World Federation of Trade Unions

World Federation of Trade Unions
FoundedOctober 3, 1945; 78 years ago (1945-10-03)
HeadquartersAthens, Greece
Members (2022)
105 million
Mzwandile Makwayiba
Key people
Pambis Kyritsis (General Secretary)

The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) is an international federation of trade unions established in 1945. Founded in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, the organization built on the pre-war legacy of the International Federation of Trade Unions as a single structure for trade unions world-wide, following the World Trade Union Conference in London, United Kingdom.

With the emergence of the Cold War in the late 1940s, the WFTU splintered, with most trade unions from the Western-aligned countries leaving and creating the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) in 1949. Throughout the Cold War, membership of the WFTU was made up predominantly of trade unions from the Soviet-aligned and non-aligned countries. However, there were notable exceptions to this, such as the Yugoslav and Chinese unions, which departed following the Tito-Stalin and Sino-Soviet splits, respectively, or the French CGT and Italian CGIL unions, who were members. With the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the WFTU lost the largest portion of its membership and financial support. Since the start of the 2000s, the organization shifted headquarters to Athens and recruited new members, claiming to have grown from representing 48 million workers in 2005 to 105 million in 2022.


1955 USSR stamp with WFTU logo


Its mission was to bring together trade unions across the world in a single international organization, much like the United Nations. After a number of Western trade unions left it in 1949, as a result of disputes over support for the Marshall Plan, to form the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the WFTU was made up primarily of unions affiliated with or allegedly sympathetic to communist parties. In the context of the Cold War, the WFTU was often portrayed in the West as a Soviet front organization. A number of those unions, including those from Yugoslavia and China, left later when their governments had ideological differences with the Soviet Union.

In 1952, the WFTU organised a speaking tour of the Caribbean for communist activists Billy Strachan and Ferdinand Smith.


The WFTU declined as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union and socialist governments in Eastern Europe, in particular in Europe, with many of its former constituent unions joining the ICFTU. That fall seems to have come to an end since the congress in Havana in 2005 where a new leadership was elected with Georges Mavrikos, a Greek union activist from PAME, leading member of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), at its head.

In January 2006 it moved headquarters from Prague, Czech Republic to Athens, Greece and reinvigorated its activity by putting focus on organizing regional federations of unions in the Third World, by organizing campaigns against imperialism, racism, poverty, environmental degradation and exploitation of workers under capitalism and in defense of full employment, social security, health protection, and trade union rights. The WFTU devotes much of its energy to organizing conferences, issuing statements and producing educational materials and courses for trade union leaders.

In recent years, the WFTU has successfully managed to recruit several trade unions of importance in Europe, amongst which the Rail Maritime Trade Union in Great Britain, the Unione Sindicale di Base in Italy. In France, the CGT National Federation of Agri-Food and Forestry has maintained its affiliation with the WFTU. The CGT National Federation of Chemical Industries sent delegates to the last congress in Athens in 2011. In 2013, two local CGT railway workers branches have taken steps to become affiliates with the WFTU.

The different offices of the WFTU across the different continents organize regular exchanges and militant visits of trade union activists from an affiliate to another in order to further discussions, foster internationalist ties, establish an international activity of its affiliates around shared objectives and campaigns, against common adversaries.

In Africa, unions of major importance such as COSATU in South Africa have affiliated with the WFTU.

As part of its efforts to advance its international agenda, the WFTU develops working partnerships with national and industrial trade unions worldwide as well as with a number of international and regional trade union organizations including the Organization of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions (ICATU), the Permanent Congress of Trade Union Unity of Latin America (CPUSTAL), and the General Confederation of Trade Unions of CIS countries.

The WFTU holds consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, the ILO, UNESCO, FAO, and other UN agencies. It maintains permanent missions in New York, Geneva, and Rome.

WFTU poster urging solidarity with the Bolivian Workers' Center


National Affiliates

Example of National affiliates of the WFTU include:

Trade Union Internationals

During the late 1940s, the WFTU unsuccessfully tried to reach an agreement with already existing international trade secretariats. When the Union split in 1949 they were left without an organization at the level of specific industries, leading to the creation of the Trade Union International (TUI) system.

The TUI system has gone through a number of transformations in its over 60 years of existence. The following Trade Unions Internationals are constituted within the WFTU:

Over time, some of these original eleven would expand their bases, change their names or merge:

Other than the initial eleven, two new TUIs were formed during the course of the Cold War:

Post-Cold War developments

After the dissolution of the Eastern bloc, the Trade Unions International of Energy Workers and the Trade Union International of Metal and Engineering Workers temporarily suspended operations. In 1998 a conference was held in Havana which merged these two organizations and the Trade Union International of Chemical, Oil and Allied Workers in a new group, Trade Union International of Energy, Metal, Chemical, Oil and Allied Industries. This organization was reorganized again as the Trade Unions International of Energy Workers in 2007. This left the metal workers an opportunity create a new TUI the next year, Trade Union International of Workers in the Mining, the Metallurgy and the Metal Industries.

In 1997 the Trade Union International of Agroalimentary, Food, Commerce, Textile & Allied Industries was formed by the merger of the Trade Union International of Agricultural, Forestry and Plantation Workers, Trade Union International of Food, Tobacco, Hotel and Allied Industries Workers, Trade Union International of Workers in Commerce, Trade Union International of Textile, Leather and Fur Workers Unions.

The Trade Union International of Workers in Tourism and Hotels was founded in 2009, the Trade Union International of Banks, Insurance and Financial Unions Employees in 2011 and the Trade Union International of Pensioners and Retired Persons in 2014. In 2020, a new Trade Union International of Textile-Garment-Leather was founded.


General Secretaries

1945: Louis Saillant ( France)
1969: Pierre Gensous ( France)
1978: Enrique Pastorino ( Uruguay)
1982: Ibrahim Zakaria ( Sudan)
1990: Alexander Zharikov ( Russia)
2005: George Mavrikos ( Greece)
2022: Pambis Kyritsis ( Cyprus)


1945: Walter Citrine ( United Kingdom)
1946: Arthur Deakin ( United Kingdom)
1949: Giuseppe Di Vittorio ( Italy)
1959: Agostino Novella ( Italy)
1961: Renato Bitossi ( Italy)
1969: Enrique Pastorino ( Uruguay)
1975: Sándor Gáspár ( Hungary)
1989: Indrajit Gupta ( India)
1990: Ibrahim Zakaria ( Sudan)
1994: Antonio Neto ( Brazil)
2000: K. L. Mahendra ( India)
2005: Shaban Assouz ( Syria)
2016: Mzwandile Makwayiba ( South Africa)
List of World Trade Union Conferences
No. Dates Venue
I 25 September- 9 October 1945 Paris  France
II 29 June-9 July 1949 Milan  Italy
III 10-21 October 1953 Vienna  Austria
IV 4-15 October 1957 Leipzig  German Democratic Republic
V 4-15 December 1961 Moscow  Soviet Union
VI 8-22 October 1965 Warsaw  Polish People's Republic
VII 17-26 October 1969 Budapest  Hungarian People's Republic
VIII 15-22 October 1973 Varna  People's Republic of Bulgaria
IX 16-22 April 1978 Prague  Czechoslovakia
X 10-15 February 1982 Havana  Cuba
XI 16-22 September 1986 Berlin  German Democratic Republic
XII 13-20 November 1990 Moscow  Soviet Union
XIII 22-26 November 1994 Damascus  Syria
XIV 25-28 March 2000 Delhi  India
XV 1-3 December 2005 Havana  Cuba
XVI 6-10 April 2011 Athens  Greece
XVII 5-7 October 2016 Durban  South Africa

See also

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