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Trade union unity? The TUC and Communism at home and abroad

Programme for National Minority Movement conferenceBetween 1921 and 1937 there were two competing international co-ordinating bodies for trade unions - one Communist, the other democratic socialist. The International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) was founded in 1901, broke down during the First World War, and was re-formed in 1919 (as its headquarters were in Amsterdam, it was also known as the Amsterdam International). Democratic socialist organisations, such as the British Trades Union Congress, were represented on this organisation. Communists in the Soviet Union condemned the ITFU as a nest of reformists and class traitors, branding it the 'Yellow International', and in 1921 formally established the Red International of Labour Unions (or Profintern) to co-ordinate Communist activities in trade unions across the world. In Britain the National Minority Movement (a Communist organisation) was formed in 1924 to work within the British trade union movement and replace 'reformist' trade union leaders with revolutionaries.

In 1924 a delegation from the British Trades Union Congress visited Soviet Russia and attended the Congress of the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions. As a result of this visit, the TUC agreed to try to improve relations between the IFTU and the RILU and the Anglo-Russian Joint Advisory Council was formed in 1925. The TUC's attempts to bring the two Internationals together failed, due to a combination of the hostility of other IFTU members to the Communists and the tendency of Communist organisations to attack the IFTU as betrayers of the working class in a range of publications and speeches.

Disagreements over the conduct of the British General Strike of May 1926 - in particular the TUC's refusal to accept financial aid from Soviet trade unions and stoppage of the strike before demands had been met - led to increasingly antagonistic meetings of the Anglo-Russian Joint Advisory Council, and in 1927 the ARJAC finally collapsed, amidst mutual recrimination. A successor, the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Council, was formed during the Second World War.

The Trades Union Congress and Communism at home:

The Trades Union Congress and Anglo-Soviet trade union relations: