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International Unions

International Trade Union Organization

The earliest international trade union bodies were closely allied to socialist groups, and even today in many important international bodies the bulk of the affiliates are socialist oriented. As early as 1889 various national printing unions formed the first of the international trade secretariats of workers in a specific occupation or industry. In 1901 several national trade unions established what was later called the International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). After World War II the IFTU was dissolved and a new organization, the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), attempted to include both Communist and non-Communist unions. Trade unions from democratic nations soon found it impossible to work with the Communist-controlled bodies and left to form the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). The ICFTU includes the vast majority of non-Communist unions; the AFL-CIO is its largest affiliate. The membership of the WFTU now comes from the former Soviet bloc as well as Communist unions in a few democratic countries. A small international body, the World Confederation of Labour (WCL), grew out of a Christian union federation. Now secular, it has affiliates in Western Europe, Latin America, and Africa.

Although international trade unions have little actual power, they serve important purposes in encouraging cooperation and exchange of information. A few efforts have been made to influence collective bargaining among their affiliates and to coordinate affiliate policies. The International Labor Organization, part of the United Nations and not exclusively a trade union body, also aids in the process of communication and cooperation among unions.

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