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Eyewitness accounts: Trades Union Congress delegations

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) was formed in 1868 as a national federation of trade unions and forms the largest pressure group in the United Kingdom. It is governed by an annual Congress at which representatives of affiliated trade unions meet to determine policy and to elect the executive body of the organisation. During the First World War, the range of the TUC's functions and interests broadened, reflecting the growing role of organised labour in politics and society. In 1921 the administration of the Trades Union Congress changed to reflect this - its Parliamentary Committee, which had dealt with a relatively narrow range of labour affairs, was replaced by a General Council, headed by a General Secretary and supported by a series of committees and departments. The new General Council campaigned and collected information on a wide range of social, economic and political issues, and members played a prominent role in the International Federation of Trade Unions.

The 1920 delegation

Acting in response to a resolution passed at a special Trades Union Congress on 10 December 1919 for "an independent and impartial inquiry into the industrial, political and economic conditions in Russia", a delegation of representatives from the TUC and Labour Party visited Russia during May and June 1920.

The delegation travelled in Russia with the assistance of the Bolshevik regime and members met with leading Communists, including Lenin and Trotsky. Delegates also had limited access to political opponents of the regime, including Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries and anarchists.

Delegates: Ben Turner (Chairman), Labour Party; Margaret Bondfield, A.A Purcell and H. Skinner, Trades Union Congress; Ethel Snowden, Tom Shaw and Robert Williams, Labour Party; Charles Roden Buxton and Leslie Haden Guest, Joint Secretaries. The labour delegation was joined for part of the tour by R.C. Wallhead and Clifford Allen of the Independent Labour Party, and by several representatives of the British press, including the philosopher Bertrand Russell.

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The 1924 delegation

The 1924 visit was prompted by an invitation from the All Russian Council of Trade Unions for a TUC delegation to "obtain first-hand knowledge of the position in Russia" as "it was alleged that the Trade Unionists in Russia had no freedom, and conditions in the Country were grossly misrepresented". The delegation visited the Soviet Union in November and December 1924. Whilst in Moscow, members of the delegation also examined internal documents of the Communist International in an attempt to collect evidence on the authenticity (or otherwise) of the damaging 'Zinoviev Letter', which had been published by the Daily Mail shortly before the 1924 general election. The TUC published a detailed, illustrated report on the delegation's visit to the Soviet Union in 1925, followed by a separate, shorter report on their investigations into the 'Zinoviev Letter'.

Delegates: A.A. Purcell (Chairman), Fred Bramley (Secretary), Herbert Smith, Ben Tillett, John Turner, John Bromley, Alan A.H. Findley. Advisory delegates (i.e. not members of the TUC): Harold G. Grenfell, A.R. McDonell, George Young.

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Additional documents on the Trades Union Congress delegationsLink opens in a new window are available through our digital collection on the Russian Revolution and Britain, 1917-1928.