights" every June, the publication of which was usually accompanied by extensive press coverage of the violations of trade union rights around the world. The report often focused on the numbers of people killed for being members of unions.
In its constitution, the organization pledged itself to "champion the cause of human freedom, promote equality of opportunity for all people, seek to eliminate everywhere in the world any form of discrimination or subjugation based on race, religion, sex or origin, oppose and combat totalitarianism and aggression in any form".
That constitution listed no fewer than seventeen aims of the organization and it has been argued that the ICFTU from its very beginning set itself goals that would be impossible to achieve -- particularly with a small staff and budget. For example, the organization's constitution required it "to carry out a programme of trade union and workers’ education" as well as to give "assistance to those suffering from the consequences of natural and industrial disasters".
In 2004 Australian union leader Sharan Burrow was elected as the first female president of the ICFTU.
Annual survey of violations of trade union rights
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