International Trade Union Movement
by Ernst Breit*
Experience of many employees as well as media coverage on issues regarding
globalisation of economic relations or advancing integration and enlargement
of the European Union (EU) clearly show: Cross-border representation of interests
of employees and citizens is a topical and socio-politically important issue.
Since its foundation in the second half of the 19th century the trade union movement
has fought persistently - experiencing great success but also setbacks - for the
respect for and observance of human rights, for humane working conditions, and better
The annual reports of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU)
on violations of trade union rights or the reports of the International Trade
Secretariats (ITS), the international federations of national industrial and craft
unions, and of many single-industry unions on inhumane working conditions or child
labour in yet a number of countries show that cross-border trade union work has to be
continued and reinforced!
Current debates on globalisation, concerns arising, and the search for guidance on the
side of the employees and citizens in view of economic and societal change in a lot of
countries direct an increasing public interest toward the international trade union
By means of conferences and publications, the International Trade Secretariats and the
ICFTU create a greater public awareness for the development of labour relations and working
The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) chose the motto "Globalising
Social Justice - Trade Unions In the 21st Century" for its World Congress 2000 in Durban,
South Africa. Globalisation of economic relations has increasingly led to the shift of
decision-making powers from the national to the international level. Therefore, the trade
unions are focusing even stronger on new action plans taking into account these
developments: adding a social dimension to the newly arising basic principles of the global
In times of internationally effective economic and societal change and uncertainty trade
unions remain the most important representatives of employees, nationally and internationally.
History, policies, and the work of the international trade union organisations guarantee
a reliable and effective cross-border representation of employees' interests.
Shaping the internationalisation and globalisation of economic relations in a socially
conscious way is a cause which the international trade union movement has been espousing
since its foundation. This task is as topical today as the trade unions representing the
interests of employees in all parts of the world.
Uncertainties and concerns mostly also derive from lacking or wrong information.
Consequently, it is important for all those dealing for example with issues of
globalisation and international economic relations to also be aware of the positions
and policies of international trade union organisations.
Therefore, it would be welcomed if the history, the objectives, and the policies of the
international trade union movement was given greater attention in adult education, schools,
and universities as well as in the media in order to promote expertise and objectivity in
the debates on human and trade union rights or on the development of international economic
As one of the largest trade union libraries worldwide, the library of the Friedrich Ebert
Foundation provides an important source of information for any user interested in social
and contemporary history, politics and trade union policies. The foundation's board and
management started supporting the library's project at a very early stage to make access
to the large library stocks easier for the users by means of the new media. This
"FES-Net-Source: History and Politics" is an example of that. Take advantage of it!
An addition and enlargement within the next few months is planned for. We welcome any
suggestions and proposals you might have!
*Important functions of Ernst Breit in the international
trade union movement: President of the Postal, Telegraph and Telephone International
(PTTI, 1978-82), Vice-president of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions
(ICFTU, 1982-90), President of the European Trade Union Congress