Documents of the international and European trade union movement within the Archives of Social Democracy of the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation / Hans-Holger Paul. - [Electronic ed.]. - 15 Kb, Text
In: Acta / International Association of Labour History Institutions : XXXI annual conference Oslo, 7-9 September 2000. - Gent, 2000, S. 35 - 40
Electronic ed.: Bonn : FES Library, 2001

© Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung


Documents of the International and European Trade Union Movement within the Archives of Social Democracy of the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation

The Archives of Social Democracy (AdsD) were founded in order to preserve the historical heritage of German and international Social Democracy. The archives have expanded during the last decade into one of the most eminent archives of trade unionism in Europe. The AdsD holds nearly all documents existing within Germany of the General German Trade Union Federation (ADGB), the most important predecessor of todays’ German Trade Union Federation (DGB). It also contains the archives of the DGB and the German Salaried Employees’ Union (DAG), as well as documents of numerous DGB affiliated trade unions, among them IG Metall. Altogether, these German trade union records add up to more than 8,000 linear meters.

The AdsD has also become an eminent research centre both in terms of its holdings and its research facilities in the field of international and European trade unionism. Although the AdsD began collecting records of international and European trade secretariats in the 1960s, acquisitions have increased enormously since 1994. Over two-thirds of the present holdings were obtained within the last five years, amounting at present to about 1,200 linear meters overall.

International Trade Secretariats

Early in its existance the AdsD succeeded in acquiring the small yet valuable archive of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) (period: 1904 - 1952) containing among other things material documenting ITF activities during the Nazi regime (and emigration). This archive has been added to in a systematic way by regular accruals from the ITF Central Office and by photocopies of its significant non-current records from the Modern Record Center at Warwick, Coventry where the main ITF archive is lodged.

During the 1980s the AdsD acquired extensive holdings of the International metalworkers Federation (IMB), as well as a first acquisition of records of the European Metalworkers Federation (EMB). Especially the IMB documents date back to its founding period and illustrate international trade unions’ activities in electrical industry, steel industry, mechanical engineering and automobile industry.

In 1990 the International Graphical Federation (IGF) decided to entrust the AdsD with its archive. With the IGF archive came material from the IGF predecessors such as the International Printers’ Secretariat and the International Bookbinders’ Secretariat. There are also a few samples of documents of the International Lithographical Federation. Because the IGF Secretariat was located in neutral Switzerland during World War II these records are largely complete - a state of affairs regrettably rare in German trade unionism.

In this context acquisitions of several international archives in the field of media trade unions should be mentioned as they form a significant addition to the IGF archive. Thus in recent years the AdsD has acquired documents of the Media and Entertainment International (MEI), the International Federation of Actors and archival material of the International Federation of Journalists (IJF).

In 1997 the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), an important international trade union, transferred their extensive archive to the AdsD. The first accession alone consisted of 330 linear meters of archival material. This archive includes documents from predecessor organizations such as the International Federation of Bakers, Pastry-Cooks and Allied Workers’ Associations (1907ff.), as well as records of organizations that merged with the IUF in later years, such as the International Tobacco-Workers’ Association (1945ff.) and the International Plantation, Agricultural and Allied Workers (IFPAAW).

These archives in turn complement the records of the International and European Agricultural Workers’ Federation which the AdsD was entrusted with several decades ago, the documents of the European Federation of Agricultural Workers’ Unions (EFA), acquired in 1996, and the European Committee of Food, Catering and Allied Workers’ Unions within the IUF (ECF-IUF).

Among the records of further international organizations deposited at the AdsD within the last five years the International Federation of Building and Wood Workers (IFBWW), the Education International (EI), the International Federation of Commercial, Clerical, Professional and Technical Employees (FIET) and, most recently, the Public Services International (PSI) should be named. Because the AdsD was able to acquire the IFBWW documents just before the organization was going to move, it was possible to save documents dating back to the early days of the IFBWW. Unfortunately the archives of the FIET and PSI were not in a similar condition, and have serious gaps. Even smaller record groups that had been collected earlier by the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam (IISH) cannot fill in these gaps in the historical record.

European Trade Secretariats

European trade secretariats’ records form two main branches: one of them consists of the holdings of organizations where the work was carried out over a long stretch of time by the respective international trade secretariats. The co-operation of IGF and EGF or, for instance, the closely interwoven co-operation of FIET and EUROFIET, is such an organization.

Other trade secretariats created their own independant European sub-divisions and established separate European organizations. The European Federation of Agricultural Workers’ Union (EFA), the European Federation of Building and Wood Workers (EFBWW) or, a few years later, the European Metal Workers’ Federation in the European Community (EMF) are such organizations. Because of the increasing significance of the European Community, this form of organization has become increasingly popular; virtually independent European general secretariats have been set up which closely correspond with the respective international organization. Their tasks consist in promoting social dialog and co-ordinate trade unions’ work throughout Europe. Thus, for example, they have worked to establish European works committees and a European social charta. Western European trade unions faced a new challenge with the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the countries belonging to the Eastern bloc. Introducing a capitalistic market economy called for either speedily building up democratic trade unions in Central and Eastern Europe or essentially transforming existing unions in order to further independant wage earners’ representation.

These new tasks are already echoed in documents of European trade secretariats, although we must assume that up to now these records have only in part been passed on to the AdsD.

As the AdsD has established its name among European trade secretariats the majority of these organizations deposit their non-current records with the AdsD. Historical research projects such as reconstructing the history of social dialogue in the agricultural sector have already been initiated.

The AdsD is involved at present in acquiring several important archives as several trade secretariats at the European as well as international level have either recently merged or are expected to do so in the near future. These mergers require the AdsD to rescue quickly endangered archival material. FIET, IGF, CI and MEI have merged in UNI, causing their European counterparts to follow in founding UNI-Europe. EFA and ECF-IUF are expected to merge in December 2000.

A complete list of the AdsD holdings concerning international and European trade secretariats’ archives is attached.

Archival value

It would be hard to overestimate the importance of these archives for historical research into national and international trade union movements. German trade unions’ archives from before 1945 were lost or destroyed during the Nazi-regime and World War II; in contrast many archives of trade secretariats based in London or Switzerland have escaped destruction. Therefore these records, often dating back till the beginning of trade union movement, are comparatively complete.

In summary, the comprehensiveness of source material is extremely favourable to research into international and European trade unions’ history. While documents of the international and European umbrella organizations World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) [in part], International Confederation of free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) are lodged with the IISH at Amsterdam, records of international and European trade secretariats (with a few exceptions) are kept in the AdsD. The AdsD holdings are well ordered and accessible for research; inventories or at least rudimentary finding aids exist for many records. Because the AdsD holds the records of many predecessor organizations as well as archival material of international and European trade secretariats it is usually possible to form a picture of the larger context. In this connection the extensive records of the German trade unions organizations, the majority of which are kept at the AdsD, are a significant complement.

The Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation Library has also acquired and made available to a broader public extensive library holdings from international and European trade secretariats, partly on their own initiative, partly in co-operation with the AdsD. Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation Library holdings are continuously added to by regular accruals and catalogization of recent printed material (books, leaflets, news services and periodicals) from most European and international trade secretariats. This work is in part financed by projects. In turn the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation Library supplies informations services via internet to the donors of the printed material.

The close co-operation between the archive and the library has many advantages for research. This co-operation will, of course, continue in the future. When archives of unions’ organizations are acquired the rare old printed materials interspersed in these records are transferred to the library, thus contributing to closing gaps in their holdings, especially important in periodicals.


The AdsD has generally remained rather cautious in acquiring German trade union records, prefering simply to advise and support individual trade unions in the maintenance of their archives in some cases. On the European and international level in contrast the AdsD has applied a more active acquisition strategy. The aim was and is to prevent the deterioration or loss of as wide a range of historically valuable documents on European and international trade union activities as possible and to safeguard these documents for future research.

The AdsD is interested in working closely together with other important European archives, and indeed, is sometimes consulted when organizations ask which archive would be the appropriate one for their materials. For example, AdsD archivists were asked whether or not the ETUC records should be placed with the IISH or with the Historical Archives of the European community at Florence. After a careful consideration of all the facts the AdsD recommended the IISH, in large part because many archival materials of other trade union umbrella organizations are kept at the IISH and because most researchers of the history of the international or European labour movement will search first for their material in either the IISH or the AdsD.

The AdsD views itself, along with the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation Library, as a services sector organization for research work and as a partner of the trade unions. Our work supports and contributes to the manyfold international activities, educational and development projects of the two international departments of the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation.

Bonn, August 2000

Dr. Hans-Holger Paul

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | März 2001