50 Years Ago: The Founding of the Trades Union Congress

The Trades Union Congress was founded in the Mechanics Institute, Manchester, on June 2 1868 by thirty-four delegates who had responded to an invitation sent out by the Manchester and Salford Trades Council. In every way the aims of the founders were strictly limited, and in some important respect those limitations are still to be found in the TUC to-day, in spite of its vastly greater representative capacity and the widening of its activities.

This was not in any sense a revolutionary body and even its structure reflected a falling away from earlier attempts to form a unified National Trade Union body with power to act in strikes. The delegates came together only to discuss matters of mutual interest. It was, as George Woodcock describes it in the recently published History of the TUC 1868-1968, no more than “a small debating society”. (…)

The early TUC can be seen in perspective by comparing its outlook with, for example, that of the Chartist Labour Parliament held in Manchester in 1854, attended by trade union delegates from all over the country. Marx and Louis Blanc were elected honorary delegates. They did not attend but Marx sent a message in which he expressed the view that the proceedings should be aimed at organising the working class for the conquest of political power and taking over ownership of the means of production by the workers. The letter was read at the conference. (…)

If anything else was needed to mark the contrast between the socialist outlook and that of the founders of the TUC it is only necessary to recall the paper Marx submitted to the Geneva Congress of the First International in 1865 (Value Price and Profit) in which he called on the unions to give up the motto “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay” and adopt instead “abolition of the wages system”.

(Socialist Standard, June 1968)

Leave a Reply